As a young child, I believed several lies about myself. I felt that I was vastly inferior in certain areas such as physical appearance, social graces, coordination, athletic ability, and the ability to speak with people I didn’t know very well. I was sure that I would be rejected, so the fear of rejection was my constant companion. I didn’t know about “the fear of rejection”, this was just my reality. It was just the way the world worked, and I lived and made decisions to protect myself from rejection.
In Elementary school I always got an “A ”in conduct, because I was well behaved and talked very little. I didn’t want to do anything that would draw attention to myself. I wanted to hide or at least blend in to avoid any negative reactions. In new situations with new people, I felt almost paralyzed by the fear. Faced with a social situation that required small talk, my mind became absolutely blank. I couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
Fear would steal my voice.
This continued until junior high when something amazing happened. God began to alter my path. My first boyfriend, Jesse, invited me to his church (Word Fellowship which is now Life Center) for a youth event. I agreed to go simply because I liked Jesse so much. I found myself in the church gym, surrounded by the overpowering smell of fresh onions, helping to assemble hundreds of subs for the youth fundraiser. [Here is a little fun fact: who do you think rode into the gym on a skateboard and was introduced to me as Jesse’s best friend? None other than Chris Brandenburg! Of course I was too shy to really talk to him at that point.]
This youth fundraiser was also an overnight event complete with food and fun games. Jesse was very outgoing and knew everyone at the church. He also loved the game of bombardment, which is similar to dodge ball. The thought of participating in anything that would expose my physical awkwardness was terrifying to me. I was hoping that Jesse would sacrifice his love for the game to stay with me. But he didn’t. He left me in the youth room while he returned to the gym.
I found a chair to sit in and felt completely alone. The fear of rejection had me so paralyzed that I didn’t move from that spot for what seemed like hours. Other students came and went, some sitting close to me to carry on a conversation. But not a single person spoke to me. I didn’t move or even look at them. I tried to become invisible and wished I had never come.
Yet when Jesse invited me to come to a Wednesday night youth service, I found myself saying, “I’ll be there.” I showed up that Wednesday night, but I still felt very uncomfortable. A ray of sunshine by the name of Patty Leach (wife of the youth pastor) shone on me. She said with a big smile on her lovely face, “So you are Anne? You are a lot prettier than Jesse’s last guest.” [Disclaimer: Jesse’s last guest was a boy so this was not really an insult to say that he wasn’t pretty.]
Just the fact that someone had spoken to me and called me pretty was very encouraging! I continued to come for a few months and felt confused by this charismatic church culture. It was all new and strange.
One wintery Wednesday night changed everything for me – forever! There was a guest speaker who I had never seen before. At the end of his sermon, he asked us to come up to the front if we wanted prayer. I found myself standing in the front with a whole crowd of other teenagers. I don’t know how I got there, as usually fear would have me rooted to my seat. He began to pray for the students and they seemed really impacted. A few of them started to cry.
“I wonder if he will know that I don’t believe in this stuff.” I thought to myself.
Sure enough, he knew. The youth pastor, John Leach, appeared seemingly out of nowhere and asked if I wanted to be saved. The truth was, I didn’t know what “saved” meant and had never heard the “sinner’s prayer.” But I said yes, and repeated the prayer after John. I hadn’t been looking for God. I didn’t believe in Him or felt that I needed Him. Yet He burst into my heart anyway. I felt Him and I felt His amazing love for me. The scales fell off of my eyes and the world seemed entirely new to me.
This was the beginning of my freedom from fear! It didn’t happen overnight. I came each Wednesday night to youth group which was called Heirborne, but I still hadn’t made many friends. It seemed that everyone else was a part of the group but me. I was a silent observer most of the time. One night I went home feeling the sting of rejection. No one had been mean to me, but I felt like such an outsider.
“I can’t continue to do this to myself, this is torture.” I reasoned. I would just have to tell Jesse that this church thing wasn’t really for me. I was very serious about never returning to Heirborne again.
I never did have that conversation with Jesse. I was probably just too shy. I found myself at youth group each Wednesday and gradually I made friends. Slowly I learned that small talk wasn’t brain surgery. Slowly I began to feel like I belonged there.
Sometime during my high school years, John’s brother Bryan took over as youth pastor. He had a crazy idea; the youth should help to lead Heirborne. He chose a group of us and called us the SALT team (Student Action Leadership Team). Just the fact that Bryan had chosen me sent me an important message. I had value. I didn’t have to be like anyone else. I could be myself, and I could be an important member of the team. Bryan and his wife Marcey helped me to realize my worth.
We would meet once a week to pray and plan the next youth meeting. We would take turns being responsible for different parts of the service – offering, announcements, and the teaching. We would brainstorm wild ideas for skits or fun games that would illustrate the main point of the teaching. I found myself up front speaking, teaching, or even dressed in crazy costumes doing ridiculous skits. Talk about being out of my comfort zone!
Just the fact that I was able to get up in front of a group of people and talk was MIRACULOUS!
Once I was chosen to portray a “party girl” in a skit. It was supposed to be a game show that had many different types of people answering the questions. I would have never chosen this character for myself, being just the opposite of a “party girl.” Yet I was determined to do the best job that I could. I wore the closest thing to a mini skirt that I owned (which really was practically down to my knees). A friend teased my hair until it was perfect 80s “big hair”. I got out there with all the other crazy characters and acted as loud and obnoxious as I could, yelling out about wanting a case of “Red Bull.”
I felt absolutely ridiculous, yet there was no fear! I wasn’t worried about being rejected by the other teens at youth that night. I was just having fun and hoping that I could help the other teens have fun, feel a part of the group, and learn about God. I stopped thinking about myself and began to want to be a blessing to others. Fear became less and less a part of my life as I graduated High School and did missions with Youth With A Mission. Preaching in front of others and meeting new people from all over the world became exhilarating.
I came back from YWAM and married that kid on the skateboard, Chris Brandenburg. After a year of working and being youth leaders, we moved to Colorado Springs. We became part of a small church, but after 7 years I experienced the biggest rejection of my life.
I had always dealt with the FEAR of rejection but now what I had dreaded had come upon me. The church (which was comprised of our leaders, closest friends, and spiritual family – almost our ENTIRE support network there in Colorado), kicked us out. The main leader, Mary, told Chris that we could no longer be part of the church because of MY iniquities. She said that I was interfering with their prayers. She said I was holding Chris back from his destiny and that I was not the woman that God had wanted him to marry. She said that I would one day leave him. Once that happened, Chris could return to the church. Imagine hearing these words from someone you honored and respected as your leader. I honored and respected Mary, but I also feared her. Mary had spoken harsh words to me before. I had tried my best to follow God, yet she was always able to find something about me to criticize. I remember thinking, “I will never be free until Mary dies.” Isn’t that horrible?
Thankfully Mary didn’t have to die for me to be free from fear. She just had to reject me, and God began to set me free!
I sought God like never before and do you know what I realized?
All of His words to me were good!
He loved me, more that I could take in or comprehend!
He delighted in me and actually liked me!
He gave me so much joy, more than I had ever had before!
He began to show me that the church that had rejected me did not have His heart. Rather, they were working for the Accuser of the Brethren. I am sure that the enemy of my soul, that dirty rotten liar of an accuser had a plan that he thought was fool proof. He would link my heart and my identity to this little church and then turn them against me. I would finally suffer the dreaded REJECTION and receive a mortal wound that would fester until the bitterness had consumed me.
GOD came down and saved me and filled me with His acceptance. He loved me no matter what I had done right or wrong. He loved me whether I had accomplished anything important or not. Because of Him, I had a value that nothing could ever take away.
I had come face to face with my greatest fear.
I had met REJECTION and stared into its ugly, contorted face and you know what…it wasn’t so bad.
In fact, I actually felt honored that a church that had fallen so far from the Amazing Grace of God had rejected me. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the type of person that they would have accepted – one that feared men more than God. It was a compliment that The Accuser had felt that I was enough of a threat to come after me like that.
Now I look back at that rejection and feel that it was one of the biggest blessings in my life! I learned so much about God and about myself, and I was set free from that cult. Of course I had a lot of healing to do, a lot of wrong teachings to unlearn.
Again, Life Center played a big role in my freedom from fear. A year after that big rejection, Life Center offered Chris a job and helped to move us back to PA. The atmosphere of love and acceptance at that wonderful church was just what we needed to heal.
I would love to say that now I never feel fear, that I boldly go speaking the Words of God wherever I go. That is not the case. Fear, specifically fear of rejection, is still my biggest hurdle to overcome before doing anything out of my normal routine. Something as simple as making a phone call, walking across the street to talk to a neighbor, initiating a conversation with a stranger, or speaking in front of a group can bring on a flurry of anxious thoughts. I would rather stay in my safe zone and never have to risk rejection again. But now, it is usually very easy to silence those thoughts. I simply stop thinking about myself and ask God to make me a blessing to whoever I am going to encounter.
Speaking at the Propel meeting was just an example of this. I have enjoyed attending the monthly Propel meetings over the last year. I have sat in the audience and looked up on stage at the many beautiful women and have been touched by their amazing stories. Yet, I would think to myself, “I would never want to sit up there with them where everyone could see me and realize that I am not as pretty as the others.”
When Patty called me last week to ask if I would share at the February meeting, immediately that fearful thought flashed through my mind. I heard myself saying, “Yes, I can be there,” because there was a much more dominating thought. That thought was, “I know that God has put something inside of me that could be a blessing to the other women…
and I don’t want fear to steal my voice again!”
Fear tried to silence my voice. But in God I have found my voice. Many times when I talk to a group or one on one – I can feel God speaking through me. I feel lies being broken. I feel atmospheres shifting. I feel hope rising. I feel peace coming down and settling. When I am in tune with Christ, THERE IS POWER in my voice! Yet many times I must chose to overcome fear before I am able to open my mouth.
Fear feels to me like Paul’s thorn in the flesh. In 2 Cor 12:8-10 he says, “Three times I pleaded with the LORD to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
There is also power in my written words. Power to crack open strongholds. Power to impart wisdom. Power to lead others to God. I have loved exploring the power of my written words with this blog. There is a certain amount of fear involved with telling your inner most thoughts to the world. But I am not trying to make myself look perfect to avoid rejection. In fact, most of my articles are about my weaknesses, my insecurities, my mistakes, and my failures. That is where I find His Grace. That is where my real power lies – in my imperfection. For when I am weak…