Rebekah Gregory, a 30-year-old college academic adviser from Ripon, has a passion for helping Christian young women as they struggle to live out their faith in the midst of a culture with strongly opposing values.
"Being a Christian woman in this world right now is extremely difficult," she said. "For five years, I worked one-on-one with girls at Liberty University (a private Christian college in Virginia). It became apparent to me that girls across the board were hurting. Even the most popular girls in the school, the ones dating baseball players and the ones considered the most beautiful, felt the same way they felt lonely. They had been told that XYZ was going to make them happy, but it doesn't. They had a lot of regret and pain instead of joy."
Gregory will share what she's learned at an evening for young women, "Truth Be Told: What God has to say about the things we never talk about." The event, at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Shelter Cove Community Church, is for any woman, but is especially geared for women ages 16 through early 30s. An ice cream social will follow the talk.
The idea behind the evening comes from Gregory's work at Liberty, where she served as a counselor and director of women's ministry. The Ripon Christian High School graduate received her undergraduate degree in communications from Northwestern College before attending Liberty, where she earned her master's degree in human services, specializing in marriage and family counseling and business management.
"I started 'Truth Be Told' with about 60 people and it grew to about 250," Gregory said. "It wasn't your traditional Bible study. It was 'Let's talk about the things that no one talks about.' "
They covered topics such as alcohol abuse, suicide, pornography, lust, feminism, sexuality, reality vs. romance, doubting God and death.
"We rarely talk about when we doubt the Lord, when our faith is shattered and we wonder if it's all a joke," Gregory said. "I don't think death or dying is talked about enough for young people, even though they've had friends who have died or committed suicide.
"We don't talk about sexual abuse enough. It doesn't matter if girls are raised Christian or Muslim or nothing at all. There are a large number who have experienced sexual abuse, and they are extremely ashamed of it, so they don't talk about it. And this sounds weird, but we don't talk enough about heaven. We are such an instant gratification generation that we're not even thinking about eternity."
One of the problems, Gregory discovered, is that Christian young women keep their true feelings behind closed doors.
"No one was admitting to each other or themselves that they were unhappy," she said. "They were just pretending."
Part of that unhappiness comes because Christian young women fall into myths that the secular world perpetuates, Gregory said.
"One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that a relationship will take away feelings of loneliness," she said. Young women too often believe that a boyfriend will give them the intimate understanding and love they desire. Instead, Gregory said, they feel alone in the midst of that relationship.
"The point is not to shy away from relationships, but to not make relationships an idol," Gregory said. "Relationships won't fill your life; God will. It's more about being purposeful in a relationship."
Another issue "Christian young women struggle with perfectionism or beauty. It leads to a lot of eating disorders," Gregory said. "They try hard to never sin and never mess up. They don't have space to admit they're struggling. If there aren't enough Christian guys out there or if they don't feel as spiritual or if they wonder things about God, it's an enormous pressure."
Then there is the issue of sex before marriage.
"Basically, I'm going to be saying to them, 'You hear so many messages every day all the time that push you in one direction. You're only hearing God's truth maybe once a week if you're lucky, and those aren't always coming from someone your age or from someone you think is relevant. When other things are being shouted at you, and you're seeing it on every TV show and getting it from every song you hear, and all your friends are doing that and not talking about any of the consequences, then of course you're going to fall into that.'
"I want to remind the young women that everything they're seeing on TV is only half the story. It doesn't tell them how they're going to feel the next morning or how the girl feels five years later. It never goes there."
Gregory has these tips for young women:
1. Have good female friends "Girls who fill them up and are good influences, girls they have fun with. I think the Lord wants us to have a strong community, and friendships are critical."
2. Redefine what adventure is "I think TV has sold us a very small life, this idea that going to the mall and spending a lot of money or going to a party and getting drunk or living a sexy city lifestyle is as adventurous and wonderful as we're going to feel. I think the thing that has kept me from falling into that is I've done adventurous things. I moved to Montana and worked on a dude ranch, and went to Africa, Turkey and India.
"There comes a moment for every young woman as to if she's going to listen to what the culture tells her is the next step, or make her own step. There are so many other steps! That's what blows my mind. All these young women follow a well-scripted play and do their part. What if I don't want to be in this play anymore? What if I want to do something else? Go! Do something else."
3. Be unique "Do whatever it takes to find out what your strengths and gifts are. Dig really deep to find out what God has designed you for. When you find that out, it brings a lot of purpose, and with purpose comes peace. Don't be a cookie- cutter girl. Find out what you are good at, and live that to the fullest."
Gregory said she's had to work through these same issues.
"To this day, I can't believe I'm 30 and single," she said. "I thought I'd be married after I graduated from college. I thought I'd have a husband and children by now. But I'm quite content. I want girls to have a different alternative than to be trapped into what the culture says she should be and do. I want to give young Christian women a different alternative. I don't want them looking perfect on the outside and not on the inside, being unhappy and lonely.
"I want them to be real women."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2012.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: "Truth Be Told," an event for young women
WHO: Rebekah Gregory
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Shelter Cove Community Church, 4242 Coffee Road, Modesto
OTHER: Free event, followed by ice cream social
INFO: (209) 567-3200, or www.sheltercovecc.org