Bottom of the Barrel
The phone rang one morning as I was rushing out the door to get to class. I almost let the machine take it, but as all my family live in Scotland and England, I never want to miss a chance to hear their voices. It was Marlene.
“Sheila, I need you to do me a favor,” she said.
“Sure. Just name it; what do you need?”
“I need you to speak at a women’s luncheon at a country club in Palm Springs on Saturday.”
I laughed. “I would rather stick my hand in a blender than do that!”
Marlene persisted, “Sheila, I really need you to do this.” “Marlene, you know I don’t do things like that,” I reasoned. “I know that,” she said, “but I’m stuck.”
“Ask someone else,” I said. “You know lots of women who are talented speakers. I’ve been a singer and a talk-show host, but I’m not a speaker — never have been, never will be. Thank you, and amen!”
“Okay,” Marlene finally admitted, “here’s the deal. I’ve already asked everybody else. You are the bottom of the barrel.”
Honestly, that was the only reason I said I would do it. I mean, how high could the expectations be from the bottom of the barrel?
Then Saturday morning rolled around, and I was so mad at myself for agreeing to speak. Have you ever done that? You say yes to something, not really thinking it through, then suddenly it’s upon you and you start praying for the imminent return of Christ.
I took a look at my sparse wardrobe and sighed. I’d left my five years’ worth of on-air clothes behind me in Virginia Beach for the next cohost, and I had nothing suitable for a country club lunch in Palm Springs.
Finally settling on a pair of dress slacks and a silk blouse, I dressed and dragged my sorry self out to my car. It was about an hour’s drive from my apartment to Palm Springs, and I complained to the Lord the entire trip: “I don’t have anything to say! What do I have in common with these women? Why didn’t You stop me? This is not going to make You look good, you know!”
Lord, This Is Not Funny!
As I pulled into the palm tree–lined driveway, I saw exquisitely dressed women relinquishing their car keys to young valets in red blazers.
“Good grief!” I said. “Lord, this is not funny. I have no idea what to do here!”
I heard in my heart, I do. Follow Me.
I was received in the lobby by a very kind welcoming committee. I was sorely tempted to introduce myself with, “Hello. Some call me Sheila, but you may refer to me as the bottom of the barrel,” but I didn’t. After a delicious-looking lunch, which I was too nervous to touch, the chair-lady introduced me. She was obviously not aware of the “bottom of the barrel” thing. She talked about my years in broadcasting at the BBC in London, my books, my music, and my years as cohost of The 700 Club. I could feel the expectation level in the room rise in direct proportion to how low I was slipping in my chair.
I walked slowly to the platform with my heart thudding in my chest and climbed the five steps that took me to the podium. I closed my eyes for a moment, feeling two things: one, I felt unbearably inadequate; two, I was deeply aware of the presence of Christ. I heard Him say to my heart, Just tell the truth. So I did.
I told that room full of ladies that just a few months ago I had been in the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. I told them that for years I tried to hide behind perfect makeup and hair. I told them that I had found that public Christian ministry is the perfect place to hide, because no one questions your motives or wonders if your drive to do more and more comes from a call or a wound, from passion or panic. I told them that I believed that when we are unwilling or unable to deal with the pain of life, we find a place to hide. It can be at the bottom of a bottle or a stranger’s bed, a perfect home or a perfect face, but we are not free. I told them that I came to the place where the pain of staying the same was greater than the pain of change whatever that might be. I told them that Jesus Christ had rescued me and that my life now was following Him one step at a time.
Suddenly I became aware of how quiet the room was. No one clinked a spoon against a coffee cup or rumbled through a purse or jacket pocket for a cell phone. I looked out at the crowd and began to really search the faces. one woman in the front row had tears running down her cheeks. Farther back, a woman had her face in her hands.
I had no idea what to do. I didn’t really understand what was going on. As far as I knew, my story was a reason for people to politely and kindly move away. Mostly, I thought that what I had gone through was just my story and no one else would be able to relate to it.
When I finished, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next.
This was the first time I had ever spoken to a group of women. So I just said, “Well, that’s about it. I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere, so I’ll just hang around in case anyone wants to talk.”
When Brokenness Becomes a Bridge
One by one, women came up and began to tell me their stories. I was stunned by the transparency taking place. Through tears the women talked about addiction to alcohol and pills, affairs, depression, and anxiety. It was as if for a moment there was an understanding that it was all right to be human after all, to be broken, to be real and to talk about it.
I was shocked — not by what the women were saying but because I always thought that people wanted me to be perfect so I could help them. If I reached out for help myself, I had reasoned, then I would lose my perceived usefulness. Suddenly I began to see that my brokenness was a far greater bridge to others than my pretended wholeness had ever been.
As I reflect on that now, I can hardly believe that I once thought and lived as I had. There is a kind of perverted arrogance in the mentality of perfection. I didn’t mean to be arrogant. I didn’t understand that I had adopted a platform that only Christ can stand on.
But the truth is, all I have to offer to anyone else is a life surrendered to Christ so that His beauty and grace shine through my brokenness.
Those would have sounded like lovely lyrics to a worship song before, but now I know the truth of them and the freedom that comes from understanding — I am not the good news!
So I had muttered all the way to that luncheon, and then cried all the way home. “You knew it would be like this,” I whispered to God, taking those few hours and tucking them in my heart.
Excerpted with permission from Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God by Sheila Walsh, copyright Sheila Walsh.
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I love Sheila’s honesty and transparency, don’t you? She was and is to this day brave enough to share with other women the tough circumstances, the pain, the past that she felt might bring her shame and rejection (and in some cases that was true). Are you? Your story, my story can bring healing to others. God made it that way on purpose! We were never meant to walk alone. Who needs to hear your story today? Come share with us on our blog! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full