Kelly Beckley Shank shares a story about overcoming fear and finding confidence in her calling, despite the challenges she encounters. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash
Sixteen years old and I thought the world was mine to rule. Donning my tiara and sash, I walked freely wherever I wanted, doing most anything I liked during the state fair. Watch the horse races from the private dining room while eating crab cakes? Sure. Walk through the back door at the dairy bar and get a milkshake? Absolutely.
No one told the Farm Queen there were limits to her dreams yet.
Oldest of three girls. Grew up on a farm. Daughter of parents who didn’t tolerate sexism. Their confidence in my abilities remains one of the greatest gifts from my parents. Not a single memory exists of them ever telling me I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl. In fact, when practicing contest questions for the Farm Queen contest the subject of being a girl in agriculture came up. Even now, I can remember my mom helping me craft an answer. Her position was clear, “you were raised in a family where girls are just as capable as boys.”
Those words weren’t fodder for a feminist agenda or underlying power struggle. My parents believed each of us was capable of working on the farm. Our tasks were assigned by ability and interest, not gender.
College was no match for my confidence and determination. Yet again, I found myself in a place where my gifts were celebrated.
The first hint of pushback showed up shortly after starting my first full-time job. Back a long gravel driveway, my boss and I arrived for my first farm visit. Fresh out of college with a squeaky agricultural economics degree and family name to back me up, I jumped out of the car. This was the moment I’d waited for: my dream job was real.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the type of person my client was expecting. I was too young and too female. His words escape me now, but I can still feel the shame from being judged as unqualified. Without giving me a chance, he decided I wasn’t good enough. Our visit continued as my boss chatted with the client about his needs and I silently watched. How could I help a client who wouldn’t speak to me?
Fortunately, I’m hard-headed, and proving him wrong became my mission once the sting wore off. By the time I announced my transfer to another office the following year, that same gentleman had become a frequent visitor to my office. Often, he’d enter with an ear of corn in hand for me to examine and a story to share.
I may have won that battle, but my confidence was cracked.
My life changed little in the decade that followed. By the time my girls were born, I was back on the farm and working full-time with my dad. Each morning, I would pack a diaper bag, a toy bag, and a lunch box with enough food and supplies to last for the day. Then we’d load up and head to work.
Thinking back, it’s quite amazing to think of the confidence my dad still had in me. With two babies in tow (they’re only 15 months apart), he assumed I would keep doing my job. The girls and I would run the grain mill, me unloading trucks or drying grain while they played. We moved equipment and ran errands. On rainy days we paid bills. During the winter, we enjoyed some time off.
Proving myself capable at work was one thing. I never imagined I would need to prove myself within the church. But there I was again.
No one ever said anything, but the kind of mama I am was different than everyone else. Maybe every mama secretly feels that way, but being myself in church made me uneasy. I can’t remember any other mamas showing up to VBS in a beat-up old farm truck covered in a day’s worth of straw dust and dirt, but we did.
It wasn’t just my type of work or the hours I put in. I also wasn’t a crafts and playtime mama.
I tried really hard, but I hated it. The pumpkins, glitter, and play dough drove me crazy. If children could play by themselves and be happy, why should I interfere? But my friends were so good at that stuff and seemed to enjoy it. What in the world was wrong with me?
There were women’s Bible studies, but I didn’t go. Beth Moore in the 2000s was a model I couldn’t live up to. She was so put-together and perky. I was more grease and occasional profanity when something broke. Her videos oozed a level of wholesome friendliness I could never attain.
As a defense, I stayed far, far away from all things women’s ministry. If I wasn’t there, I couldn’t be compared.
But God has a way of bringing everything full-circle and He has quite a sense of humor. A decade later sitting across from me at a picnic table, my friend asks me what book I’m going to write. Slightly taken aback, I share my idea as well as my disclaimer that I’m not a Beth Moore of the 2000s kind of woman. She tells me that Beth Moore isn’t a Beth Moore of the 2000s kind of woman anymore either, go look again. Of course, she’s right.
I’m petrified by what God is doing in my life.
If there is a “right” way to do women’s ministry, it probably won’t be the way I do it. God called me to reach women who feel the way I did when my girls were little. He’s asking me to reach the ones who feel like they don’t fit, the women who love their careers, the ones who detest working in the nursery, the ones who have big questions about faith, and the women who are a little outside the lines.
These are my people.
Inside, I’m hesitant because being strong and brave can come across as bossy and out-of-line. Every time I publish a blog post or end a live teaching, I wait for pushback. I wait to hear them say I can’t teach because I’m female. In those moments, I fear the words of people more than I hear the affirmations of God.
I’m afraid God is calling me to speak and lead in ways that will make people (not least of all, me) uncomfortable.
On my own, I’m weak and afraid. I want to be a model of obedience and trust. I will be strong and brave despite feeling weak and afraid. The Farm Queen needed someone who believed in her. Even more importantly, my girls need a mama who is willing to be very uncomfortable doing exactly what God is asking. They need me to be strong and brave by clinging to God.
Kelly Beckley Shank understands doubt and fear, but she embraces God’s promises and chooses confidence. As a Purpose & Process Coach, Kelly challenges women to identify their strengths, clarify their purpose, and choose confident leadership. A self-proclaimed farmbody, Kelly enjoys being home with her husband, 3 kids, and their little herd of farm animals. You can find her online at kellybeckleyshank.com or on Instagram and Facebook.