KELLNER: A woman not ‘fixed’ but ‘redeemed’

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There are words some of Sheila Walsh’s friends used to say to her that, she notes, “aren’t found in the New Testament.”

What’s more, the 17-year veteran of national conferences aimed at helping Christian women live happier, more-faithful lives says she invites those women to call her and use those very words. The “Women of Faith” event reached the District’s Verizon Center a week ago. Minutes before speaking to 10,000 women, Ms. Walsh took part in a news conference and a subsequent interview to share her story.

As a singer who broke into the pop-flavored “contemporary Christian music” scene in the 1980s before going on to television-hosting stints with the BBC, Christian Broadcasting Network and what’s now ABC Family, Ms. Walsh knows what it’s like to struggle under the expectations placed on Christian women these days. Twenty-three years ago, at age 34, she “cracked” and checked herself into a mental health facility where she was placed on suicide watch.

Hours earlier, she had co-hosted CBN’s “700 Club,” at the time one of this nation’s most popular Christian television programs. She was hospitalized at the same age of her father’s last hospitalization in Scotland, for similar issues, during which time he took his own life. Ms. Walsh was 5 years old when that happened.

Ms. Walsh walked out of that hospital and continues to rebuild her life with the help of her evangelical faith: “I’m not fixed,” she said at the Verizon Center news conference. “I’m redeemed.”

The essence of her message, she said, is for women who “love God but live with a lot of questions.” Ms. Walsh said she tells those women, including the thousands who streamed into the D.C. arena that night: “As you are right now, God loves you.”

Transparency — being honest about one’s feelings and struggles — is a key element of the “Women of Faith” philosophy, and Ms. Walsh embraces that transparency with a vengeance. Having once thought “I’d rather put my hand in a blender” than address her preconceived idea of a “Christian women’s conference,” she is upfront and open now about her emotional struggles, emphasizing that faith does not require perfection.

“I try to feel that I don’t have to be everything all the time,” Ms. Walsh said. “I have learned that ‘no’ is a complete sentence.”

Ms. Walsh told me in our interview that, many times, “what we impose on one another [as Christians] is far greater” than the demands of Scripture, including the oft-cited passage in Proverbs that describes a biblical “superwoman” who meets the needs of everyone in the household and runs a thriving business to boot.

What impresses Ms. Walsh about that “Proverbs 31 woman” is that “she rises” daily, claiming “another chance to get it right.”

Having hit a nadir curled up on the floor of a hospital in Virginia’s Tidewater country — “I felt as if I’d gone to Hell,” she said — Ms. Walsh asserted, “God lives very close to the floor,” much as a shepherd would rescue a newborn lamb rejected by its mother. Such so-called “bummer lambs” are then raised indoors, under the shepherd’s care, until they are strong enough to return to the fold. Once there, these hand-raised lambs are often the first to respond to the shepherd’s call because they recognize his voice.

Among speakers joining Ms. Walsh at the event — the 2014 edition will stop at George Mason University’s Patriot Center in Fairfax — was Priscilla Shirer, a mother of three (ages 10, 9 and 4) who is a popular author of Bible studies.

“Sometimes we don’t even realize the stress we’re under,” Ms. Shirer said. “We give each other such a hard time.”

Ms. Shirer said the aim of the “Women of Faith” event is to make “sure we’re in relationship with other women. Not to escape reality, but to be inspired to go back.”

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