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Living Honestly and Fearlessly In Christ: Kelly Balarie and Esther Fleece

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Living honestly and fearlessly in Christ - Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 51

Today we visit with two guests who give us their unique perspectives on living honestly and fearlessly as women of God.

Kelly Balarie, author of Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fear, learned how to fight fear by stopping the cycle of fear in her life, and turning her darkest moments over to God. Esther Fleece, the author of No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, realized that she could be honest with God and others about the trauma she faced as an orphaned child, through Scripture and trusting God with her laments.

Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling podcast. Today we visit with two guests who give us their perspectives on living honestly and fearlessly as women of God. Kelly Balarie is the author of “Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fear,” and is a passionate national speaker who has spent nearly ten years leading groups of women in spiritual growth, marriage building, and general Bible studies across the nation. Kelly talks with us today about some of the difficult and fearful circumstances she’s been through, that ultimately revealed the beauty of God’s plans for her life.

Living Honestly and Fearlessly In Christ: Kelly Balarie and Esther Fleece – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 51

Kelly Balarie: My name is Kelly Balarie. I grew up in Maryland and we were in a suburb of Washington D.C. I’m the oldest of six kids. So, I’m kind of like second mama to everyone and that’s how I grew up. I was making sure that everybody was taken care of. I was like “we need to get school supplies,” and kind of running the house, so I was always like trying to be the glue to hold everything together. It was a lot of stress for me.

A portrait of Kelly Balarie.

I think I felt like disaster was always going to happen. I was always worried that somebody was going to get hurt, or that things were very scary. So, I didn’t know what to do. I was kind of in panic mode. I knew about God. I had gone to church, but I don’t think that I was welcoming Him in my heart in a way where He was really ruling my life, and where I was submitting to Him. I was more just trying to run through the motions of religion. So, I felt like I had to in a sense, be a God to the family. It really just ran me deep into a hole; eventually I got an eating disorder because while I was trying to control, I just felt so out of control. I felt like I was losing everything, even though I was trying to put my hands and my fingerprints over everything.

I was more just trying to run through the motions of religion

What led to my eating disorder was that feeling again that I needed to be in control. You know, I think I took that whole family mindset with me to college, and that mindset was “disaster’s ready to strike at any moment. I’m not really safe. I don’t know what my future holds. Anything could happen to me at any moment. People want to hurt me. I can’t trust people.”

So, I just tried to do what I could do, and what I could do in college was to focus on getting the perfect job after school. I was paranoid about it. I would go and sit at the computer and I would look up companies and research them and figure out exactly who they wanted me to be and I became an expert at giving everybody else who they wanted me to be. If you wanted me to be fun and outgoing, oh my goodness, I would knock your socks off, but I was like a chameleon. Eventually I did; I applied to the job and I gave them exactly what they wanted to hear, and they thought I was the best candidate. I worked at that company after college for a year, and they were done with me and I was done with them. I hated the job.

That’s happens when we when we try to be something we’re not.

Feeling Out Of Control: Trusting God To Lead The Way

I remember one time I was taking a run, which was basically every day, and I was in the woods and I was running, and I was running, and I just felt something hit me hard. I just stopped, and I just started crying. I was so thin and so frail and even my mind couldn’t really think straight. I just cried out to God, ‘I just can’t – I just can’t, I just can’t anymore, I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel so out of control.” I got this feeling of God saying to me, “Kelly, you could either continue to run away in fear, or you can turn towards Me in faith.” I think in that moment, when I cried out to God, with my pure desperation just authentically who I was, I believe that that’s the moment when really, Jesus came in and took the reins from for me.

I initially lost heart in those situations, but God never lost my heart.

I did get into counseling, and that was really where the counselor helped me to take a job that was not in Maryland, but moving to California, and just becoming who I was meant to be. Learning what God had for me. It was very scary to leave. I felt like I was abandoning everybody who needed me. I felt like I didn’t know if I’d be able to take care of myself. I didn’t know whether God was going to take care of me, but sometimes I think that’s the step we have to take to find out that God really is faithful. We don’t learn that he’s faithful, until we step off that cliff sometimes, and watch Him catch us. That’s what I had to do.

So yes, I did feel like I lost heart; I initially lost heart in those situations, but God never lost my heart. He came and He picked it back up and He led me to where I needed to go. That’s the Good Shepherd that we serve.

The Journey To Realizing Your Authentic Self

Narrator: The journey to realizing her authentic self in Christ and overcoming her fears was a powerful one for Kelly, and she wanted to share her experiences with women who might be going through the same issues. Kelly gives practical and spiritual insight into battling fear in her new book “Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fear.” She also shares how she finds strength and encouragement from her daily devotionals with Jesus Calling.

Kelly: Basically what Fear Fighting is; it’s taking those tapes, those attachments that have been put on us, that have been paper-clipped to us or have been safety-pinned to us. It helps us to take those off, so that we can live courageously; how we’re meant to live.

I write my book as somebody who has gone through the battle; who’s a friend of the reader, who understands the heart, and the nitty-gritty nature of fighting fear. I know that God has done a mighty work in me, because my husband then, he came back to me, he told me, he said, “Kelly, even if this book changes no other lives, you know it’s dramatically changed yours.” That’s really what my heart was after. I knew if God changed my heart, He would be faithful to others too.

I remember myself when I was a little girl. I would go in my backyard and I would like zig and zag all over the yard, and I would be singing like “Laaa,” all these songs and just like my whole heart would be belted out, like the birds were coming in, they were around me and I was like kind of like part of this like Disney imagery of me being a princess. It was just this beautiful thing.  You know what? I didn’t care, I didn’t care about anything. I was in that moment and I was like fully me. It was this moment like before anybody would have said “Kelly, you look stupid. Kelly, like who are you that you think you can do that?” Or, “why are you doing that when you should be raking leaves right now?” Or, “what makes you think that you are something special?”

I knew if God changed my heart, He would be faithful to others too.

I think what happens is, whether it’s at home, whether it’s at school, whether it’s something that we pick up through somebody’s actions, or their influence, or their emotions, or their looks towards us; we start to get attached to us all these different comments that we let penetrate our heart. The reality is: the only Word, the only Truth that should penetrate our heart is God’s Word. God’s truths about us.

I think that’s why Jesus Calling is so powerful, is because it comes in, and it speaks God’s truth into your mind, rather than letting your mind be filled by all these other lies that have attacked us for our whole lives.

The Heart Of Jesus Calling: God Working In The Present Moment

I had read Jesus Calling years back, and I loved it. I love the heart in it. It’s just the heart of God that is in it.

When I’m meeting with new people, and we’re doing a Bible study, or I’m telling them about Jesus, I keep Jesus Calling books on hand and I keep them on my shelves and I give it to them. It’s a great way for them to get to know God, to get to know Jesus, and they can read it and their hearts are filled.

I really like this passage: “stop trying to work things out before their times have come. Accept the limitations of living one day at a time. When something comes to your attention, ask me whether or not it’s part of today’s agenda.”

I think sometimes my mind either wants to run the future or like be stuck in the past, and I’m constantly reminding myself; where God is working is the present moment. He’s working in the right here, right now. This is the ground that He’s changing. This is the place where He’s working. If I run ahead, or if I rewind, I miss God. So these words really remind me to just stay with God.

I think what it is to get past the past, we have to recognize which voice are we listening to right now. Are we listening to the voice of God, or are we listening to the voice of the world or the enemy that replays our past in our mind.

Overcoming Fear With Jesus

The cover of Kelly Balarie's book, Fear Fighting.To overcome your fears, recognize the cycle of fear. The cycle of fear happens like this: there’s a stimuli that makes you fear, which in itself is not always bad, because if you see a bear in the woods you need to run and scream and that’s good to be afraid. But recognize that stimuli and recognize what happens next. When you fear, what do you do? Do you get down on yourself and say “I’m so bad, I can’t believe I’m messing up again? Oh, God told me not to fear!” Because when that happens, normally what happens, is you get more afraid. Then the cycle of fear turns into a snowball, and it looks like it’s gaining steam, and it’s coming down a hill, and it’s going to run you over and you’re like, ”Ahh, I’m going to die! I’m so afraid my finances are running out of control! I’m going to be homeless in a month!”

 

It gets out of control, but if you take literally the cross of Jesus Christ, insert it into that snowball when it starts to roll, it’s going to stop. Because Grace says,
“Yeah, I’m afraid right now. But God your grace is enough to cover over my fear. I’m afraid God, but You forgive me. I’m afraid, but you’ll show me the way. I’m afraid God, but you know my better answer.” And then it doesn’t turn into a cycle. It’s cut off because Jesus covers our mistakes and then we don’t need to be afraid. He emboldens us as we come to him.

And that’s the greatest secret to overcoming fear.

Narration: To find out more about Kelly Balarie’s book Fear Fighting, visit purposefulfaith.com.  We’ll be right back with more on living fearlessly and honestly with our next guest, Esther Fleece, after this message about a free audiobook offer from Audible.


As a special offer to you, the listeners of The Jesus Calling podcast, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out their service.

Find your favorite Sarah Young titles, including Jesus Calling and Jesus Always in an audiobook version and get it for free by trying audible.com. Check out a small sample of the Jesus Calling audiobook, featured at the end of this podcast. To download an entire free audiobook today, go to audibletrial.com/JesusCalling. Again, that’s audibletrial.com/JesusCalling for your full, free audiobook. Now, on to our interview with Esther Fleece.


Narration: Our next guest is an international speaker, a writer on millennials and faith, and was recently recognized among Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture” and CNN’s “Five Women in Religion to Watch.” Esther Fleece transparently shares the story of her traumatic upbringing, and how she adopted the practice of “faking fine” until she couldn’t anymore—and how God brought emotional healing when she learned to stop pretending.

The Upbringing Of Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece: My name is Esther Fleece. I grew up in a suburb outside of Detroit Michigan. My family looked pretty normal from the outside. I had a mom and dad. My father had his own business, and my mother was involved in the PTA.

Esther Fleece smiles for a portrait.

It was my early childhood years that I noticed my father was having outbursts in the home and my normal became not so normal, what felt like overnight. You know and he and my mother ended up getting a divorce and I lived through the difficulty of that, and really seeing my family fall apart. So actually, by the time I was 13, both of my biological parents had left me. My brother and I were not in a relationship, and I was really cut off from even the extended family, so very difficult upbringing.

I was told my father had a sickness. People would just say, “your father’s sick, your dad has a sickness,” so as a little girl I thought that that meant he had a cold, and I didn’t understand why he just wasn’t getting better.

It never made sense what was going on and what was happening. I know now, years later, that he had several mental illnesses, and even that hasn’t been disclosed to me.

What Is And What Isn’t Normal

I remember my father being taken away taken away by the police when I was nine years old. He spent time in and out of jail. He was pretty much out of my life, from the age 9 on. Then my biological mother ended up getting remarried and her husband ended up having an affair and leaving the family.  I was around 13 at that time, and that was another significant loss, even though I didn’t have a great relationship with my stepdad. To see another father figure leave was very difficult. Then it was just really in the same time that my mother was taking a lot of her anger out on me.

So at the age of 13, I really started moving in with different families in the community and started living with different coaches. My home life was just not safe or steady. I really consider myself to have been orphaned around the age of 13.

I really, in the core of my being, thought, “if my own parents can’t stick around for me, if my own parents don’t love me, then certainly God wants nothing to do with me. Certainly, He doesn’t speak to me, or He doesn’t care to sit with me if my own parents don’t care to sit with me.” So it was very difficult. I did even begin my high school years with thoughts and even attempts of suicide, because I really did feel alone.

I was doing my best to hold things together. You know, I I still had to go to work, I still had to go to school. It was interesting though, I mean, I won a awards all the time for excelling in athletics and academics. I was in youth group and I would win the award for bringing the most friends.

So, I just thought that it was kind of being a strong person to put my pain aside, and to not bother people with what was really going on. I also didn’t really have a context of how to talk about it, believe it or not. Several of my friends from middle school and even high school have reached out to me after reading the book, and have apologized. They just said, “I wish I would have done more. I wish I would have known.” I didn’t know how to invite them into that. I didn’t know how to process it.

I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t normal.

Is God Answering My Prayers?

You know, whatever home life we grew up in, that is what teaches us. So, it took many years for me to realize what happened in my home was wrong. It was unsafe, and it was unhealthy, and even having a trusted counselor call it abuse. That wasn’t until my later 20’s that I started processing what really happened. I would say, for most people, I “faked fine,” and not even to be a fake, but just to hold things together.

I was very confused. Are my prayers not being answered? Does God care about justice here on Earth? Where has my peace gone?

I was in my late 20s and working for an organization that I was really passionate about. I was speaking for the organization, traveling for them and I felt like I was in my sweet spot in life. I had a great church community, a great friend group, and I was very involved in a number of things. When everything was going right, so to speak, my biological father showed up at my home. This was nearly 20 years after he had left our family. I was actually away for the weekend speaking. So my roommate had answered the door and his mental condition had only deteriorated over 19 years.  I just had a crisis of faith. I didn’t understand how I could be serving God, loving God, doing my best to be a good person, and my worst nightmare happened.

I was very confused. Are my prayers not being answered? Does God care about justice here on Earth? Where has my peace gone?

It was like this weird “karma” theology that I unintentionally had. You know; if I worked for God, He would bless me. If I do good things for God, then He would be with me. So it was really a shattering time of my coping mechanisms and even falsehoods that I had built my faith on.

Learning To Lament To God

It was three years that I was going through some pretty intense stalking with my biological father. The first year, I was very fearful for my physical well-being. I was living in Colorado at the time, and there were a number of shootings that were occurring and I just was very fearful. What if my dad came back like that? What if he wanted to hurt me or hurt others? I didn’t know the motive of why he was re-entering, I was just very fearful and I didn’t know who to tell. I didn’t want to make other people fearful. But the second year I went through the stalking, I was very emotionally broken. I just thought, I’m not going to make it emotionally here. I was just humiliated and full of shame that this was my story and I didn’t understand why there was no resolution. Then the third year, I thought spiritually, I might not make it. I was in a counseling office, and I was telling this counselor that I could only read the book of Psalms, that no commentary was doing it anymore. That sermons weren’t helping me. The Book of Psalms was speaking to me and ministering to me. He said, “Esther, it’s because of the laments.” I had no idea what a lament was. I certainly knew that Lamentations was a book in the Bible, but not very many people quote it or teach out of it.

Esther Fleece gives a talk on stage.

I never knew that a lament was a cry of your heart, it was an expression of grief. So he said to me, “your homework tonight is to lament to God.” And I said, “No way. I’m not going to complain to God. He’s the only one who hasn’t left me– like why would I not be positive and thankful to Him?” He said, “Esther, you’ve got to let God know what’s going on in your heart. He wants to hear it and He wants you to get it out.” So that was the first time it, after three years of just agonizing in silence, that this counselor had said, not only did God want me to get it out, but that He has given me a model through Scripture of how to communicate, using the lament and the Book of Psalms is a great place to start.

The Tenderness of Jesus Calling

You know, I have to honestly say that the book Jesus Calling, and I’m not just saying this, but it really helped me to hear the voice of God as loving. I would have quiet times with God, but I would almost get stuck reading about stiff-necked people in the Old Testament, or hearing of sin being punished. I just always thought that was me. I think because my biological parents were very abusive toward me with their words. I didn’t know how to hear God as a loving Father. So the book Jesus Calling was really significant for me, to hear His voice in a new way, and to hear the tenderness that He has towards me. To hear the patience and the long suffering that He has with me, and the love. There were just several times I would read it and just think, this does sound like what a good Father would sound like, but I just didn’t have that example. I am so grateful for the tool that it’s been to me in my own walk, and then helping me to hear His voice in Scripture.

People are underestimating how many of us need to hear a loving Father. We can talk about fatherlessness in the church, but do we realize if we haven’t been spoken to from a kind father, it’s very, very difficult to learn how to discern His voice?

Esther Fleece with her husband on their wedding day.

I think prior to reading the book, I had read Scripture where it said, “Do not be anxious. Rejoice always, and pray continually, and always give thanks,” and all of those commands and things are true. So, it’s not to minimize that, but I had missed the invitation that God extends to us to come. I think that Sarah does a great job at that. Even in the month of August, I remember one of the devotions; “come to Me, come to Me and this is My continual invitation to you,” and the next one was, “Come to me when you’re weak, come to me when you’re weary.”

It helped me, that even when I was broken, maybe especially when I was broken, the loving Father was inviting me to come. He wasn’t telling me to fix myself before I come to Him. He wasn’t telling me to stop crying. He wasn’t even minimizing my anxious thoughts. He was saying, “Come to me,” and I think that was really transformational for me.

Accepting The Invitation From God

Narration: After Esther was able to reset her view of a father with a new view of God, her loving Father, she wanted to write about her experiences so others who might be “faking fine” could learn to be set free. Esther shares how her book No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending developed from acknowledging both her difficult past and God’s faithfulness to her through it all.

Esther: The book writing process was actually excruciating, because I was needing to feel things that I had tried more than 20 years to forget. It was in that process too, that I would see that God didn’t abandon me, even though I felt abandoned. Even though I wondered where He was many times, I was able to lament, and yet give thanks that He did provide wonderful families for me, or that He did put me in schools where the teachers were attentive to my cry. They knew that something wasn’t right.

I have to tell people that their pain is not a punishment from God. It’s actually an invitation to go to God.

How could I be sorrowful and rejoicing? You know, I think it’s a “both/and.” For so many years, because I’m just positive and social and optimistic, I just always wanted to rejoice. But I think a true testimony to us as God’s people is that we’re sorrowful and rejoicing. Sometimes at the very same moment.

Then I was like, “OK, we’re missing something, because how can I be 33 years old and never have known that I can truly lament to God, and that it’s an intimacy builder with Him?“  I have to tell people that their pain is not a punishment from God. It’s actually an invitation to go to God.

How To Deal With Difficult Circumstances

I think we have to take our eyes off the circumstantial change. I think we can pray for it. I think we can ask God for it.  We can ask Him to intervene to change certain circumstances, but if our faith hinges on that, we’re going to be let down. Because God’s ways aren’t our ways. He is bigger and He’s working things for a much greater good than just ourselves. So for me, it was learning to be content in my faith even when my circumstances didn’t change.

Esther Fleece's book, No More Faking Fine.

I truly believe every single one of us has had to deal with a difficult circumstance or we’ve had to deal with our own sin, or sin that’s been done to us. We have testimonies of how God has met us in our weakness, in our brokenness, and we don’t have to be ashamed of those. We can actually shout it from the rooftops. Look at this God who saved us. Look at this God who met me in my distress.

I do believe there is no greater leader to follow than Jesus himself. He was absolutely authentic, true to His message,  true to His calling, and true to the Father’s heart in everything he did.

Narrator: To find out more about Esther’s book No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending, please visit Esther’s website at EstherFleece.com.


Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling podcast, our show features guests whose faith in God has enabled them to overcome great adversity. Sherry Taylor, a graduate from The Next Door, a faith based rehabilitation center, shares about her journey from the darkness of substance abuse to a new life in Christ. We’ll also talk with Chef Brett Swayn, who went from being broken and homeless, to giving back through his Nashville based restaurant that both serves and employs homeless men. Here’s a preview of our interview with Brett:

Brett Swayn: When I see someone struggling who feels like they’ve lost everything, I remember, one of the brothers upstairs, Bruce showed up, and he was weeping in his wreckage and I startled him because I said, “this is going to sound crazy to you right now, but you’re in a very good place.” He thought I was crazy, but when I share about what God has done, it gives him strength to take another breath.

Narrator: Our featured passage from today comes from the August 11th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook:

Come to Me. Come to Me. Come to Me. This is My continual invitation to you, proclaimed in holy whispers. When your heart and mind are quiet, you can hear Me inviting you to draw near. Coming close to Me requires no great effort on your part; it is more like ceasing to resist the magnetic pull of My Love. Open yourself to My loving Presence, so that I may fill you with My fullness. I want you to experience how wide and long and high and deep is My Love for you, so that you can know My Love that surpasses knowledge. This vast ocean of Love cannot be measured or explained, but it can be experienced. 

Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.

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