Kerry Connelly is a brave, compassionate, and courageous writer who unapologetically lives for her beliefs and values. Lately she’s gained recognition for her outspoken opinions, having evolved as Christian to progressive Christian.
This fall she will release her first book Pause: Making Time to Walk with God. Having come from a long line of alcoholics and learning about her family history of destitution and abandonment, experiencing a traumatic incident as a teenager and realizing she suffers from PTSD as a result of that experience, her perspective on life is, nevertheless, incredible.
Her story embodies how to reconcile and embrace horrible experiences and intergenerational trauma; and teaches us how to live in the flow, trust the process and open ourselves up to experience and have amazing things happen in our lives.
During the interview she discussed everything from going against systematic – and possibly even antiquated – traditions to follow your heart, realizing who you are and what you’re meant to do, and how sometimes we just need to pause and allow ourselves to accept and receive what’s already available to us versus overwhelmingly busying ourselves every minute and second of the day trying to be and do better.
AP: Kerry, welcome. You mentioned you have a really inspiring story about finding a publisher and landing your book deal. Please share!
Kerry: Well first I have to back up, because a long time ago I decided to focus on the one thing that I’m really good at: writing. I decided to really lean into it. My blog got picked up by Patheos, which is a really big faith-based platform of various bloggers of all faiths, and that expanded my reach tremendously.
I was still doing it for free. Patheos does pay, but not a whole lot – I mean you don’t get rich being a writer. But it was the first time that I started really leaning in and saying: “This is what I’m going to call myself. I’m going to call myself a writer.” It was the first time I ever started doing that, and when I did that, God was like “Oh really. Okay, finally. Let’s go!” And things just kind of started happening.
“It was the first time that I started really leaning in and saying: ‘This is what I’m going to call myself. I’m going to call myself a writer’ … And things just kind of started happening.”
I had been blogging on Patheos for maybe two or three months, and I was sitting in my kids’ martial arts class next to a guy I had been friendly with for many months. We finally got around to asking each other that proverbial question: “So what do you do, by the way?” “I’m in publishing”, and I said, “Oh, I’m I writer!”
The next thing I know, he was reading my blog. He came over to my house for dinner and he was just like: “I think you need to write a book proposal for me.” To make a long story short, essentially he was in publishing … in a very niche kind of publishing. And this is a great thing for writers to know because he’s in what’s called “bargain and gift.” Usually when you’re a writer, you get an agent, you write a book proposal, the agent shops it around to publishers, and publishers publish your book in what’s called “trade publishing.” And then they have a whole marketing department that pushes out the book.
But with his model, he works with one buyer at Barnes and Noble. He buys rights to books that have already had their run in trade, and then he republishes them and sells them into the bargain or the gift isle. Which, as you know, when you walk into Barnes and Noble, are the tables that are right there when you first walk in the door. So that’s one buyer, one little niche. Occasionally he will find a new writer that has a “gifty” kind of book, and he’ll get that in there.
Well he came to me and he said, “I would like to work with you and try to create a book.” So we came up with a couple of different ideas, pitched it to Barnes and Noble, and when they picked one, that’s the one I ended up writing. So it’s not necessarily the book I always dreamed of writing, but God had a different plan for getting me into Barnes and Noble.
I had always dreamed of seeing my book on those tables in Barnes and Noble. So God has his way of, you know (or her own way), of making your dreams come true when you do your part and lean into it.
“God has his way of, you know (or her own way), of making your dreams come true when you do your part and lean into it.”
AP: What other projects were you involved in at the time?
Kerry: So while that process was underway, I had one very large corporate client in my coaching business. It was July of 2016, and it had kind of consumed my business. I made the decision to step away because I didn’t like not having multiple clients. But what ended up happening, especially, you know how it is at the end of July, nobody wants to work and nobody wants to hire a coach at the end of July. Everybody just wants to be at the beach, including me!
But I was sitting in my mom’s house in Pennsylvania, looking at my future. I saw I had one more open invoice with this client, so one more check coming in that would probably come in August. But in September I had no income planned. It was a really scary place to be, so I prayed a prayer, and I was like, “Dear God, I promise for the month of August for 30 days, I will not stress out about anything. Anytime I start to get anxious, I’m going to give it to you. It’s going to be a practice of pausing and of just trusting you. And I’m going to enter into your presence every time I feel that anxiety come on – I’m going to go straight to my knees. But I can only commit to doing this for 30 days (laughs) and the rest is up to you. Amen. Oh, and P.S. By the way, I’ll also say yes to anything you happen to put in front of me!”
So that was kind of the prayer that I prayed on my mom’s pull out bed on a nature preserve in Pennsylvania. And four days later, I got a Facebook friend request from some big shot Theologen guy, who also blogs on Patheos. And I’m thinking “Why is he friending me? He must think I’m somebody else.”
But then about a few minutes later he messages me, and he says, “Hey Kerry. I’m putting together a press tour of progressive Christian bloggers to Jordan. Do you want to go?” And I totally confess, I had the typical white American response, thinking “Hell no, I don’t want to go to Jordan – that’s the Middle East! You know what they do to people in the Middle East?”
But in a split second all of these thoughts went through my head, and I’m like: “I can’t afford to go to Jordan”, “Who’s going to take care of my kids when I’m in Jordan?” “I have a family”, “I have a business.” Then, a second after that, it hit me, and I was like, “Oh crap. I promised God I would say yes to anything he put in front of me. I have to go to Jordan.”
So I typed back, “Uuum, yes. I do need to talk to my husband first, but yes.” He sends me back this message and he’s like, “Well just so you know, Jordan is a very safe country and it’s basically going to be an all expenses paid trip. We’re going to be guests of the Jordanian government. The tourist board is sponsoring it. We’re going to stay in four and five star hotels, and we’re even going to camp in the desert with Bedouin, and have a BBQ with them in the middle of the desert, and all you have to do is write three blog posts.”
And I’m like, “Um, okay!” So I texted my husband, and I’m like “Hey babe. This is what’s going on…” He texts back and he’s like, “Babe, anytime you get offered a once-in-a-life time bucket list trip that’s all expenses paid you just say yes! You don’t even ask. You just say yes and we’ll figure it out.”
So six-weeks later, I was riding a camel through the desert of Wadi Rum, on my way to Bedouin camp to eat Zarb and sleep in a camel haired tent, and it was…AMAZING.
“Six-weeks later, I was riding a camel through the desert of Wadi Rum, on my way to Bedouin camp to eat Zarb and sleep in a camel haired tent. And it was…AMAZING.”
AP: And how does that tie into your the story about your book? Was it just the experience?
Kerry: You know, yeah. I think it’s the experience of pausing, and surrendering to God. The whole idea of the book – it is a devotional – but the idea of the book is that we don’t have to do anything.
Right now, especially now (and I’m a coach), the world is so full of coaches and experts and self-help books. And everybody’s telling us how to be more, do more, be better, do better. Like all of this, it’s overwhelming. Everywhere you look somebody’s trying to sell you a program, or six steps to whatever, and listen, I do it too. My business is to help people live a better life, so I’m guilty of it too. I’m guilty of producing that kind of material. And I’m guilty of consuming that kind of material.
I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but what I am saying is that we get so caught up in trying to be better, that we forget that God has already done everything that we need. The most important thing that we can do is just pause and reenter the Shalom of God, and the way that is was supposed to be in the garden, which was: we were in perfect relationship with God, with each other, and the earth.
“… we get so caught up in trying to be better, that we forget that God has already done everything that we need.”
That’s what God’s ultimate design was, and if we can take some time every single day to just pause and reenter into that state of being, then amazing things can happen…like you get offered a trip to Jordan. I’m not saying you’re going to get offered a trip to Jordan, but when you make the space for God to work in your life, amazing things really do happen. And they are the things you didn’t know your soul wanted and needed, but it does. So that’s what the book is about.
And I was very conscious when I was writing the book to make sure it wasn’t something you had to do, but rather about something you could receive…from God. So it is always something like: “How does God want to heal you today?” or, “how does God want to be with you today?” It’s always about what God can do for you, because we always get caught up in what we can do for God, and that’s exhausting.
“When you make the space for God to work in your life, amazing things really do happen … the things you didn’t know your soul wanted and needed, but it does.”
AP: What is that process like for you when you say “entering into that space everyday”? Is it a meditative practice?
Kerry: It can be a lot of different things. I do a lot of my prayer, a lot of my writing, and a lot of my meditation when I’m moving my body. I’m a martial artist, and people are always making fun of me because they say, “Your face when you’re training is so serious.” And it’s true because I do kind of think a lot when I’m moving my body.
I’ll go for a run or a walk. Sometimes it’s writing in my journal and it’s quiet time. It’s in my beautiful office. It’s lighting a candle. Sometimes it’s driving. Sometimes it’s music. Sometimes it’s reading other people’s work. It’s different depending on my mood.
I think we have an illness of busyness. And somehow we don’t feel good enough if we’re not busy. And that’s me. If I’m not doing something, I feel as if I am failing. But it’s in the not doing something, that you notice the beautiful color of the leaves or, you know, the evidence of God.
My book talks a lot about “the wilderness of our lives” and the garden. And the idea of entering into the garden is where we find that communion with God. That’s what replenishes us so that we can go back out into the wilderness of our lives.
The Work of the People is this beautiful, amazing website of gorgeous films. In one of the films, they said the phrase, “the wilderness of your striving”, and that just hit me so hard. I was like, “Oh my gosh. That is exactly what I’m talking about. The wilderness of my striving.”
Because no matter how much I strive, I can never exceed God’s love for me. God’s love is already proven, and it’s already there, and that is such a joyful thing. And I always miss out on the joy because I’m so busy striving…in the wilderness. And so that’s what I really wanted Pause to be: an invitation back into the garden and the peace of just being with God, and not having to do anything.
“I think we have an illness of busyness. And somehow we don’t feel good enough if we’re not busy. And that’s me. If I’m not doing something, I feel as if I am failing. But it’s in the not doing something, that you notice the beautiful color of the leaves or, you know, the evidence of God.”
Another really interesting thing about the book is that except when I’m quoting scripture, there is no gender specific pronoun for God. I felt really strongly about that, and I went back and forth with my publisher about it. But I refer to God as “Love, “Holy Spirit”, “The Creator”…things like that.
But I won’t refer to God as “him” or “her”, or “he” or “she” because I’m really starting to understand, as I speak with scholars and I’m learning more about the bible, how God transcends gender and how much we have messed up the whole gender issue, by misreading and mistranslating the bible. So there’s no personal gender specific pronouns for God in the book.
AP: You consider yourself a “progressive Christian.” What does that mean?
Kerry: That’s a really good question (laughs). When we were in Jordan there were about 27 of us, and we were split up into different groups: there were the Catholics, then there were the Presbyterians or the Episcopalians, there were a couple of others, and then there were the progressives.
We were the tattooed and pierced ones in the back of the bus (laughs). And people would come up to us and ask, “So what exactly is a progressive Christian?” We’d all kind of look at each other and we were all like, “I don’t know.” And I think that’s our problem. We’re really notoriously bad at being able to self-describe and organize ourselves.
But essentially some of the things (and I don’t want to speak for the entire movement, because many of us may have different personal values), but I think as a whole in general, we are really tired of the religious right, which I don’t necessarily think is all right or religious, or the so called “moral majority” coopting Jesus’s name for power grabbing agendas.
“…we are really tired of the religious right or the so called “moral majority” coopting Jesus’s name for power grabbing agendas.”
I think that’s what we’re really tired of, I can say that specifically for me. But I can say that I think a progressive Christian is someone who really wants very much to live a life like Jesus did, and very often that’s a sacrificial life of service. So a progressive Christian might be prochoice, they might be pro-life. But when they say that they’re pro-life, that means all life.
We believe Jesus when he says we need to care for the hungry and oppressed. We are passionate about healing race relations in our country. We are passionate about welcoming the stranger because we believe that, that’s definitely God’s heart and even in the face of great fear. I don’t want to say that I alone can define progressive Christianity, but I’m describing what many of us might think.
So for example, the young woman in Maryland who found herself pregnant and not able to walk with her graduating class because her Christian high school is punishing her for being pregnant and making the decision to carry her baby to term. She’s now facing those ramifications. Not for being pregnant, but for being immoral.
Um, we’re all immoral, that’s why Jesus came. So it’s mind boggling, the hypocrisy. And so what I did, I wrote a blog post, and I said, “Hey, let’s show Maddie, the pregnant teenager, radical love and let’s demonstrate that radical love to the school. We’ll have a virtual baby shower and send gifts to the school to Maddie, care of the school. And let the school understand that this is how you treat a young pregnant teen.” Ironically, there was a young pregnant teen in the bible, I think her name was Mary (laughs).
AP: What led to this “rebellion”? Was there a specific moment or were there a series of things that happened to make you question and go against the traditional religious beliefs and practices?
Kerry: That’s been a long process. I think I’ve always been a progressive Christian in my heart. I think I just suppressed it. I first became a Christian when I was in my early 20s, and bought right into. I wasn’t raised in a church, by the way, but bought right into the straight, evangelical James Dobson, Focus on the Family, male authority…blah, blah, blah.
There was so much of it that did not sit right with me, but I was not mature enough and confident enough with my own intuition, my own relationship with God, my own everything to be able to say, “Something there is wrong. Something is very, very wrong.” I just wasn’t brave enough to do that.
“I started really noticing God, the Holy Spirit, speaking to my soul, giving me a warning, me not listening to it, and learning that I should have. So I started paying attention to that voice a little bit more.”
I’ve gone through a lot of life experiences, like saying yes to a really horrible marriage that I knew, every bone in my body was telling me, “don’t say yes.” I ended up saying yes and it ended up being a horrible experience.
I had the same thing with a job experience where I started really noticing God, the Holy Spirit, speaking to my soul, giving me a warning, me not listening to it, and learning that I should have. So I started paying attention to that voice a little bit more.
Then I started working with churches and I love church, I mean I LOVE church. Church is supposed to be broken. Church is not supposed to be perfect, but I’m having a hard time going to church right now, just because of the current climate, you know.
But anyway, I started blogging, and specifically about homosexuality. Because I cannot reconcile a God of love – a God that is so sacrificial in his love for us – would come down to this earth, hang out with us, and be visceral. Jesus was always using human body fluids to do stuff – he was spitting on people and there’s blood and spit, and gross stuff all over Jesus and his ministry. So he went through all of this horrible abuse to become notorious, and to be risen from the dead. That is such a powerful story for me and I cannot, I cannot marry in my head a God that would go to that great a length to love us and then say, “Hmm…you sleep with somebody of the same sex, so I’m afraid that you’re not gonna be able to praise me and worship. I’m sorry.” That does not make sense to me.
And what totally does not make sense to me, and I think this was the ultimate, the really big thing where I was just like, “No, this just doesn’t make sense”, is the way the church, the institutional church has treated transgender people as if they’re not people at all.
The hatred I see spewed for transgender people is disgusting to me and it’s in the name of my beautiful Jesus, and it does not make sense to me. That’s not the Jesus I read about in the bible. When you read the Four Gospels, the Jesus that is in the bible is so subversive. Jesus is not about that kind of stuff.
In my head I started picturing: What would Jesus look like if we had some old white-bread American man, a drag queen, me with my tattoos and my piercings and my attitude, and a bunch of other people…I don’t know, say a heroin addict, you know all of these people with our broken messes, and we all sat down at a table together broke bread, drank some wine. Maybe the heroin addict doesn’t drink the wine, but the rest of us drink the wine (laughs – okay, that was so inappropriate. I’m sorry)! But we’re there with Jesus, and you know what, the heroin addict can drink the wine because he won’t be addicted, or she won’t be addicted, but you know, that’s the beauty of the banquet, of what Jesus is offering.
And so I can’t marry the Christian right with that. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like a complete different person. It’s a completely different story than they’re telling from this.
“It eventually came down to a point where I had to make a decision of whether I was going to stay on staff or write what my heart wanted to write, and my heart won.”
So my progression… I was working for my church and I wanted to write about these issues. But as a staff member of my church, let’s just say, that wasn’t a great idea. It eventually came down to a point where I had to make a decision of whether I was going to stay on staff or write what my heart wanted to write, and my heart won. So I left the staff, and started writing what I wanted to write.
AP: What has been your toughest challenge since “rebelling” against the norm and voicing your own opinions?
Kerry: My own anger has been my greatest challenge because…first…I love my church so much, I really do. It’s painful not to be able to walk in those doors right now, and I haven’t been able to go any place else because it would feel like cheating. My church has offered me so much grace, and I have given grace. It’s been a two way street. I love, love, love my church.
There have been some people who have posted things on social media like: “If you voted for Hillary, you’re going to hell.” I remember that and I get angry. But as my own platform grows, I need to use it responsibly. I need to show the third way. And sometimes, I’m not so good at it (laughs). I mean, I’m a Christian who curses. I have no problem cursing. There are curse words in the bible, so I have no problem cursing, but I know that cursing turns people off sometimes. So I have to remember to not wield my anger as a weapon, but to use it as a sword for justice.
“I don’t want to keep the peace anymore. I want to be a social justice warrior, but I think about: how can I be a warrior and make a way for peace.”
For example, I might, in another world wanted to say some really choice words to the principle of that school, but I said those in private. I wrote my blog post and I chose radical love. And that radical love invites other people. I’m not the best peacemaker. I don’t want to be a peacekeeper. I don’t want to keep the peace anymore. I want to be a social justice warrior, but I think about: how can I be a warrior and make a way for peace.
AP: How would you describe your parents and your upbringing.
Kerry: My parents did the best that they could, and so I’m very conscious about loving my kids, and showing my kids their love. I don’t think my parents really knew how to do that. So I hug them every single chance I get. I speak words of power and love over them. Let’s face it, I yell at them a lot too, but I feel like I need to counteract that because I feel like my voice is going to be their internal voice when they get older. And so I need to make sure their internal voice is telling them how beautiful and smart and courageous they are.
AP: What happened that you said your parents didn’t really know how to love? Is there an emotional moment or experience from your childhood that you feel defines you, and how do you reconcile that?
Kerry: My dad – so I come from a very long line of alcoholics and my dad is an alcoholic. He’s a good man who just has this problem. I learned very recently from my mom…she told me my dad’s parents and his father was an orphan who was abandoned by his father at the age of three in an orphanage.
So there’s a lot of history of destitution and horrible abandonment stuff, so nobody knew how to be a parent in my family. My dad’s parents actually gave him coal one time in his stocking for Christmas (the story where Santa gives toys to good kids and coal to bad kids). I thought about how heartbreaking that is for a child, and how it’s a double heartbreak when he was old enough to understand that it was his parents – it’s a double mindfuck (sorry). It’s horrible, you know. And I think I would drink too when you have that kind of really deep rejection. That is just so horrible.
But there was one time when I was probably about 13, and I walked in on my dad and he had a gun to his head. My mom was in the room, and it was a very big emotional, horrible thing. I realized after that, that I probably had PTSD as a result of that experience. The cops came in and they took all of the guns out of the house – because he was a hunter and a cop. But I remember them taking all the guns out of the house and taking him away and there I was, the kid, and nobody had come over to check on me and make sure I was okay.
After it happened, we never talked about it again. There was like a 72 hour hold or something, and he called me the next day to apologize. He came home a few days later, and we never talked about it again. But what happened, I had been asleep. I heard this sound and woke up. It sounded very much like a sound I had always heard: it sounded like the pop of his beer can.
He would always sit out in the living room and pop his beer, watching whatever game was on – football or baseball. And so it kind of sounded a lot like that. But I heard whispers and when I walked out, I walked into the living room, and saw him with the gun. I screamed and he would put the gun down. I would scream again and move a little closer, so he would put it down and pick it back up again. It went on like that for a while.
Later on as I was growing up, when he was back in his chair popping his beer cans, I would wake up in a panic. My heart would be racing, and I realized only as an adult that I had PTSD. It was never treated. Now I have anxiety, really bad anxiety, and I will wake up in the middle of the night still in a panic attack. My heart will be racing, and so I’ve had to struggle with that anxiety, which can be very pervasive sometimes, and I’ve had to learn how to calm it down.
When I think about how that defines me … I’m actually incredibly grateful for the fact that I come from the family that I come from: a family of alcoholics, a long line of people who suffered depression and mental illness. I’m very happy about it because it has made me the compassionate person that I am. If I hadn’t come from such hot messes, I wouldn’t have the sense of humor that I have. I wouldn’t be able to laugh my way through tragedy. I wouldn’t have the inner strength that I have, and I definitely wouldn’t have the compassion.
I’ve met people who’ve grown up in quote on quote perfect families, and they’re some of the most judgmental, hard hearted people that I’ve ever met because they’re not willing to show what their messes are, you know, even though I’m sure they have them. But they’re so tied up in being the pretty perfect bow family, that they’re not willing to look at somebody else’s mess and be like: “Yeah, I’ve been there. I know what you’re dealing with.” So I prefer compassion over that.
“I’m actually incredibly grateful for the fact that I come from the family that I come from: a family of alcoholics, a long line of people who suffered depression and mental illness. I’m very happy about it because it has made me the compassionate person that I am. If I hadn’t come from such hot messes, I wouldn’t have the sense of humor that I have. I wouldn’t be able to laugh my way through tragedy. I wouldn’t have the inner strength that I have, and I definitely wouldn’t have the compassion.”
AP: How important is perspective in our lives?
Kerry: Perspective can be life changing. It can change your mind, your relationships, and your world view. One of the most important things we can do as human beings, as citizens of this planet, and most definitely as Christians, is to constantly be examining our own perspective. Is it inclusive or exclusive? Is it widely informed or is it narrow? And most importantly for me, does it align with the teachings of The Rabbi (Jesus)? I’d venture to say that these days, many people’s idea of Christianity has more to do with a rabidly American perspective than a Christ-like one. A true, Christ-like perspective could change the world.