This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Today we’re excited to welcome Jackie Hill Perry to the Risen Motherhood podcast. Jackie is a wife to Preston and a mom to two young girls, Eden and Autumn. She has an amazing story of how she came to Christ, which we’ll touch on today during the show, as we’re discussing what it means to find your identity in Christ.
Her new book, Gay Girl, Good God gives a deeper look into her story, which includes gender confusion and same sex attraction, and how God broke in and turned her heart towards him, transforming her life to follow and obey him in light of the gospel.
Today, we’ll be talking specifically about common ways we misplace our identity as moms, and how we can remember the gospel to root our identity back in Christ. Jackie is a writer, poet, artist, speaker, and teacher. Let’s get to the show with Jackie, Laura, and myself.
Laura: Hi, Jackie. Thanks so much for joining us on Risen Motherhood today.
Jackie: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Laura: We are thrilled to have you on the show. Emily and I have both really enjoyed your content, especially in the last couple of years as we've interacted with your ministry more and the things that you do. We are really excited to have you on the show and to introduce the work that you do and your wisdom to the listeners of Risen Motherhood today.
Jackie: Yay. I hope I can add some value. I am still an amateur mother.
Laura: [laughs] Well, we’re excited because we’re talking about identity in Christ, which is one of those big, common phrases that feel like everyone’s tossing it around and we say it to ourselves, and we tell it to our friends.
But it’s kind of one of those hard words to understand, and so we want to get more into your story and to hear more about who you are. But we’re wondering if you could start off with just defining a little bit of what does this phrase mean? Why is it essential as a Christian to understand? And then we’ll move into knowing a little bit more about your story and how that plays in.
Jackie: I think the most basic or simple way to understand identity is, “Who am I?” And understanding who I am points to, “What is my purpose? Why was I created?” Our primary identity has always been and should be that we’re image bearers. Genesis 1:27—we were made in the image of God, and being made in the image of God means that we belong to him. We bear his image. We were made for him. Colossians 1:16 says so. So coming from that point, if it’s like, “Oh, so I am a woman, made in the image of God, therefore I was made for him. Then what does it mean to be made for him?” So does that mean that my life is his? My relationships are his? My job is his? My children are his? My body is his? My view of myself, even that is his?
It starts to clarify a lot of the ways in which we should behave and think of the world, our relationships, with also ourselves. It can be weird and complicated, but when you simplify it in that way, it’s like, “Oh, I was made for him so I've just got to live to him.”
Emily: It’s really encouraging to consider that our identification with God and being his image bearer, like you said, supersedes even what our feelings are or what our heart says. I've been studying 1 John over the summer and one thing I feel encouraged by was where he says, “By this we shall know we’re of the truth and reassure our hearts before him. For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” That’s been really helpful to me too and thinking about identity. That God is greater than whatever it is in my heart that I think like, “Oh, this is gripping me,” or something that I feel like I have to identify with. Therefore that’s a great point of that image bearer status never changes, and his ownership over us remains secure.
Laura: Jackie, I know we didn’t do this at the beginning of the show. We wanted to tee up that identity in Christ and have that platform there. And so now that we have that base, can you just tell us a little bit about your story? We know you have a book coming out in September, right around the time of this interview, called Gay Girl, Good God, and this book is awesome.
Emily and I have both read through it and it talks a lot about you finding your identity in Christ and how that changed and transformed you. We’d love to hear a little bit about your story and how you came to the point to where you found your identity in Christ alone.
Jackie: Yes. I was raised in a single parent household, which is already transformative; not transformative in a good way, I’d say defining in how I started to think of myself. Not having a dad does a lot to how you see yourself as a young girl, your beauty, your worth, and stuff like that.
Growing up, I felt I just sort of gathered a lot of my identity from people and just trying to find value from them. I didn’t know that I was introverted. I don’t know if that was a thing in the early 90s, but I didn’t know that that was just my personality—not to be all the life of the party, talking with everybody. So for that reason then, I was never really in the in-crowd, never really esteemed, never really affirmed.
I noticed that I had same sex attractions when I was maybe five or six; I don’t really remember. I kind of hid that and kept that inside of me just because when I would go to church, it didn’t seem as if that is something you tell people [laughs]. It didn’t seem like that was something that the church would receive too well if you just let that out of the bag. So I just kept it to myself.
Until high school came and I was like, “You know what, this is who I like, this is who I think I like. I am just going to try it. I am just going to do me; it is what it is.” That’s what I did, and when I stepped out and just begun to live life as a gay girl, it felt more natural to me than heterosexuality did. It felt as if, “Oh, this must have been who I've been this whole entire time and I just didn’t know. I was denying myself this type of experience.”
Up until I was 19, God didn’t take long to snatch me up out of his kindness. He saved me when I was 19 and just showed me all of my sin. Not just my sexuality, but that I was a liar, I was a thief, I liked getting high all the time, drunkenness, I was disobedient to my mother. And all of this I knew because I had read the Bible before. I didn’t read the Bible a lot, but what I did read was enough to convict me of sin.
I saw, “Hey, all of this stuff I like to do seems to not be good.” It was like everything that I loved and enjoyed, I saw that it would not profit me in eternity. I just saw the worthlessness of it all, but up and against Christ, it was like, “Oh, if this stuff is what it is to live, then you must be worthy.” I am not even trying to say that to have something like a Christian cliché. But that really was what it was, was that, “You must be the only one who was worthy of my heart and soul if you were snatching me away from everything that I thought was worthy in the first place.”
I just believed him. I didn’t know that I was believing him, I didn’t know that I was repenting of sin. I just knew that I saw my sin in its rightful place, which is death. But I also saw, and remembered that one thing that my aunt told me all the time and that we learned in Sunday school is that Jesus died for sinners so that they would have life. I believed that to be true, and he saved me.
So after becoming a Christian then was the work of, “How do I now start to define myself when I've defined myself by so many other things?” The scriptures helped me to really recognize that, “No, what God says about me is the truth. And because God isn’t a liar, it’s literally the truth.” [laughs] I have to believe him over and above even how I feel about myself, or what people might say that I should prove about myself.
Emily: That’s really helpful because everyone can identify with being a sinner, and I love what you said about, “Hey, this is what feels natural to me.” Well, what feels natural to me is speaking a harsh word to my children whenever they don’t do what is right. What feels natural to me is sitting on the couch and trying to parent with a side eye or a yell down the stairs, instead of actually engaging my children.
We can’t just live based off of what feels natural to us because our flesh and our sin nature is not honoring to God. I really think that is a critical piece there. I love what you’ve really discussed in your book and fleshed out what it looks like to trust what God and his word that’s about us, and let that be what transforms and guides our actions.
Jackie: Yes. Amen.
Laura: As a mom, since there's pretty much mostly all moms listening [laughter] right now—and some non-moms—but can you zero this in for you as a mom, Jackie, of what are some places that you do still find yourself misplacing your identity, and then move back to the cross? Can you walk us through a little bit of some identities that you personally struggle with as a mom, specifically? And then, how you point yourself back?
Jackie: That’s good. One of my temptations is that because—I notice this when I got pregnant this last time around—I had to cancel a lot of stuff and be at home because you shouldn’t be out traveling and preaching and teaching when you're eight months pregnant [laughter]. I was telling a woman from my church, and I was like, “Something about that makes me feel like I am not doing anything with my life.” And she was like, “Jackie, you need to be okay with seeing that God is just as pleased and that you are just as worthy washing the dishes as you are when you're teaching on a stage.”
One of the identities that I try to resist is that thinking that my work as a mother is not a big deal. You're teaching and all this type of stuff is like, “Yes, this is the real work.” But God is like, “No, changing diapers is a big deal. Sitting and watching Daniel Tiger is also a big deal [laughter]. Teaching your daughter how to cook is a big deal.” I've therefore had to try to reorient how I've seen motherhood, and not seeing it as a lesser thing than the other things that I do. That’s a big one for me.
Laura: That for me is as well—the instant gratification of accomplishing something. We've produced a podcast and put it out there, or we've written some social media. Whatever may be in our current work and all the likes—and that’s just social media culture, a consumer culture—it’s definitely kind of messed with my mind as a mom. You're so right that it is significant work, investing in the souls of our children, and it is just as important as investing in other people outside our homes.
That motherhood job can feel so thankless at times. But at the same time, who else is going to do that work in my kids’ life if I check out and want to go other places? I just know it’s so important to be present and checked in and not just assume or just look for the instant gratification from the world.
Jackie: That’s exactly what it is; the instant gratification [laughter]. I've never thought about it. It’s just like, “She doesn’t tell me thank you!” “So what? Like love her! It’s okay.” It’s like, “God sees you,” and that’s important.
Emily: And like mercy, it is merciful to change a child’s dirty diaper that cannot deal with their own issue of being soiled; to be able to clean that up and help that child eat and all of those things because our identity is founded in Christ. Those acts of mercy are just as important as acts of mercy that we show to other people, and you're right, that’s critical to remember.
We've kind of talked about it in this conversation, but how specifically, when you catch yourself wanting to find your identity or your worth or your validation in something outside of Christ, what are some things that you do to help remember your identity in Christ is still along?
Jackie: Really my first step is getting to the why behind why I feel that way. Even if we were to use what we were just discussing as an example, it’s like, “What is it about teaching on a stage or whatever that you find valuable or more valuable than being at home and sleeping?” And I think a lot of it is pride. It’s the pride of being seen and being affirmed in the “service” of the work that I've done and am doing. And truth be told, I am getting paid for it. [laughter]
The pride of that is, is it not enough to be seen by God in the secret places of your home? Is it not enough to be satisfied fully in that? The fact that you're righteous in Christ, you are always and will always be approved by God? And so you don’t have to work for that approval on a stage or at home.
The why helps me to figure out what to do with it. That’s part of what it is. When I identify the why then I go back to the scriptures and what the scripture has to say about how I should handle the why for myself. Therefore, for me, it’s just finding a level of humility in how I see myself and how I see God and just reminding myself of him. Like, he was a carpenter for goodness sakes. And he was not anti that being a part of what he did.
He was about to save the world and yet he still had a job, [laughs] and he still was making tables for people, and I am sure he wasn’t making tables on Mount Sinai [laughter]. As in looking to Jesus and seeing how much he valued his full identity as being the Son of God and what that meant. For me to be like, “Okay, I can do that too, and it is really okay for me to own what God has called me to do or called me to be, however that might look.”
Laura: I often just find myself praying, “Lord, let my focus, my value, and my worth be found in you. Let it make everything else pale in comparison.” That’s where I want to keep my eyes so focused on him and what it means that he's chosen me, and that I have eternity with him—just this amazing gift.
When I finally believe that’s enough, I feel like then I am able to go with my children and play and fully engage maybe for the first time all day. Or when my satisfaction is just fully found in Christ, I feel like my mothering is so much better because I am not distracted by wondering, “What's going on on my phone? Or what's the next opportunity that I am going to get? And where am I going to have this other thing to do?”
It’s so hard but I find I have to say that to myself 55 times a day. “Okay, what do I have in Christ? Who am I because he died and rose again for me? What does that mean?” “Okay yes, it means I have eternity with him and I walk through that.” And then that just washes over me. It’s been really a good training ground, but unfortunately I have to do it way too many times than I care to admit. [laughter]
Jackie: That’s huge. That’s being honest with God and letting him in on it, as if he doesn’t already know. A thing like, “Hey, this is really the truth of who I am. Or who I believe myself to be right now at this moment. Can you please help me?”
Trying to even reorient my identity without asking God for the help to do so is unrealistic because I need the Spirit of God to do that work. And I need the Spirit of God that as I read the Word of God to renew my mind so that the work is actually productive and changes things; I can’t change myself and I can’t change my heart. My heart is always going to be fought back into me believing things that are not true. Therefore prayer is just so huge in all of this.
Emily: I wish I could quote the verse right off the top of my head. We've been going through Psalm 119 in church and there's one verse in there where the sermon is basically like, “God force me to do it your way and to live according to your will.” And it’s like, “Yes.” That’s not the official translation [laughter]. I remember praying, “God, you're going to have to do this.” Like, “God make me live according to your will.”
Jackie: Yes. That chapter is full of barbs.
Laura: Yes. [laughter]
Emily: I guess carrying that a step further, we know, like you said, you're new into motherhood. We’re kind of in early years too, so we definitely try not to give parenting advice on this show. But just curious because identity in Christ has been such a big theme in your life and in your teaching, how do you see yourself wanting to do that at home with your girls? As you begin to teach them to find their identity in Christ and to know that we can’t officially do that work in their heart? But what are some things that you want to do or to share with them to help point them in that direction?
Jackie: Umm…I…I guess… [laughter]
Laura: That’s how we feel with these questions after a while. [laughter]
Jackie: I don’t know because I don’t know if I've ever been intentional about trying to help her find her identity right now. But I do think that I've been trying to establish that she's loved. I have a three-year-old named Eden and a ten-week-old named Autumn. Autumn doesn’t understand anything I am saying right now, [laughter] so I am talking specifically about Eden.
I want her to know that she's loved because even in all of my dysfunction, I was super secure in the fact that my mother loved me. And me knowing that she loved me kind of kept me out of a lot of mess, because me knowing that she loved me meant that what she had to say about certain things was because she loved me. Not because she wanted to harm me or keep me from stuff.
And so as her parents—me and Preston—we both want to anchor her in, “Your parents love you. Part of your identity is that you are loved,” and I want that to begin to eventually translate to how she can understand the love of God towards her and how that should then change how she sees herself and sees the world and everything like that.
That’s one thing I've been trying to do. I probably don’t do a great job because I do tell her that she's pretty and smart all the time, [laughter] which might be leading to some pride eventually. But I think that’s necessary because I didn’t think I was pretty. I didn’t have any idea. And so because of it—because I wasn’t hearing about it at home as often as I probably could have—I looked for every single boy that could possibly tell me that I was cute when I was just unhealthy. I don’t know, I think that’s an answer. Sorry. [laughter]
Emily: From what you’ve just observed even on social media, or following you guys, you do a great job of living in an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ in front of your family and the world. That’s one thing Laura and I have learned a lot is there may not be the specific, intentional touch point, but our kids are going to become disciples as they watch us live and come along with us.
They hear us talking about these things all the time, see us repenting and having to turn back and say, “Wow, I really messed this up and Mommy needs Jesus’ help as much as you do.” I've no idea what that’s produced in our kids, but I am praying that if they turn to Christ, God will use those memories of watching mom and dad, and hopefully, the community that they're in, finding their identity in Christ and, I don’t know, that’s my hope. [laughs]
Laura: So much of parenting is modeling, which is terrifying to be honest.
Jackie: No, it is.
Laura: Yes, it’s like, “Do as I do.” It’s the whole “actions speak louder than words,” and sometimes we can get so caught up focusing on, “How do I get their identity in Christ?” when really it’s just like, “Let me just show you what it looks like to be sold out for the gospel.” And, “Come along with me, and I hope that you fall in love with Jesus so much because you see how I love Jesus and what he's done for me. And I want to image that for you.”
We've got 20 years with these kids, 18 or however long we've got with them under our roofs. I have a 5-year-old now and I feel like time is slipping away, like they say. And I can’t believe I am saying that with a 5-year-old [laugher] that's going to kindergarten, and I am just grasping for that time with him. But I want him so dearly to love God, to find his identity in Christ, and to understand what that really means. I know of no other way to do that than to just try and live out my own relationship and not overcomplicate it, because then I get all tied up and am kind of ineffective, to be honest.
Jackie, for our last question, we want to ask you about what you might do with a friend who is possibly finding her identity in other things. A lot of the moms that are listening have podcast clubs or they get together to discuss the show. They’re also talking about the things of motherhood— where we’re all finding comrades along the way. I am curious how you might offer her some tips for remembering the gospel. Can you just walk us through what might be helpful as we interact with our friends?
Jackie: What I would say is the WHY is huge; understanding why you are placing your identity and WHAT you are placing your identity in. It is valuable to understand that one, just so that we can understand ourselves, and in understanding ourselves, that gives us room to not repeat the same patterns. Because when you start to figure yourself out, it’s like, “Oh, this is why I do what I do,” so that when the same temptation comes up two months from now, or next Tuesday, I am able to identify it and say, “I know what that is, and I know what to do with it.” So I think getting to the why of it is important.
Then go back to the text, go back to scripture. If it’s a friend that hypothetically says, “I am really struggling with finding my identity in being a minister.” Or, “I am really finding my identity in being someone who's really good. I feel like I am a good person, but I feel like that’s an identity that I probably shouldn’t base my entire life on.” And then it’s like, “Why do you find your identity in that?” “Well, I guess I get some type of value of feeling like I could just do what God tells me to do.” Like, “I find some type of value in that I can work for his approval or something.” It’s like, “Maybe we should go to Galatians and look out for them. Maybe we should see that no, there's nothing you can do to be saved. There's nothing you can do to find approval in God. If that was the case then Jesus wouldn’t have died. You would have been the savior for all of us.”
Therefore knowing that that’s not the truth, knowing that only Jesus could save us and only Jesus could make us right with God, and that there is so much identity to be found in being someone who was redeemed, and not being the one that could redeem themselves, that there is glory in that truth. Let’s remind ourselves of that. And let’s pray together.
After identifying the why and identifying what that is, go to the scriptures because there is repentance that needs to take place. There is, “God, I am sorry for placing my identity in X, Y and Z, and not in what you have done for me on the cross.” And after repentance there is truth, and there is a turning from, but knowing like, “Okay, God is going to help me even in this.” To every temptation there is a way of escape. Sometimes you escape by just believing the truth.
It may not just be an exit door or turning off your phone. It’s just believing what you already know to be true. Praying together and affirming each other like, “You are this,” because we do not want an identity of shame. Now I've changed myself because I admitted that I suck. We don’t want to do that either [laughter].
Asking why, prayer, repentance, scripture, hope. I think that’s what I would do. And I don’t think it would be as neat as that; that could happen over sections or over a couple weeks. Or it could happen over a two hour session in a Starbucks. I am not sure; it depends on how the Lord leads. But I think that’s the gist of what I've often done with my friends.
Emily: I love how you mention—I've never heard anybody say it that that way before—that the way of escape may just be remembering in the truth of the word, because a lot of times we think that we’re in a situation of like, “I cannot escape if I have four little kids at my knees that need something.” And I am like, “Okay, how do I get out of the temptation to gripe at them or to speak unkindly,” or whatever it is. It’s to remember the truth of the word. That my circumstances may not change.
And even if it’s things that I am going to keep struggling with, those may still be there. But having that nugget of truth; to be able to remember is a great way to escape. I also really liked how you said we don’t want to start identifying ourselves with shame, which is a huge struggle. I think for me is when I repent and then I am like, “Man, I am just such a jerk,” [laughs] and really get into this really bad cycle.
Jackie: It’s like, “Okay, let’s not do that either.”
Emily: I know; it is really hard to remember the truth. But that’s why the community is so important and to have other believers around you who you can say that to, and be like, “Man, I am just really down on myself.” Like, “I have repented of this and I've prayed and I am trying to hope in Christ, but I am still just wanting to pay for my own sins. Help me, what can I believe?”
We just really appreciate you having this conversation with us today. So many moms are going to benefit from thinking more intentionally about what it means to place our identity in Christ. For those who are listening and that want to hear more of Jackie’s story, you should pick up her book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of who I Was and Who God Has Always Been. It releases September 3rd. She also has a ton of great content out there like spoken word videos and teaching and all kinds of great things, so we’ll leave some links to her account. Any last words for us Jackie?
Jackie: No, I was just going to say you guys are really encouraging. You gave me a lot to even think about as I move forward as a mother. So I am glad that you guys are doing this podcast.
Laura: Aw. Well, thank you. That means a lot.
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