Refresh Stories: Libby Gordon
I want to preface this interview with an immediate you’re welcome. Seriously, this last interview of the year has deeply affected me in all the ways. We have spent the last year getting you encouraged by sharing the stories of women already walking the walk and talking the talk. These women who have gone before us show us how it’s done. With God, that’s how it’s done. Walking out what God has called us to walk out. Walking out in peace - His peace. Walking out in love - His Love. Walking in purpose - His purpose. Walking out in light - His light. The very second you first believed, you got it. All of it. You can’t get any closer to God than you are now. You can grow in knowledge of God, but when He gave it to you, He gave it all to you! He is near - in you! Always! He will never leave. These women this year have showed us this very fact.
As we close out 2018, Libby will close it well for us. And as we enter a new year, we will have a new kind of story. Those of you who have taken these stories from REFRESH, and ministry from REFRESH, and started walking. Maybe it’s baby steps, but it’s something. Hopefully, if you haven’t yet been persuaded to move, this last interview will be the gentle but fierce nudge to get you out the door, into the world. Shining bright.
Libby is a pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. I met her shortly after I moved here, in the midst of one of the largest wildfires in the state of California. We loaded up a bed and some décor I no longer needed, and as I stood talking with her in my driveway I knew I wanted all of you to hear from her as well. I won’t give anything else away because her words are better than mine. Again, you’re welcome…
Give us a little background of where you came from and how you got here.
I was born in Louisiana. So culturally and accent wise, I sound South African, but I was actually born in the states. I grew up in South Africa, and no I’m not a missionary kid. My parents were studying in University here in the states and when I was seven years old, they separated and my mom took us back to South Africa to raise us there with the support of family. I grew up Catholic, going to church once a year. I had a view of God as “fault finding” and very distant. I believed in a higher power, but had no relationship with Him. When we first came to South Africa, my aunt could not have children. She became pregnant after they started going to church and having people pray for her. "So my mom thought “If God can do that for my sister, maybe He can heal our family's relational wounds.” Thus started our journey into the church. But nothing really changed, except that we were regularly attending church. "After that, my mom sat me down and said, “God helps some people, but some people have to help themselves. So you and I will have to be brave and help ourselves.”
This led me to grow up with a real anger towards God. In school I would mock my Christian friends out of my hurt. But one day a friend invited me to go to youth group and I ended up having a really radical encounter with God there. I was at the back and I was analyzing everyone around me, making sure I was safe, and I had this sense of just goodness. But it made me afraid, because it felt juxtaposed to what I had internalized, which was a lot of anger and pain. As I started feeling this goodness all around me, I immediately began to start compartmentalizing - feeling the need to be perfect. I knew I wasn’t perfect and this scared me. I ran out of the room and said to God, “If you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone.” I thought God was going to kill me. The feeling around me was so intense and radical. I probably looked like I was on narcotics. I thought I had just made the biggest mistake of my life by going to church and coming up on God’s radar. All I could think of were the bad things I had done. I began confessing all my sins to my friend who had come to find me. The youth pastor’s wife came out and laughed at me. As she explained the gospel I calmed down and went back in and answered the altar call. That was the night I gave my life to the Lord. My loneliness was gone. From there, with little wisdom, I became zealous. I talked to anyone who would talk to me. I lead my grandfather to the Lord just before his death, as well as my parents and brother. For the next 10 years, I relearned what family is like and I found out about identity. I went to counseling and got set free from self-hatred and pain. I didn’t look back. My relationship with God became my oxygen and my sanity. After high school I went to college and loved being around people who were not believers. I met my husband there. We had a campus ministry gathering people and sharing the gospel, and that is where we started to experience the supernatural. I knew I was called to pastor, but there were no Bible colleges around that were healthy, so I would just minister where I could. Even though I was pastoring and preaching periodically in the church, the environment we were in did not allow women to be key leaders in the church.
My husband and I were being invited to speak at different churches and he would always invite me up when he was ministering. He started saying to me he would love me to lead and speak more. Because of my theology at the time, I disagreed and would play down my role in ministry. I didn’t want to dishonor God or overpower my husband. I thought the leadership call on my life was the thorn in my flesh.
Through a series of events we came to Bethel for me to attend the ministry school. Richard worked full time and took over the duties in the home so he could invest in my life. He was probably ahead of his time in that way. I got healed of leadership wounds and really bad theology. My self sabotage and self imposed limits were broken. Richard ended up going to the school as well. After my second year they hired me, and I have been pastoring and serving in the ministry school since. Richard and I also travel quite a bit ministering in different churches. I teach Bible and do a lot of leadership development. What I do now is set people free, just like I was set free.
When did you feel the call to pastor?
After my salvation, I didn’t have room to dream. I was in such a deep healing process, and more in survival mode than anything else. People would recognize something in me and only then would I feel permission to entertain the thought. Even when I began pastoring at the church I didn’t have any hopes and dreams. I would always err on the side of safety and serving others. I would steward what I had. But about six years ago, for the first time, I had a leader sit with me and ask what my dreams were. It was the first time anyone had ever asked me. I had no answer. I was so scared of standing out or ruffling feathers or even be misunderstood. I didn’t want to have my dreams squashed.
As we spoke, I realized there was something happening in my destiny. Saying yes to coming to this place would unlock dreams in me. She asked a lot of probing questions. I went home and cried with my husband and by myself and then began to let myself dream. I now know I will do anything in my power to be a doorway for others to walk through for more freedom or encountering the unconditional love of God.
Have there been any moments where you thought, this is too hard, I want to quit?
Yes. I can remember moments when Richard and I were both in ministry school and Richard had decreased his hours at work and the finances were running out. I started to get to a place where I was so believed in by people around me, I realized that perfection and having it all together were not requirements of being a leader. Actually, not being ok and being honest about where you are was more celebrated than fulfilling the role or duty you were called to play. And then fear freaked me out. I used the finances as an absolute excuse for me to step aside from school. I felt justified and calculated at the time. My husband sat me down and lovingly told me to remember the time he spent investing in me by working while I went to school. He told me
“When you step into the bigness and freedom that’s in your life and you allow yourself to be fully yourself and you stop holding back, you are giving me the reward of what I sacrificed for, and that is the fruit of everything I’ve been sowing into. You self-sabotaging is actually robbing from me the gift of watching you walk in purpose. I have spent most of our marriage telling you that you have what it takes. You are not afraid of our finances, you are afraid of freedom. You have gotten so good at coping, I think you don’t know how to handle life when everything is going your way. You were so used to living in a cage and now that you have been let out, you are afraid of being free.”
I argued and tried to say he wasn’t right, and then I realized I was so used to navigating obstacles and being the underdog. I was now in a safe place and I had no more excuses and it scared me to the point I wanted to sabotage everything. So I asked for help from a trusted mentor. I told her, “I think I have this problem of being afraid of freedom.” She lovingly started to coach me with measurable, safe opportunities to be myself. When I actually admitted freedom scared me, I realized so many women have the same fear, because no one has taught them how to have a voice. I learned that is ok to do things afraid. I thought when the time was right I would step into my destiny and I would be full of peace and there would be no obstacles. But I know now every opportunity I have had I stepped into afraid and God met me right there.
What are the things that keep you going?
Asking for help. Admitting my weaknesses. Inviting people into my journey. Obviously my husband and friends. I knew how to minister in rest but I didn’t know how to have a lifestyle of rest, and how to have friendship and connection. It is nice having all those things now.
When I don’t know what I’m doing, being able to ask the stupid questions. Being honest has been a key in overcoming. I’m always met with kindness and love when I ask the people I trust.
The voice of the Lord has been radical. As a woman and a leader, I’ve had times where I’ve had men say they are triggered by me. But I have to understand His voice called me, and that is the place I choose to live out of. I need to hear Him. If I don’t hear what He says about me, I will lead out of insecurity or compensate for myself.
Do you feel supported in your journey?
This is the most empowering environment I have ever been in. When I meet with overseers now they are not asking how my ministry is going. They ask me about my heart. They really want to know how things are going and what they can do to help. Being in this kind of intentional environment has changed how I receive Love. If I am ever performing or trying to prove myself, I am invited into a safe place and asked why I have the need to do that. They tell me they believe in me. It is definitely a unique environment.
Where are you at in the journey and where do you hope to be?
When I look back at 16 year old Libby, my dreams were nothing like they are now. I thought I would just be living a safe life with no possibility of being hurt. I wanted to fly under the radar.
Where I am now is way more than I could have ever dreamt of. When we first started dreaming, we would write them down and then when we get those dreams we would write down more. Each time we would take more and more risks with these dreams and with help we have seen all of them fulfilled.
We are still on a journey of dreaming bigger too. I’m not just fulfilling expectations; I’m dreaming beyond me. I’m dreaming for movements of God rather than what is in it for me. A lot of our dreams have gotten broader and more specific. I am no longer afraid to dream big.
Some of my dreams have actually gotten less spiritual! I love finding God in the ordinary and while I love hearing about Him healing someone, I love seeing God in the very little normal things.
What kind of advice or encouragement do you have for other women trying to pursue their own purpose in God?
You want the Kingdom of God not just externally, but internally. Seeing a move of God externally is far more easier than internally. Internal health is a far more powerful thing because then you begin to live from this place. It’s not just a moment, it’s eternal.
Live an authentic life.
Find your people. Kindred spirits who cheer each other on. Don’t just have heroes that are at a distance. Find accessible people who have time for you.
Live out of a place knowing that you’re called. It’s a beautiful thing when you are a woman and you have nothing to prove. You are so convinced He has called you it doesn’t matter what the environment says. This takes off the pressure. You don’t have to be the best, you have to live your calling. Don’t be apologetic.
Prepare. Don’t just dream about it. It’s not about the highlights or the end of the journey. Take the time to learn, be messy and do the hard work.
Written by Kelli Sommers
Kelli Sommers comes from a long line of storytellers and comedians. Through her stories she hopes to inspire others to know how much God loves them.
Kelli is married to a complete opposite who loves to watch her fly. She has 5 beautiful kids and serving her family is one of her greatest joys in life, but bedtime is one of her favorite times of day.
Kelli loves to read the Word and that’s the only book she has time for right now. If she is not at home picking up messes, you will find her out with a friend, having a long talk and some good food (probably tacos). She is passionate about unifying women. We are better together. You can find her on her blog and instagram.