We are so excited to introduce you to another breakout speaker for Overflow 2016. Crista Merrell is the global women’s pastor at Bayou City Fellowship and a pretty amazing woman and friend! She has a deep knowledge of scripture and the places of God, but more than that she has a big heart for women. She is an encourager, a cheerleader, a teacher, a mother, and one of the most honest and authentic women that we know. We can’t wait for you to hear from her this year. Here she is in her own words…
Where is your favorite place to visit and why?
This is a hard one for me because I love to GO anywhere! Traveling is my favorite. If I have to choose though, my heart is most connected to the Texas Hill Country. My parents live there, so yaay for free accommodations!--they actually built us our own bunkhouse because my brood of seven kids won't fit in the main house. AND they have this fire ring under a huge pecan tree. The stars are spectacular. But the best part is the rivers--the Sabinal, the Medina and the Frio. Their waters are clear, they teem with life and give deep drinks to the towering Cypress trees that grow along their banks. The land is gorgeous too--rocky and hilly and full of springs seeping from rocks. There are deer, jackrabbits, raccoons and the happiest songbirds. I need nature and quiet to recharge, and that place always delivers. It's my heart's-land for sure!
How does your family enjoy spending time together?
We are our own party! Together we are a spectacle, and we know it. We are a skin-tone rainbow for crying out loud! One thing I know about enjoying our kids is that it will never happen if we set unreasonable expectations of behavior and experiences around our times together. You and I both know that we can't actually *control* our kids because of that whole free will thing, and I have had as many as all seven of mine with me at church, the grocery store, school clothes shopping, eating out restaurants, functions at the school where my husband is principal.....I know you were probably asking more about fun activities, but really I have to say that the best times for us are just when we can all be together. It doesn't happen much because my oldest is in the Army and stationed in South Korea and my second is off at college. I think the key to enjoying your kids is letting them be themselves within a set of clear expectations YOU establish (Resist the urge to be bound by other people's expectations of how they should act and react!) and marveling at how they interact with the world around them.
As the Women’s Pastor at Bayou City Fellowship, what do you see that women struggle most with or bond over whether single, married, young or old?
We struggle most with comparison and competition. I majored in wildlife science in college, so I spent a lot of time observing animals in the wild. That's also the time that I started working in women's ministries. To be clear, I'm NOT saying that women are like the animals--except that sometimes we behave like it. But what I did see is that our flesh, our human nature, tends to go the way of the animals if we don't insist on operating by the Spirit in fellowship and unity. The animals strive for resources and fight and kill one another to be first because that's how they survive. The wolves have such interesting social structure--the females with the young in particular. They compete for resources and relationship to one another and to the males in the pack. The resources are limited, so there is a lot of competing The hardest thing about being in community with other women is resisting our biological urge to see what we have and what we lack, what we think we need. We look into the lives of our sisters and see what we think they have and don't have. Before long we are competing against one another for resources--friends, attention, Kendra Scott jewelry, you name it...But by faith and the truth of the sufficiency of God we are able to disagree with our flesh and choose to operate in God's idea of love in 1 Corinthians 13, that's it's patient and kind, doesn't envy or boast and isn't proud, self-seeking, easily angered or record-keeping of wrongs. It takes relying on the Holy Spirit to rejoice in the truth of how hard or awesome our sisters lives are apart from ours because we tend to rank our hardships and accomplishments against those of others. In our most lovely moments we protect, honor, trust and hope and persevere. And we really are happiest together when we treat each other that way.
We are most united in our relationship to God, our Father. We're sisters! So think of a family of sisters that fight and strive versus one where they cooperate and actively love one another. We strengthen those bonds, the places where we connect, by studying scripture, worshiping, and serving together and by encouraging one another in the faith. Our Father is not limited nor does He ration the spiritual resources available to us. Ephesians 3 tells us that God is able to give exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or hope to ask. That is not a picture that indicates a need for comparison and competition!
It takes effort and sacrifice to agree and come together. It feels safer to our natures to protect what is ours, to make sure we get for ourselves what we think we need. It's counterintuitive to be humble and giving....and I'm talking about in the places of our insecurity and fear and self-protection. Those are the places with the most unifying returns! If we have to get through our flesh to take hold of something, it's a good indicator that it has spiritual value. So the best thing we can do to strengthen our bonds is to build into one another, look for common ground, draw near to God from all of our individual places and as we do, we come closer together.
What are you most looking forward to on the day of Overflow?
I love the moment that everyone there just softens her heart to something God wants to do in her life. Whether it's someone volunteering on prayer team or food prep or attending or speaking or whatever. He has gathered everyone there for a reason! To give hope, to convict, to empower, to lift burdens, to love on His girls! It's like water flowing steady and strong at a wall until, little by little, the mortar of our best efforts is worn away and the pieces of our lives that we try so hard to hold together come tumbling down and are just washed and carried by the mighty love of our great God. When we've allowed Him to gain access to our hearts and the walls are down, He does His transforming work. That's where lives are changed and we stand in full strength on His side and in His light and provision. Yeah. That's the best part of Overflow.
Why do you think that the church can be instrumental in encouraging women who are parenting on their own?
Hebrews 10:25 encourages believers to continue to meet together in good times and in difficult ones. The church needs all of the parts of the body to be together and functioning in unity. In the words of Jennifer Maggio, one of our amazing 2015 Overflow speakers, "Our mission on this earth, as Christians, is to populate Heaven and plunder Hell." If the Church is the Bride of Christ, who He will return for one day, and if the goal of the Bride is to be image bearers of our groom and champion, the church should be the first voice against any darkness and difficulty a single woman (or man, for that matter) faces. If we do not fulfill that calling we are obsolete, and the church looks to me like it's thriving. Bringing light and pushing back darkness is the specialty of Jesus, and if we bear His image, then we should be the best encouragers around. Jesus is the hope of the world. That means that we should encourage one another because life is hard.
There are lots of ways we can help. Some of our women have gathered a list of needs of single women parenting on their own. That list is distributed to others in the church family that want to help. Kids that don't have a consistent or positive father figure in their lives benefit from spending time with men in the church that love and pursue Jesus. And as moms parenting alone receive love and support from the Overflow ministry, they can also extend the encouragement they have received to new women needing a church family to rally around them. Sometimes the needs are financial. Sometimes for prayer. Sometimes for counsel. And there are days where everyone just wants to know that their gifts and abilities are needed and valued. Being part of a church family allows for all those days to come in their seasons. It's good to belong with a body.
What role can single moms play in serving in the church?
I believe the people of Bayou City Fellowship genuinely and deeply love each other, and that includes moms parenting alone. We are one family, and we benefit one another! If we are the body each of us needs the other! Think about how much pain and difficulty the body experiences when one of its parts is not functioning. One of us may be weak and down in one part of our lives or at one time, but that same person may be at full strength in other areas and on other days. Thank God we don't all have to sit out a quarter at the same time! Some of the mightiest and strongest women I know, that I depend on to pray for me and give me counsel, are moms parenting alone. They're friends and confidants, and I need them desperately and can't imagine going without their examples of courage and faith. Or the fun they add to my life. So yeah! Just the presence of these ladies is DEEPLY needed and desired!
There are so many practical ways that single moms can serve the church too! We always need teachers in Kids Ministry, people to rock and love on our babies on Sunday mornings, attend, lead and teach women's Bible study groups, help with organizing events, taking international outreach trips, serving in our ESL ministry in Cypress, working on our Collective teams or prayer ministry teams.....what are your gifts and talents?! The world needs you. Our church definitely needs you. And we WANT you and your children to come and find a family and help carrying your burdens and a home at Bayou City Fellowship! It's a wild ride to build the Kingdom of God on earth. It's way better to all work side by side--meeting one another's needs, bearing one another's burdens. The way I see it, you need Jesus and His church, and we definitely and desperately need you!
We want to thank Crista for taking time out of her busy schedule to sit down with us and share her heart. We know that she is preparing an amazing breakout session for you on June 18th. You don’t want to miss it! If you haven’t registered, there is still time! If you register before May 24th, your name will be entered into a drawing for a free week of camp at Pine Cove. All the details are on the website at www.overflowbcf.com. We can’t wait for you to meet Crista and the other speakers. Check back next week for another interview with our amazing breakout speakers! See you soon!