Behold, I Make All Things New
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Esther Fleece AllenCNN has called Allen one of “Five Women to Watch in Religion,” USA Today has named her one of the “New Faces of Evangelicalism” and Christianity Today has called her “one of the 50 women shaping the church and culture.” Allen is a graduate of the Oxford Center of Christian Apologetics and is currently in seminary. Her favorite new names are “wife” and “mama” as she is thankful to have a new home with them.
Abandoned by her abusive father when she was young, and her mother several years later, author Esther Fleece Allen only began to understand what a real, godly family looked like after being taken in by a family at her church.
Behold, I Make All Things New
Bob: Hard times—times that Esther Fleece Allen refers to as seasons of lament—we should not be surprised when these are a part of our experience as followers of Jesus.
Esther: I think lament is going to be part of our language here, as Christians. Every single one of us, even non-believers, will lament; but for the Christian, lament is never our final language, and it’s not our final song. I can say, coming through a prolonged season of suffering/a prolonged season of abandonment, I can say that God never left me in a lament; and there is great hope in that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 4th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Do you know how to lament well before God?—how to go through hard seasons and find God in the midst of those? We’re going to talk today with Esther Fleece Allen about that. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just feel like I’m done for today; like I am not going to ask any questions. [Laughter] We have somebody here with us today—
Ann: We have a great friend here with us today.
Bob: You have known her since—how long?
Dave: —she was a little girl.
Bob: Introduce to our listeners who this is.
Ann: This is our friend Esther Fleece Allen. She grew up where Dave and I grew up—
Bob: She was Esther Fleece when she was growing up, right?
Bob: Yes, right.
Ann: She started coming to our church. She’s an impact person; wherever she goes, she makes an impact. She’s strong; she loves Jesus. God has really taken her on a beautiful, but hard, journey. She’s shared about it; this is her second book, and we’re going to talk about her second book.
Dave: Yes, I actually can remember walking out of the Silverdome™ tunnel, after a game, with players; Esther would be usually with the Ellis family. I did not know all of her backstory until her first book, No More Faking Fine, when she sent me an advance reader copy. I texted her and said, “This is one great book/unbelievable book.” It was in that book I read her backstory, which happened right under our noses, and didn’t even know what was going on.
Bob: Before we dive into your story, what can you tell us about Dave and Ann Wilson that maybe we don’t know?
Dave: Oh, boy!
Esther: Well, the good stuff or the unedited version? [Laughter]
You know, the truth is, I’ve been a believer for decades. There’s a lot of criticism that goes around about the church, but there is a lot of beauty that happens in the church. It says in the Book of Psalms that God places the lonely in families, and the Lord did that in my life. When I was being abandoned by my biological family, the church that Dave and Ann were leaders of—are leaders of to this day—stepped in. I lived with families from the church; I went on mission trips with the families of the church; they discipled me. They became, really, my first spiritual family. That’s where the healing that I went through took place; the forgiveness that I was able to extend and also receive from the Lord happened at their church.
I love Dave and Ann; they’re really spiritual parents to so many people of my generation.
Bob: Some of our listeners are still back on hearing you say, “I was abandoned by my biological family.”
Esther: Yes, that’s never an easy story to tell. My biological father had several mental illnesses—to this day, I don’t know what—but it made him very unstable to live with. Unfortunately, he took a lot of his anger out towards my biological mother; so growing up, I saw a lot of violence and kind of my family fall apart as I knew it.
But you know, whatever home life is like, it’s your normal.
Esther: So I just did the best to function; and from the outside, we looked like everything was going okay. My father had a successful business. My mother ended up getting remarried shortly after their divorce; that stepfather ended up having an affair that I found out about; and then my mother left me shortly after. I was 13/14 years old and really had to find family on my own; I was left to fend for myself.
Bob: She left you—why?
Esther: I don’t know; and I never could know the motives of anyone, right? The Lord searches our motives. I think that, when we have experienced so much brokenness, we pass that on. I think she was deeply wounded, like any woman would be in those circumstances, and was unable to mother me in those years.
Bob: Is it fair to say you were a handful as a child?
Esther: You know, that’s a great question. I think any teenage girl probably is; but no, I actually hid my grief and my emotion through achievement, and so—
Ann: I was going to say, “Esther, you’ve always been ‘the good girl.’”
Esther: I was. I really was the good girl, and I think that’s what was confusing. I would try to perform: I was the class president every year from sixth grade up until college; I played three varsity sports; I served every opportunity that I could at the local church. I kept trying to perform my way out of the abandonment that I was experiencing and out of the abuse. It was like, no matter how hard I worked, I still was going through suffering.
Ann: You went through a pretty monumental hurt as you sat in a court room as a young girl. Take us back to that, when your parents were going through a divorce.
Esther: Yes; I was in and out of the court a lot in my elementary-school years, and even into middle school. A lot of that, I was called as a character witness. My father was not mentally well: he was in and out of jail; he was losing his businesses. He just wanted to see me; because there were restraining orders, he was no longer allowed to see me.
He would call me as a character witness—even criminal trials—things that I was not privy to information of having; it was very traumatic. There was one instance in particular that I start the book, No More Faking Fine, with. I was ten years old, sitting on the witness stand, and my mother and father were on opposite sides of the aisle. My father took out my diary, and they brought it up as Exhibit B and asked me to start reading out of my diary in front of the courtroom. I was just devastated; I felt publicly humiliated/publicly violated. I didn’t understand why neither my mom or dad would stand up for me in that moment.
In a moment [that] I really needed a defender or protector, the judge told me I needed to suck it up; he said, “You need to answer the line of questioning.” I thought that that’s how God wanted me to deal with pain. I thought, “Man, I really was a good girl,”—I wanted to respect authority—“so this authority figure told me to suck it up,”—I just thought—“Well, God doesn’t want my emotions; my parents don’t want my emotions. I’m supposed to be strong at all times.” I lived that way for the next two decades.
Ann: Which is basically why you titled the book/your first book No More Faking Fine—
Ann: —which, when I read that title, I thought, “Oh!” I kind of sat back and thought, “This is so good in that so many of us fake being ‘fine.’”
Esther: We do, and so many of us can even take Christian language—and even Scripture itself—and use it to support that notion that’s not in Scripture. Nowhere does God say, “Fake it till you make it.” Nowhere does God say, “Fake it and you will be strong.”
Instead, it’s actually: “Come to Me if you’re weary,” “Come to Me if you’re burdened, and I will give you rest.” Actually, when you are at the end of your rope is when God shines and God makes Himself known. But I didn’t know that. I thought that God wanted my performance; and I thought I was supposed to just suck it up and fake fine until, as my family fell apart, I did my best to just achieve and not be a burden to anyone around me.
Bob: Tell our listeners who you wound up living with during your teen years.
Esther: One of the families that took me in—I was actually on a FamilyLife® broadcast, honoring them, years ago—their names are Luther and Rebekah Ellis. I say a little bit about how we met in my new book, Your New Name.
They are a wonderful family. Luther is a very well-respected former NFL player; and I was serving in the church nursery with their two-year-old son, so I got to know them. They came up to me after a Wednesday night service, and I was in the lobby. I had just been kicked out the day before. I truly did not know where I was going to sleep. They came up to me in the lobby and, I believe being led by the Holy Spirit, said, “Is there anything you need?” I was actually really defensive, because I didn’t know how to communicate my needs. I didn’t know it was okay to have needs, so I brushed it off and faked fine.
Rebekah said: “Are you okay? Is everything okay? Do you need anything?” Rebekah’s an introverted woman; so for her to really press in, it was a holy moment that took place in the church lobby. They said, “Why don’t you come over for dinner tomorrow night?” Luther follows that up with: “Do you need a job? Do you need a car? Do you need a place to sleep?”
The only way I can explain it is that the Spirit of God saw that I was in need and used His people to help meet my need; so overnight, I went from a nanny, really, of five children to one of their spiritual daughters. This family—I mean, I saw a godly marriage; I saw how to love and cherish children in the home. Even though I was a 17/18-year-old girl, they re-parented me and showed me an unconditional love that has shown me the love of God to this day.
Dave: You know what’s really cool—I mean, sitting here, listening to you tell this story, Esther is—you know, when Luther came to the Lions as a first-round draft pick, Luther comes in our locker room; and he’s not coming to chapel/not coming to Bible study. As the chaplain, my dream is to be able to share the gospel with every player in that locker room.
I remember walking up to Luther—he’s 6’6”, 300-and-something pounds; big huge guy—and we started talking about God. I could sense he’s playing the game; you know: “I know God; I’ve come from a church family, but I’m in the NFL now.” Luther says in his testimony that I looked at him and said: “So, when are you going to get off the fence and get real with Jesus? When are you going to surrender your life?” It was that day he gave his life to Christ, in front of his locker!
Ann: His wife, Rebekah—they had one baby at the time—she’s 21; she’s never been to church in her life. She comes to my Bible study; we had been talking about John 4 and the woman at the well. Afterwards, she said, “I have never heard any of this. Is this for real?”
Rebekah and I started working out together, early in the morning before our kids went to school. I remember sharing the gospel with her, because I shared with her how I had shared all of this with our youngest son—sharing the gospel—wanting him to know Jesus. It was in that time, she said, “It was the first time I really heard the gospel and understood and gave my life to Jesus.”
Since that time, not only have they had their own biological kids—how many?
Ann: And now, they have 12 kids—
Ann: —and Esther is then number, really, kind of 13.
Esther: Yes; well, it’s amazing how one person can have impact that affects generations. Dave and Ann discipling this couple, Luther and Rebekah Ellis; and then, immediately, Luther and Rebekah Ellis [saying], “Well, we want to live the gospel. Well, if we’re adopted/if we were adopted into Christ’s body, then we want to start adopting,” and how that’s exactly what I needed in that moment.
Bob: How long before you let them into your drama and your trauma?—because you’re stoic and, “No, I don’t need anything”; and they’re saying, “No, come stay with us.” When did you let the walls down with them?
Esther: Honestly, Bob, I was still in my 20s—and working at a large marriage and family organization, Focus on the Family®, and I had a great career with them—but it was people that I worked with at the ministry that said, “You were abused.” I mean, I had to have other people bring this to my attention.
Esther: Yes; because I still, even when I was living with the Ellises—I mean, they knew that there were hard things that went on—but I didn’t know how to put voice to those memories that I had.
Bob: Talk to our listeners; because some of our listeners are still in that—“No, everything’s okay,”—they’re still faking it.
Bob: What changes in a person’s life when they own up to their past; and they put names to it; and they say, “This is what really happened to me”? What’s the spiritual impact on that in someone’s life?
Esther: Well, it’s generationally, to begin with; but I think we have to look at Scripture to say that nowhere does God ask us to minimize our story. Somewhere along the line, we’ve thought, if we minimize what we’ve gone through, it’s somehow going to bring God more glory. We kind of sanitize our stories; we make them sound prettier than they really are.
We’ve seen the opposite in the gospel message. Not only that, but there are laments, which is really a cry of grief or anguish or disappointment. There are laments in every single book of the Bible. Can you imagine how thin our Bibles would be if we took out all of the laments that are in Scripture? Yet, I see that there are so many of us Christians that walk around, and we want to remove the laments from our vocabulary. We want to make things sound pretty and look pretty, because we think that somehow it reflects Christ or brings Him more glory. But really, minimizing our story does not bring God more glory.
It was a hard awakening for me. I kind of explain my healing process in my 20s as more difficult than the initial abuse; because I think the initial abuse and the initial abandonment, I could numb myself and I could move forward, and fake fine, and achieve. But God loved me enough to want to go deeper; God wanted to heal those areas, and God wanted to meet me in those areas. I kept Him out of those areas, and not even intentionally, a lot of it was subconsciously.
What has been the fruit of that is I believe I am a healthier individual, emotionally and spiritually. I now can embrace people in a lamenting season and not try to fix them, or change them, or think that there’s something wrong with them in the relationship with God.
Ann: I would agree with you. Because of the sexual abuse that I went through, growing up, you don’t know what’s not normal; so you just kind of tuck it away in the recesses of your life, and in your mind, and in your heart. I remember, even before Dave and I got married, I had told him about it, without really acknowledging the pain or the hurt that it caused, because I hadn’t acknowledged it myself.
When we got to seminary, we started taking classes on how to counsel people that have been hurt. I’ll never forget, for the first time, acknowledging and admitting that I had been sexually abused and letting it sink into my heart. I cried for weeks.
Ann: I would agree with you; that pain was so much greater than actually what had happened years and years ago. It was grieving and lamenting about what had happened and what I had lost.
I don’t think Dave really knew what to do with me.
Dave: I thought we were going to counseling class to learn how to counsel others, not realizing God needed to deal with our wounds first, to say, “I need to heal you so that you can be a healer.”
Esther: Yes, right.
Dave: You know, we didn’t really grow up as much in the church; but we learned, very quickly as we got involved in the church, that that was a place you hid your stuff. That was not a place you talked about your stuff; it was sad, but you just didn’t.
Ann: I don’t think I learned that; so I would just talk about it from the stage—or if someone was talking or interviewing us—I would just let it all out. I think they were like, “Ahhh! What is she doing?!” I think some people were kind of aghast, like, “Why is she talking about this?”—which, then, I felt great shame—like: “Am I not allowed to talk about it? Should I not talk about it?” Yet there were others that would come secretly and say, “Thank you!”
Have you found that even in your own life—even as people have read No More Faking Fine—kind of that “Thank you”?
Esther: Absolutely. I think, you know, I was wanting to give people the permission to lament in the church. I mean, really, when you look at the Book of Psalms, they were a songbook for the Jewish people; and the majority of the psalms are laments. But yet, when you go to a worship service nowadays, it’s really hard to—you don’t really hear lamenting songs.
I’ve heard from even pastors and worship leaders—that they’ve incorporated a time of lament in their services—because there are families all around us that are hurting; there are marriages that are hurting; there are children that are hurting. We have to allow that space in our Christian walk: both for the celebrating with those who celebrate but also weeping with those who weep.
Dave: When you weep with those who weep, or when you allow yourself to lament or even create a space for others, where does that lead?
Esther: Well, it’s always, I would say, difficult. It’s not like the majority of us like sitting in brokenness. It’s always a little bit uncomfortable, and you normally want to get people out of that season sooner than, probably, God does.
What I have found is that God is deeply attracted to us in our brokenness. It says that “He saves those who are crushed in spirit”; it says that we’re blessed when we mourn—that He comforts us—so there’s the deep intimacy that takes place with a lamenter or hurting person and God.
Now, I look at it like I don’t want to rush people out of that. You know, if God’s going to meet them and speak to them in their brokenness, I don’t want to just pray the brokenness away. I want God to meet them in that/transform them. That’s the thing: there’s not a one-size-fits-all that come through lament; God speaks so personally and individually to each [person].
Some laments you see they start crying out to God and then they end in praise; that’s beautiful. Some laments, like Psalm 44 and Psalm 88, begin and end in darkness; and there just has to be this element of faith. You know, some laments say, “Surely I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” and there’s this hope that that won’t be the end of their story.
I can say, coming through a prolonged season of suffering/a prolonged season of abandonment—and then later stalking, which I share about in the first book—I can say that God never left me in a lament. I think lament is going to be part of our language here, as Christians. Every single one of us, even non-believers, will lament; but for the Christian, lament is never our final language, and it’s not our final song. There is great hope in that.
Bob: After you wrote No More Faking Fine, you followed it up with this book you’ve just written called Your New Name. Are they connected, the two books?
Esther: You know, they are. I don’t think you have to read No More Faking Fine in order to understand Your New Name. What I’ve found was there’s a Scripture in
Psalm 40, verse 3, that says that God gives us a new song/a hymn of praise. That word, “new,” means He has done something that we can now testify about that we could not have previously sung about. When you come through a season of lament, there is going to be a new testimony that God births in you.
We talk about a lot of news—you know, we talk about the New Testament, the new covenant—but no one’s talking about the new name that God gives us. We become a new creation. He’s constantly doing new things in our lives that we can testify about; and many times, that new thing is going to be on the other side of a lament.
Ann: Esther, what would be some steps/some first steps? How do we begin the lament process?
Esther: In the Book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve had sinned, God said, “Adam, where are you?” He was asking Adam to identify where he was at. We see a similar pattern with Jacob—after Jacob was running—he had stolen Esau’s birthright; he was running from God. God asked Jacob, “What is your name?”
There is this pattern that we see in the Bible, that God asks us where we’re at. I think we need to stop pretending, and wherever we’re at—whether it’s full of faith, full of doubt, full of fear, full of insecurity—we can answer honestly to God where we’re at. That is an entry point for Him to come in and to do His work.
Bob: And the recognition, in the midst of that, that God is doing and will continue to do a new work—a new thing/a new name—all of that is a part of the hope that we find in the midst of that difficulty. This is something you talk about in your new book, which is called Your New Name: Saying Goodbye to the Labels that Limit; and it’s something you talked about in your first book, which is called No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.
We have both of these books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I think these are both books—if you struggle with your sense of self, having a biblical understanding of your worth and your value before God: that you’re created in His image, that He loves you, that He values you, that you are His child/all of these things that are true about us—if these are things you struggle with, get copies of Esther’s books, No More Faking Fine and Your New Name. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; there’s information about the books available there. You can order both of them from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329 to get your copy of either of Esther’s books: 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I think a lot of us would have to acknowledge that the last several months have been months where we have maybe spent more time in more regular prayer than normal. The circumstances of life—the circumstances we’ve been going through as families/in our country—have driven us to our knees, and that’s a good place to be driven to. Yet, often, we find ourselves needing help to know how to express what is on our heart before God.
Barbara Rainey has just written a new book on the subject of prayer; her book is called My Heart, Ever His. This month, we’re making that book available to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. In this challenging season, we want to equip you with resources that will strengthen your relationship with God/your relationship with each other, and Barbara’s book is a great resource to that end.
Of course, our financial needs, as a ministry, during this season are very real, as I know they are for many families in America and for many churches. We want to ask you to be as generous as you can be during this time; and if you’re able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, just know how grateful we are for that support, and know how many tens of thousands of people are being affected because of your investment in the ministry of FamilyLife Today. They’re being impacted by this radio program, by what they find available to them online, the resources we’re able to provide. You make that possible every time you donate. So thank you for your financial support.
You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Be sure to ask for a copy of Barbara’s book; it’s our thank-you gift to you when you donate to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Tomorrow, we’re going to hear about the new name that Esther Fleece Allen got when she got married. It’s a great story; it’s a part of her decision to end the pretending. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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