Paula Moldenhauer
Faith Journey

My faith is central to who I am. Early memories of this journey begin at age seven. I laid on the top bunk bed in our family home, the basement of an old church in Wichita. Overwhelmed with the idea of the sacrifice of Jesus, I remember praying that God would tell His Son how thankful I was that He died on the cross to save me. (I didn’t yet understand I could pray directly to Jesus!) During this time I was baptized by my dad in the Arkansas River. From that moment on, I know my Savior never left me.

All families have their stuff, and mine was no different. I always knew my mom and dad loved me, but I don’t remember them ever being very happy together. During my parents’ fights I’d hide with my favorite doll and my Bible. One day, when I was nine or ten, I read Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (KJV)

For many years I turned to that verse when I felt scared or discouraged. I loved God and knew He’d chosen me for His plans, so I figured He’d take care of me and things would work out eventually.

As a child and teenager I learned to perform. People thought we had the perfect family, never suspecting the anger and unhappiness that raged behind the walls of our home. I excelled in school and won lots of awards, constantly pushing myself not only to achieve, but to be a “perfect little Christian.” In each of life’s hurts I turned to my Father, learning to crawl up on His lap for hope and comfort.

But what began as a little girl’s love affair with Jesus got mixed up with the need to be “perfect” and to perform not only for the world, but for God. I felt responsible for my parents, my friends, and pretty much the whole world. God’s free gift of salvation had been twisted in my psyche to include a bunch of rules and expectations. By the time I grew up and my parents divorced, I’d set myself up for deep failure. I fought thoughts of suicide and self-loathing. I was on a journey to face how completely unable I was to be all I thought I had to be.

Thankfully, God sent my husband, Jerry, into my life. He saw the real me—the vulnerable woman who worked too hard to please and who fought feelings of inadequacy and failure when she couldn’t. He had no need for me to perform for him or anyone else and modeled the unconditional love of God to my weary heart.

But I still couldn’t let go of perfectionism, and my Savior was getting tired of it. He wanted me to live in joy and freedom. In his wisdom He sent Jerry and me four precious little ones in six years. Idealistic expectations of myself soared to a new high. I would be the perfect mother, never failing my children, never losing my temper, always loving and fun and joyful. Even more, I would homeschool them, teaching them to love God and love learning.

We would be the perfect family.

Of course that didn’t work out.

In every perceived failure, my self-loathing grew. Overwhelmed by inadequacy I disappeared more and more into self-hatred. The outside world still saw competent, smiling Paula, but inside my heart I sunk further into despair.

I was finally broken enough to give up and allow God to work.

Hanging onto the loving prayers and support of my husband and a good friend, I sought help through my church’s freedom ministry and experienced spiritual break-through. I recognized my sins of pride and perfectionism. I realized pleasing others had become an idol in my life, and that I had lost sight of what God asked of me in my need to keep people happy. Unforgiveness toward people who’d hurt me also had to be confessed. I received deep healing and cleansing. In my mid-thirties, I truly felt grown-up for the first time as I shed the false identities I’d latched onto in my woundedness.

God then gave me a new identity: Paula, totally dependent on Him. I’d always known my name meant, “little one.” I wasn’t particularly thrilled with that. I was tall for a woman, almost 5 foot 9 inches, an over-achieving first born, and a self-appointed care-giver for the world. I just couldn’t relate to being “little one.” Then I found a new meaning for my name, “dependent on God.” As I prayed about this, the Lord showed me that I was HIS little one. He’d been teaching me from a young age to crawl up on His lap and let Him take care of me. There had never been a moment in my life when I wasn’t protected and cared for as His precious little girl.

I entered a season of re-discovering the true heart of God—His complete, total acceptance of me (when I did well and when I did not), His unconditional love, His gentle, trustworthy character. I learned He was the One who placed a tender hand underneath my chin, encouraging me to lift my face and look into His eyes of love and forgiveness when I failed, not a God who shook an angry finger in my face. If I stumbled and fell, He helped me to my feet. Instead of the lecture I expected, He smiled and said, “Let’s try it My way.” One time He even chided me, “Did you really think I didn’t know you would mess up? That I was surprised or appalled?”

He knew I couldn’t be perfect—that’s why He chose to die for me, to cover all my imperfections with His glorious self. My greatest efforts were nothing compared with HIS righteousness. Through the cross I was cleansed by His blood and clothed forever in grace. It wasn’t only a one-time forgiveness; it was a daily, minute-by-minute, forever and always cleansing.

As I quit looking at my efforts and fixed my eyes on Jesus, HE began to change me from the inside out. I’m still far from perfect, but my tendency toward quick anger has fallen away. I’m learning to care more about what God thinks than what anyone else does, and this frees me to serve without all the pressure. I can do the things I love—like write or speak or mother my kids—without my whole identity wrapped up in my performance. I can face failure and enjoy success without either destroying me. There are still moments the old Paula, the insecure perfectionist, tries to peek out again, but she doesn’t hang around long, because the real me is secure in the unconditional love of my God.

My passion now is to know Him better. I want to open my arms wide to all the love and grace He pours upon me and learn to let it flow right through to others.


 
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