5 minutes with Steph
Tell us a little about you
God has been in my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would pray to him at night and sing songs to him. I grew up knowing he was there, not just in an omnipresent way but in a way that was always ready to listen and to love me. I also fell in love with music at a young age, and in my teens I started leading worship at church.
I was raised to be a nice Christian girl but in my twenties I got angry—angry at the wrongs I saw in church, angry at people who mistreated and took advantage of others, angry at social injustice and inequality. So I started writing. I wrote stories. I wrote songs. When I was twenty-nine, I started writing a non fiction Survival series beginning with Surviving Singledom, a book for Christians who do not follow the mainstream path of marrying young. I have just released the second book in this series, Surviving Childlessness, for those who cannot have children, and I’ve started work on a third called Surviving Chronic Illness.
I recently turned forty and I live in Sydney, Australia. When I’m not writing or playing music, you’ll find me working part-time as a psychologist in the addictions field, cuddling my furbaby, eating chocolate, chipping away at my overflowing to-be-read pile, and planning holidays with my husband!
Do you have a favourite bible passage? If so, what it is and why?
I’m totally in love with the Psalms, but my absolute fave verse would be Matthew 11:28-30. I love Eugene Peterson’s take on this passage where Jesus says to his followers:
‘Are you tired?
Burned out on religion?
Come to me.
‘Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
‘Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
‘Keep company with me
and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.’ (MSG)
I could talk all day about why this is my favourite passage, but in a nutshell, it speaks to the part of me that was taught to strive for approval. I have been in worship ministry a long time and have seen lots of burnout in the church, which I think is largely driven by perfectionism. And I’m a perfectionist too, so I have fallen victim to the church propaganda of endlessly serving and never saying ‘no’.
The first time I saw this scripture with Jesus saying, ‘Burned out on religion? Come to me’, I realised Jesus was setting himself apart from religion. Jesus is different to religion, different to the church we grew up in. In Jesus we can recover our lives, find real rest, and live freely and lightly. And for a perfectionist, the idea of coming to Jesus to rest—not to work or prove myself—is revolutionary.
How do you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus?
Sometimes I would rather be busy for God than resting in him (perhaps others in ministry can relate). So I keep my eyes on Jesus by having time with him that is away from people, away from the church stage, away from writing my weekly blog. I remind myself my value does not lie in my ability to sing or sell books, but in being his.
Music has always ushered me into his presence, so I often put on music or sing to him as a way of grounding myself. Songs from my childhood can be the best go-to ones, like I Love You Lord or Create in Me a Clean Heart. Sometimes I just keep quiet and wait in the silence to see if he will speak or show me something I need to say, like ‘I’m sorry’. And God has often met me in the most profound ways when I am alone, being still, keeping quiet, trusting in his mercy and grace to cover me and bring me into his presence once again.
What would you like the next generation of Christian women to know?
That you do not have to follow any mould of what Christian women are ‘expected’ to do. You can do absolutely anything God is calling you to do: preach, start a church, be a missionary, be single, be childless, be a champion, be a mechanic, be a professor, be a writer, be a stalwart in his church. Don’t be afraid to embrace the quirky, weird, nerdy, outdoorsy, arty person you are. People may not accept you; you may feel like an outsider; you may even doubt yourself from time to time. But trust in Jesus and hang on to him, even if everyone else leaves you.
What’s one thing that you love about your local church?
Having previously been in churches where I was excluded and even mocked for being childless, it is a relief to be in a local church where I’m accepted as I am. They acknowledge childless people both from the front and behind closed doors. They also make an effort to include other people who are normally on the outside looking in: single people, widows, those who identify as being Aboriginal, those who have mental health issues, those who are female. And in church, that inclusivity means more to me than all the excellent preaching and uplifting songs in the world.
What did you learn about God at a time in your life you found hard?
Childlessness brings a unique sense of grief, one that can sneak up on me and catch me unawares. Grief can make me sad and confused and angry, even to the point of blaming God. But one thing I have learned about God is he doesn’t treat us like we treat him. He is first patient and kind, and he waits for us. He will even join in our grief. We can feel hurt and distant; we can even walk away from him; but he won’t walk away from us. God has grace enough to stretch all the way around the world for us. And he will wait, endlessly, while we figure out a way to come back to him. Absolutely nothing can separate us from his love—no, not even us.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about God’s church being a place of refuge and belonging for any and all of us. I want God’s church to be like family, because that is what we are. I want us to be good at including everyone, making sure everyone’s needs are met, making sure no one feels left out or lesser because of their relationship or parenthood status or race or illness or inability to contribute. And I’m passionate about music and writing. I’m passionate about harnessing the arts to tell stories, encourage fellow Christians, and put God’s glory on display.
What do you enjoy doing when you rest?
Sometimes it’s the simple things: a really good piece of chocolate; a cuddle with my cat who purrs as she falls asleep; a walk by the lake near my house. A really good book can take me away mentally, which is helpful when my mind gets too busy. I also like nerdy things: playing Super Mario, building LEGO, playing board games with friends, watching Star Wars. I enjoy browsing in op shops (you never know what riches you’ll find) and fossicking for semi- precious gemstones. And there is something so restful in putting on some beautiful music, sitting back with my eyes closed, and letting God’s love enfold me like a blanket.