My women’s group chose Christa Black Gifford’s “God Loves Ugly & Love Makes Beautiful” book and study guide for a 9-week study on Zoom. Christa is a popular blogger, singer, songwriter, and violinist, as well as an author and speaker. She has played violin on tour with the Jonas brothers, Jordan Sparks, and Michael W. Smith. I would put her in the category of inspirational author. Starting first with the book, she opens with the moment she found her purpose, her ministry. Looking into the faces of young women at the Jonas brothers concert in Monterrey, Mexico, she found her heart’s desire was “to bestow love on kindred hearts navigating through waters I’d already charted, dying to know the truth that I could clearly see” (8).
Some of those truths were hard-won. Christa wrote about her journey from suffering sexual abuse as a child and how she coped with the emotional pain that followed. Food became an outlet for her emotional pain, and she talked about her struggles with body image, eating disorders, and time in rehabilitation addressing bulimia. Her honesty overall and her strong message of faith drew me into her story. One working metaphor that she shared early on will stay with me forever: the love bucket of our hearts. That image became the glue for the rest of the study in my mind. Many of us have holes in our love buckets, she said, that were put there over time by our circumstances and by people whose critical words spoke into our lives. These both fed into our belief systems, and our hearts need a renovation if we’re going to change the thoughts we have about ourselves. When you have holes in your bucket, you have a “leaky bucket.” Nothing stays inside. She said people will try to find “fillers” to plug those holes, but most will be temporary fixes.
Christa said that on our own, we cannot make the bucket of our hearts whole again. “And if we don’t allow the Healer to bind up our broken hearts, she said, “our buckets stay holey, in the wrong sense of the word” (25).
Our lead teacher guiding our group determined early on that we needed the study guide. Each chapter in the book itself does have a “Your Turn” section for you to answer questions based on the reading. She also ends with a song she wrote for each chapter. But I felt like the work I did in the study guide was more meaningful, something like an excavation of my soul. Each week covered chapters in the book, and each day had a set of questions. She included scripture passages and prayers she wrote, making this more of a Bible study.
This week I kept hearing a quote that really fit this study. If you listen to Air1 Radio, you might have heard this said during a promo for Ryan Stevenson’s podcast interview with “The Shack” author, Wm. Paul Young: “The unexposed is the unhealed.” Truth! As I answered questions and worked on the activities, I could see the inner-workings of my heart that cause me pain even today. I could see how Christa wanted to help me change my negative thought patterns. We are what we think. She reminded me that words have power. Look at the words God used to speak creation into existence. Jesus is known as “The Word” as well. Along with questions about my beliefs were questions helping me put a source to what I believe about God and where wrong information may have steered me in the wrong direction in the past. Examples of her questions…
“What have you been told over the years that might have negatively affected your emotional identity? How would you describe your emotional identity? Do you feel like you’re full of healthy emotions, or are you plagued by ones that make your soul sick?” (64)
“If you’re new in Christ but your heart still feels wounded from the pain of the past, write out what you think caused the holes. How do you think your heart looks? What shape is it in? (88)
“Is your perception of Jesus from your encounters with Him and from who He is in scripture, or is it from encountering His followers? Could your perception be tainted if you’ve had bad experiences with church, religion, or Christians in the past? Is He still getting the blame for things He had nothing to do with? Write your experiences and thoughts below.” (98)
She left spaces after the questions so readers could fill in their answers, but I scanned the chapters for my group and printed them out for myself each week. It was easier for me to use a clipboard and work from there apart from the book itself. I admit I would often leave questions blank though because she would ask us to pray and wait on the Lord’s answer. I think with the stress of the pandemic — or a lot on my mind in general — I didn’t have immediate answers. I fell behind. Some of the questions and topics were probably more relevant for younger women, her intended audience, and some made me think this would be a great resource for new Christians. But the main objectives for this study were accomplished: to reveal how we see ourselves and to unearth possible sources for the wrong messages about ourselves and God and to end the discordant song we’ve been hitting replay on for most of our lives. On this journey, she also revealed who God says we are. She coached readers to then speak this truth into their hearts. Yes, these are affirmations, but they are grounded in biblical truth. I learned a lot from this lady and look forward to finishing the study at a slower pace.
You can usually find great deals on a used copy of the book by checking eBay or Amazon. I found the book on the Better World Books site and they have a copy here. I found the study guide on eBay, but now the price is crazy high. You can pick up a copy for $15 on her website. Christa also has an album of the same name. To see/listen to Jordan Sparks and Christa sing “God Loves Ugly” in concert, check it out here.