(Photo courtesy of Icon Media Group)
Making the Most of The Middle
An Interview with Bianca Juarez Olthoff on Adulting, A New Book, Mentors, and More
By Sarah Komisky
The middle is a good place for Bianca Juarez Othoff. It’s a place of maturity. Growth. Perspective. A little older with a little more life experience, the speaker and author excitedly caught up with Marked Ministry about her newest book release, How to Have Your Life Not Suck: Becoming Today Who You Want to Be Tomorrow. A year removed from her first release, here is what she had to say with sass, savvy, sustenance, and yes––a little silliness on the subject of adulting.
Sarah: I know you had another book prior to this called Play with Fire, so maybe you can just talk a little bit about how that compared with this new one coming out.
Bianca: I feel like Play with Fire was my heart message. I really want people to do bold and daring things. And now that I’m ten years removed, now this is a letter that I’d write to my 25-year-old self. It’s super practical and it’s broken up into three sections that I feel most women deal with: dating relationships, faith, spirituality, adulting and growing up. I’m a Word nerd at heart, so the undercurrent of the book is based out of the book of Ruth. And most people overlook a four chapter book in the Old Testament, but in that crazy season – that I document in Play with Fire, (my mom’s cancer, a break up, a food addiction) – I found mentors in a season where I didn’t have mentors, and I found mentors in the lives of Ruth and Naomi.
So I look back retrospectively and now I want to share that with the next generation. The book is two-fold. It definitely is for the 20-something 30-something that have experienced some sort of death of a dream, death of a relationship, death of a friendship, like Ruth and Naomi and yet are holding onto the promises of God while heading back to His home.
My goal was that my language is simple enough for a non-Christian to understand. Yet deep enough that when you read this book, you’ll find things about the book of Ruth that you hadn’t necessarily seen. And the second market is for my mom actually because there is a fourteen year age difference between me and my youngest sister. And I feel like the book is a playbook for those that are in their 20s and is a primer for aunties and moms, coworkers, or bosses that are dealing with the next generation, but not understanding the next generation. And so this gives a look in and language – from dating to friendship, how to find a mentor, or how to end a friendship, to growing up and showing up to work on time. So, it’s super practical and easy to understand.
Sarah: And I love that because you are so real and vulnerable in what you shared in your own personal experience and how you called Ruth and Naomi your friends, which is cool. In turn, how do you hope people who pick up this book will be encouraged to look at the Bible in the same light as these people who are real people? Even though they were people from the past, they can come into our world now. How do you hope to communicate that through this book?
Bianca: Well, my fear for the next generation is that they view the Bible as passé or boring. And I want to come along the lines of “No Boo, you are boring.” The Bible is boring because you are not reading it like they are real people. And this is not just some story from, you know, Hansel and Gretel. These were real people dealing with real issues, going through real pain, and finding real solutions through a real God. And I think if we just normalize Naomi and normalize Ruth and we normalize Boaz, I think we can find our narrative and be inspired to change our narrative through looking at the story of these people who went through loss, looking for a job, being homeless, being a widow and being single. These are issues that many women face and I’m passionate about the Bible coming to life so that we can apply it to our own lives.
Sarah: And one of the things I really love is that you are an accomplished woman, author, speaker, entrepreneur, and yet you were willing to share your own stories, and mistakes. So talk about what that experience looked like and why it was important for you to do that.
Bianca: I feel like there is so much power when we give people permission to go second. Right now, it feels scary to be vulnerable and it feels scary to be real because everything has a filter, everything is perfect, and everyone is skinny. I’m looking at a very polished perfect life and I’m worried for the next generation. Because we don’t tell people, ‘hey sometimes life sucks,’ then we are going to give people the illusion that everything is perfect and you are the only one who is in a sucky situation. And the truth is, we have peaks and we have valleys. And we need to equip the next generation to deal with pain, relationships, loss, hope, sovereignty and God’s goodness from a Biblical perspective. And we see it played out through the lives of Ruth and Naomi.
Sarah: Going back to mentors, that is such a huge message in this book. You talk about your grandma, your parents, Christine Caine, Robin Riley as some of the people that were mentioned as your own influencers in your life that shaped who you are as an adult. Turning that outward, what is it like to be a mentor, to be able to write this book and have other people pick it up and they are going to glean from what you have to share.
Bianca: I think the title “mentor” still feels so foreign to me because I feel like I’m in the in-between stage. At times it feels funny, and other times it is such an honor that I do not take it lightly because I wish I would have had someone to tell me these things. Like “shut up, be humble and do the dang work.” I didn’t have anyone tell me that until I failed and someone at work was like, “Yo, check yourself before you wreck yourself.” And I feel like if I can save somebody that or even give them language to know that you are not alone, you shouldn’t be ashamed to be a strong woman. If you want to do great things and want to produce great things, you’re going to have to do hard work. A lot of these conversations I had with women in this book felt like it happened over a cup of coffee. I hope that people can pick up this book and have a cup of coffee and feel like they are having a conversation with me.
Sarah: It reads very conversational, which is appealing, I think. As you have met with these young women in the past, what did you see? What were the commonalities as you were having these conversations. The things that you’re like, ‘okay I’m going to tune into this while I’m writing this book.’
Bianca: You know, I actually took the bulk of the chapters and the things that I addressed came out of conversations that I had with hearing the same thing. Like what’s my purpose, I’m wrestling with insecurity, I’m wrestling with depression, there’s this hot guy that doesn’t pay attention to me. And so, I decided that I can’t have a cup of coffee with everyone, but I can take these questions and synthesize them in a way that I hope feels practical. I think my favorite part of the book is having Dr. Deb weigh in on these hard topics because so many people can’t afford therapy or have a clinical licensed therapist sit and break some things down.
Sarah: I thought it was so helpful just to have that little portion at the end. But on the other side, there’s still some people in the church that are a bit iffy about mental health and all those things, so maybe speak to those people who are going to pick it up and say, “hmm, Bianca, I don’t know about this….” What would you say?
Bianca: Therapy gives you permission and space to process feelings. And we’re moving in such a fast-paced life that we don’t have that luxury and liberty anymore. For someone that might feel a little leery, view therapy as a trained friend that’s going to help you process thoughts. And here’s the thing, I’ve never met a therapist that said, ‘I’m Jesus, so you are going to do everything I tell you to do.’ Most therapists, if they are well-trained are going to say, ‘I’m going to help you through these things and maybe help you think a little bit differently about them.’
Sarah: One of the things I loved was that you talked about what it means to be a strong woman, and there’s a lot about empowerment that’s out there right now and that speaks on what that means. There are many definitions, but for you, why is that important?
Bianca: I mention this briefly in one of the chapters, but I feel like the word ‘strong’ and the word ‘woman’ are independently great, but when you string them together, there’s a negative connotation. And that’s concerning for me because we are not necessarily getting this message from out in the world, but we are getting this message within church. And so what does it look like to have a healthy conversation and awareness of – now being a strong woman doesn’t mean I’m an independent woman, I don’t need no man, you know, I’m not going to let men define me – being a strong woman means confident in how God has called me to be. I’m strong because of the strength that He has given me and I’m not ashamed of how He has made me. Now, is there room to grow? Am I a little rough around the edges? Am I still a diamond in the rough? Yeah! But I’m not going to cower because I’m afraid someone else is going to be afraid of my strength or afraid of my skill, or afraid of my calling. And I feel super passionate about that because it was a struggle for me. I didn’t feel like I had a place within church because I was a strong female. And I grew up with this narrative – I don’t even know where this narrative came from because it wasn’t necessarily from my parents at all – to be a Christian woman, you had to be silent. And you had to just be seen and not heard. For someone like me who is loud, I didn’t know how to process that. And I was made to feel like I was bad because I wasn’t quiet and observant. I want to clarify that for some people, that is naturally them, and that is amazing, but I want to free some women to feel blessed and confident in who God made me.
Sarah: That’s great because there’s going to be all different women that are looking at this. Okay, I have to tell you––one of my favorite sections was the relationship part. It made me laugh. I could identify with some of the stuff there. The portion that really stuck out to me was DTR [define the relationship]. So maybe we can talk about that because that is such a thing right now, especially with that story that you shared in just being vulnerable in what happened to you. Maybe you could talk about why this is so vital, why it’s okay for women to be able to do this.
Bianca: Again, we just have to take inventory of the narratives that we have been told and how we have been raised. So, I think we have silently swallowed the narrative that we are this damsel in distress, and we are waiting for someone to come rescue us. I want to communicate to women that we already have been rescued by a man named Jesus! I’m like listen, “I don’t want to waste my time if you are not the one for me.” Praise God I’m going to go out and do different things. But we wait idly by, wishing, hoping and praying, believing, getting dreams, visions, or prophetic words or a Bible verse, all the while waiting to be redeemed by someone who doesn’t have the ability to redeem us and doesn’t even know we are alive. So, I want to empower women to not be like the ‘Yo bro, do you like me? Circle yes or circle no.’ But more along the lines of, ‘Hey, as your sister in Christ, I don’t want to read into something that is not here.’ ‘Hey, I kind of like you and I don’t know if you feel the same way. If you don’t, we can totally be friends, but I don’t want to get my heart jacked and I don’t want to cross any lines.’ There is nothing wrong with defining the relationship. Nothing wrong. I mention this briefly in the book, but most people will not teach this segment of Ruth as she proposed to him. But the idiom that she says in Ruth chapter 3, ‘spread your wing over me’, that is an idiom for – marry me. If we pull that into context, she says, take me as your wife, marry me. She told him what she wanted, and there was something so freeing in me when reading that, that just made say, ‘Wow, Ruth did not use her body, Ruth used her brain.’ And I feel like, what if we told women a different narrative. Get to ask what we want, … and not to have to give our bodies in exchange for commitment, in exchange for emotion, or in exchange for intimacy.
Sarah: We have males that read Marked Ministry and they’re part of it. So just kind of flipping things for a little bit, what would you tell the guys that are going to be reading this book?
Bianca: First of all, thank you for reading this book. Because I know there is a lot of girl stuff in it. Secondly, they are the smart ones. They are going to have a leg up into the psyche of women – and praise Jesus. Thirdly, and most importantly, I want to encourage them that though the world may not view honoring a woman and respecting her body and being the man of God that He’s called to be, and being self-sacrificial in friends, family, and calling is not the narrative that is being told. That just because it is not being said, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. We need men to rise up. Our largest missing demographic in churches is 18-30-year-old men. Where are all the men going? They want to sow their wild oats, want to have a good time, and when they are ready to settle down, when they are ready to start a family, when they are ready to grow up, they might come back to church. But what they are not realizing is the casual effects of joining with someone in special intimacy and making decisions for their weekend and not their legacy could compromise their destiny. We are not telling men that. You could be the man of God that you dream you can be and you could still have fun doing it. But we are not showing people that it can be done. We are not teaching them how to do it. And if you are reading this book, my heart and hope is that you are going to understand the minds and psyches of women but then you can look at Boaz and see a model of a man who is respectful, honorable, who had a job, was wealthy, and loved God and people, and took on someone that people would have written off. She was a foreigner who was unable to conceive, she was a widow, she’d been previously married, she wasn’t a virgin, she came from a crazy Moabite family, and had a crazy bitter mother-in-law, and yet he took her.
Sarah: You talked about just men being able to treat girls with respect even if they find out ‘oh, I don’t feel the same way.’ To be able to treat them in a way that would honor God and to be kind. But I want to talk about the example of your husband and you two doing ministry together. He’s in the book a little bit, so maybe talk about what it means to you to be able to partner with him and do this work for the Lord.
Bianca: You know, it’s so funny, we were having this conversation in a staff meeting and I feel like in the Old Testament is kind of rare to see a strong woman and a strong man in a marital relationship. The places that we do see it are in familial relationships or in divine relationship. I feel that Matt and I are so privileged in this season of life to lead this church together. Because this next generation wants to do good, wants to live out their full potential and fulfill the purpose that God has called them to. And if people feel called to ministry, then I feel that Matt and I are going to have to wrestle through how do we do this well, how do I honor him as my husband, how do I lean into his strength, how do I surrender my weaknesses, but equally what is honoring the call that God has put on my life as a man, what does it look like not to be threatened in leadership? Matt and I are created so uniquely and so differently, and I’m the strategist and the implementer, and a developer of leaders, you are the teacher, evangelist, and preacher. Together, that is the body of the church. So why would I be threatened by your teaching? Why would you try to balance a checkbook because you just want to have parties and spend money? Together, we get to build something and pave a way for the next generation to know that it is possible.
Sarah: My other question is about adulting. Normally when we think about adulting, it’s about getting a job, being responsible, growing up, etc. But I love that you talked about our attitude, and about sharing, and those things that we can kind of gloss over when thinking about becoming an adult. So talk about why these things are vital in our adulting experience?
Bianca: Well, here’s the difficult part. We are living in a moment in history where everything has been saturated with “me.” How does this help me. What’s in it for me. Has anyone seen me. Do people like me. And what sharing does is dismantle the “me” and starts looking at the other. And yes it is a Biblical principle, but even if non-Christian people engage in this practice then we will be a better society as a whole. And part of growing up is the relinquishing of selfishness. It is acceptable of a two year old. It is annoying, but it is acceptable. It is not acceptable for an adult. This is my life, my car, my body, my dream, without thinking about the causal effects on the “other.” What I love about Ruth is that she didn’t just go to work for herself; she was thinking of her mother-in-law. It is a Biblical principle, but when you are nice and generous, you will experience generosity as well. And that isn’t why we practice it, but the discipline of giving to someone over myself reaps dividends and rewards from a biblical standpoint and also just from being a nice person.