By Jenn Whitmer
God's Brave Women - Jenn's Story
I sat on the bumper of my van in the parking garage, angry and sobbing after a terrible meeting. That was the moment I realized — it was all over.
I said to my friend and colleague: "I don't fit in the culture anymore. He's going to fire me."
Dana said, "If you don't fit the culture, it's because conflict has destroyed this culture."
And she was right.
Unresolved conflict was the symptom of our team hiding and covering for an incompetent leader. For this story, we'll call him Chad. The toxic work environment utterly pummeled me. And yet, I stayed. I hung on. Until that very moment, dirt from the bumper smudging my navy blue dress, I still had hope it could be different.
Or at least, I thought I had hope.
I had placed my hope in me and my team, our abilities and processes — our sheer desire to make it better. I was like the Energizer Bunny—if I just kept going, it would be different.
What I really had? A wish.
Henry Cloud writes, "Hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires."
"Henry Cloud writes, "Hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires."
For four years, the pattern was clear. When we raised a concern, Chad had an excuse, a deflection, some reason it was not his problem to solve. And definitely, someone else was to blame for the problem. It was like the tap dance scene from the musical Chicago. Each time Chad came close to facing responsibility, he flapped, shuffled, and heel clicked his way out of it. And eventually, he chose to target me.
That was a devastating realization. After 20 years in education, I'd never been the scapegoat. I'd definitely earned some blame in my life, but being the fall guy was a new experience.
Chad fired me from my leadership role. And then offered me a different position I should never have accepted. For the next six months, I kept trying to make it work. And Chad was still passive-aggressive, gaslighting, shaming, and incompetent.
He showed me who he was the first time. I was just wishing things would change.
God showed me: "I have freedom for you. But you have to leave."
"God showed me: "I have freedom for you. But you have to leave." Fear gripped me. I allowed an internal committee in my mind to debate God's word to me."
Fear gripped me. I allowed an internal committee in my mind to debate God's word to me. What will people think? Does this mean Chad wins? How do I start something new after 20 years? What does this mean about my faithfulness? How do I leave my friends? In His kindness, God orchestrated a series of events that made His direction to leave undeniable.
I passed Chad my letter of resignation with three weeks' notice. And he was ugly. All the blame, shame, and attacks came. And, full of the Holy Spirit, I said, "I wanted to make this work. But your actions made that impossible. I cannot allow you to treat me this way anymore. I wish you well."
I drove away that day, doing my own dance of freedom. This time car dancing in the driver's seat of my van, belting with Keela Settle "This Is Me":
Another round of bullets hits my skin.
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in.
We are bursting through the barricades and
Reaching for the sun. We are warriors.
Yeah, that's what we've become.
Wouldn't it be great to end the story here? A Disney musical, singing off into the sunset? But I know God is telling me you need more. Because real joy has deep roots. And roots are formed in the dark.
"Real joy has deep roots.
And roots are formed in the dark."
So I offer the real, brave truth — the next year was terrible.
For months I sat on my deck, with a journal and my bible, scribbling the pain. I sat and cried in my therapist's office. I took long walks, shouting at God and lamenting. And I clung. for. dear. life. to Psalm 37:
Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.
God showed me parts of myself I didn't want to face. When I feel trapped, I abandon trust. I assume wrongly about other people—good and bad assumptions. I allow my idealism to block reality. I want others to see the world the way I see it, so I will stay too long trying to convince them. I put my hope in "If I could just…" rather than what He can do.
In that wrestling and in His grace, God brought healing.
"Grace is the presence and action of Christ in our lives, inviting us to let go of where we are now, to be open to the new values that are born every time we penetrate a new understanding of the Gospel." — Thomas Keating
God slowly began to reveal the next step, but not where we were going. I love the end goal and the big idea. To only know the next was a deep act of faith.
"God slowly began to reveal the next step, but not where we were going. I love the end goal and the big idea. To only know the next was a deep act of faith."
So I finished grad school in communication and culture. I trained in peacemaking. I studied the Enneagram. Oh, but Jesus, where are you taking me? How does this all fit? If I'm not an educator, what do you want me to do?
A Facebook ad popped up one Saturday morning. (I believe the Lord is still God of the Facebook algorithm.) A free live webinar for women who want to be speakers. It started in 5 minutes. I mean, ok. I'll drink coffee and watch some free training.
Six minutes in, I sat up. Wait. Speaking, writing, and coaching is a job?
I'm a great speaker. Even Chad told me that. I'd been mentoring and coaching people for decades. My calendar and Voxer were full of these conversations. And even more evidence to my lack of understanding: I was at the time (and still am) a writing coach.
God gently dropped in my heart, "I want you to redeem the pain of conflict, in and outside the church. I want you to show people the path of freedom of knowing themselves. I want to give you the desires of your heart because I put them there to give people joy and peace."
I began to learn how to build a business of serving people. Through speaking and coaching, I help leaders and teams solve conflict and personality clashes. It's the scariest, hardest, and most transformative work I've ever done.
"Sobbing on that dirty bumper, my dreams died. But we serve a God of death, burial, and resurrection."
Sobbing on that dirty bumper, my dreams died. But we serve a God of death, burial, and resurrection. He wanted my freedom. He resurrected my dreams and continues transforming my life to one greater than I could have ever imagined.
Brave Woman Manifesto
Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story!
And by the way...
You are Brave!
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Jenn speaks, writes, and coaches with joy. She helps leaders and teams communicate, work through conflict, and build self-awareness with the Enneagram. Usually, that involves some tears and a lot of laughing.
Jenn has graduate certificates in music education, theology, and leadership along with a Master of Arts in communication and culture from Webster University and certification as an Enneagram coach. She offers individual and group coaching programs, corporate and nonprofit training, and keynotes and workshops for virtual and live events.
Jenn lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, Michael, their four kids, and a cat that puts up with them all.
Jenn would love to offer you 20 Phrases for Difficult Conversations to help you get pass the tongue-tied stage of conflict. Laugh along with Jenn on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and at jennwhitmer.com.