I have always been a reader. In fact, in kindergarten, I got a certificate for reading the most “baggie books” in our whole class, sometimes two or three books a night (sorry, Mom—I know you are not a reader, and you still had to complete all of those books with me).
I’ve probably read thousands of books, magazines, or news articles in my lifetime, and I can honestly say that written word is one of my greatest treasures. There are infinite combinations of twenty-six little letters that gradually build and build until they register in our consciousness and sometimes even our souls. But, not every text is like the latter; some of them exit our minds as quickly as they entered, leaving no trace of their existence within our psyche.
The Lipstick Gospel is one of those collections of words that will be forever imprinted on my heart as it continually stirs my soul.
“God is champagne toasts, pink shoes, and best friends.”
I’m not sure about you, but that isn’t always the picture of God that I’ve gotten. Yet, it is the picture of God Stephanie May Wilson paints in The Lipstick Gospel, her raw and real memoir about her journey to faith. Her openness about her struggles and her willingness to share her story have made me feel so much more secure in my own, chaotic wandering map to God. One of the awesome things about Stephanie is that she is just as authentic in person as she is on a page; I was lucky enough to hear her speak at a She Dreams Ministries retreat (shameless plug for one of my favorite local ministries), and it was one of the most pivotal weekends I’ve had as a believer.
Stephanie has two new books, The Lipstick Gospel Devotional and The Lipstick Gospel Prayer Journal that officially launch today, so, in honor of that special occasion, I wanted to share just a few ways that Stephanie May Wilson has changed my life, which I don’t say lightly.
She taught me that faith is not one-size-fits-all.
Let’s face it, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has no basis in reality, though sixth grade me would live in a continual state of bliss if it did. Few if any people fit into a pair of jeans exactly the same way, so why would we ever feel as though our relationship with God should be anything other than completely unique to us? I spent so much of my life avoiding God, and a huge reason for that was the comparison trap I always found myself in. Because I did not interact with God the same way as others or because God had given me different talents and passions than others, I often felt like I was “doing life” wrong.
One of my favorite chapters of The Lipstick Gospel retells Stephanie’s story of salvation, which took place inside the Sistine Chapel the morning after she and her college friends went on an Italian pub crawl. Any time I start to feel like I need to do more to measure up and “earn” God’s love or pursue him differently because my walk is not the same as whomever I’m comparing myself to, I read that chapter and remind myself that God’s pursuit of us does not change when we aren’t all put-together. There isn’t one way to God. He gets down on our level, right in the middle of our messes, and he meets us wherever we are… whether that is fighting a vicious hangover in the Sistine Chapel or fighting crippling depression in the midst of your senior year of college (spoiler alert: that’s how I came to know Jesus).
She taught me that Christians are allowed to have doubts.
With clinically-diagnosed anxiety, I endure a lot of doubt. My default mode is picturing the worst case scenario in situations, and I always used to gauge how I was “doing with God” based on my emotions alone. In case you were wondering, letting your emotions dictate how you evaluate your life is a terrible idea, especially when you have a mental illness. Anytime my life wasn’t full of color like I wanted it to be, I assumed that God was mad at me, or that he must not even love me. I would then get angry with him and convince myself that I was the epitome of unholy based on those feelings.
Another great story from The Lipstick Gospel tackles the myth I just described. Stephanie was on her first mission trip ever, and her thoughts did not shy away from pointing out that her life had only seemed to get more difficult after she began following Jesus. There is even one point on the trip when she is journaling and writes “God, if you’re real…”
She questioned God after her insane experience in the Sistine Chapel. Her questioning of him did not negate what he had done for her, and her emotions during the height of her frustration didn’t make her any less Christian. Grace isn’t some theoretical concept meant to give us temporary contentment like a romantic comedy; it is a genuine element of God, one we would do well to remember exists in abundant availability for us.
She taught me how to speak truth over myself.
Like most young women, I am by far my worst critic, which is probably why I empathize with The Lipstick Gospel so much (in the beginning, Stephanie can’t seem to find contentment among negative self-talk). I find countless flaws with my appearance, I second-guess every other sentence that comes out of my mouth, and I never feel like I quite measure up to the impossible standards society imposes on women. Though I battle those insecurities every day, I haven’t had to as much since the She Dreams retreat I mentioned earlier.
At the retreat, Stephanie led our group through a friendship small-group guide she had recently published. One activity in the book involved everyone in the group stating their biggest physical and emotional insecurities out loud, in front of everyone. Mine were my weight gain brought on by depression and the feeling I often have about living life on the outside, never quite knowing what my niche is or where I fit. While we were sharing these anxieties, everyone simply listened without refuting them or saying anything. Then, we all took turns listening to the rest of the group affirm who we truly are outside of those worries and regrets. Here are the truths that people spoke over me:
“You are adventurous and a role model. Your story is inspiring, and you should be confident in the journey that you’re on.”
“I just met you, and I feel like you are my little sister. I love your creativity and your uniqueness. Don’t change!”
“You don’t need to other yourself. You are special, and you are going to be a mentor and a world changer.”
“You are bold, you go out of your way to find community, and you have something to say.”
“You want more of Jesus and his plan for you. He has something big on the horizon for you.”
“You are vivacious and exciting, and you are intentional about what you want.”
“Your story is going to give you opportunities to reach people that others cannot reach.”
Re-reading those statements always brings tears to my eyes, including right now, and I’m not sure I ever could think of myself that way before Stephanie led us through that activity. Audrey Hepburn once said, “Anyone who gave you confidence… you owe them a lot.” Stephanie is one of those people I will always be indebted to in that regard.
She reminds me to celebrate life.
My church recently did a series about spiritual connection pathways based on a booked called Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. This study was all about exploring ways we personally connect to God. One of my top two results was “enthusiast,” meaning I see God the most in moments of celebration. At first, that kind of surprised me since other roles like “caregiver” and “activist” don the list. Yet, with a little investigation, this result shouldn’t surprise anyone. As I look back on some of the most subliminal, time-stood-still moments of my life, I realize that they took place on dance floors and around the table during good meals… they happened on plane rides to places I’d always dreamed about and in passages of books so well-written that I just wanted to sit in them and rest for a while.
Stephanie is one of the biggest enthusiasts and celebrators I have ever met, so much so that she encourages her readers to pop open a bottle of champagne on a Tuesday just because. Revisiting The Lipstick Gospel or reading her blog are always great reminders to celebrate the messy, wonderful gift that is life even on the most difficult or mundane days (if I’m being honest, I hate Tuesdays exceptionally more than I hate Mondays, and even an enthusiast like me finds the mundane hard to enjoy at times).
She taught me that God is a God of incredible surprises.
I have been excited about The Lipstick Gospel Devotional and The Lipstick Gospel Prayer Journal ever since I heard about them and joined the launch team for their debut. I know that God will use them to move mountains in the lives of the women who read them, and I am ecstatic to begin them myself. I don’t know what God has planned for me or the other women who will purchase the books, but I have a feeling it is even better than anything we could imagine. That vision reminds me of the bible verse that is emblematic of The Lipstick Gospel, a verse I want to define my life:
“Look at the nations and watch– and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” — Habakkuk 1:5
If you are interest in purchasing The Lipstick Gospel Devotional, The Lipstick Gospel Prayer Journal, or Stephanie’s memoir, The Lipstick Gospel, you can do so at smaywilsonshop.com. I would recommend doing so, because they will take you on an incredible journey whether you identify as a Christian or not, and Stephanie will be your biggest cheerleader, always in your corner rooting for you.