Friends, I’m so excited for you to meet Paola. She is sharing her story with us today through an interview we had this week. I love how technology can put us in touch with sisters/community from all over the world. If her words speak to you, be sure to let her know in the comments below or hop on over to her site (linked in her bio below).
Here is Paola’s Freedom Story.
Hi Paola! I’m so grateful you’re willing to share your story with us. Before we get into it, will you tell us some of the fun stuff? Tell us about where you’re from, what you love to do, and anything else that will give us a little slice into your life!
Several addresses and many accents along the way summarize my life. I was born in Spanish, live in French, and think in English! Born in Venezuela I was raised and educated between cultures. My formative years were spent between Europe and the US. I became a believer in college through the ministry of Inter-Varsity, and later joined a local church that became my home church for ten years. Years later I would return to Venezuela, now an adult. This makes me a TCK – short for Third Culture Kid.
Practically a foreigner, it would prove a hard experience, and by God’s grace, a great blessing. It was there that I met and married my husband. As the political situation there worsened, we began to pray for and research legal avenues to leave. The Lord made a way and after a rigorous application process, we were approved and immigrated to Canada in 2012. We became Canadian citizens in 2015.
It’s all harder than it sounds, less glamorous than it looks, and infinitely more blessed than I could have ever expected. When we moved to Montreal, learning to run in its majestic winter became a goal. Now, for fun, I run outside year-round in Canada!
What a journey! And friends… Paola runs in the snow, like -20C (which is about -13F). So she’s a warrior in my mind! Paola, Galatians 5:1 is a key verse for our FREEDOM STORIES. It says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore, do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What was the old yoke you were living under? What was that slavery like for you?
Ever since I can remember, I wanted to succeed. Both my upbringing and my education showed the ideals of the world, so I had very high expectations of myself from a young age. By the time I was in my 20’s I was hungry for achievement, that I may feel validated and important. Without realizing it, I gladly served at the altar of success. My worth was completely married to the fruits of my labour.
What were some of the old narratives you absorbed?
My old narratives dictated that to be someone, I needed to attain certain goals. The size of my bank account, my job title and client portfolio; it all said something about me that confirmed to me and others I was a person of value. I was hungry for achievement because I was hungry for identity.
The core issue with narratives is to ask – is this true? According to who? There is nothing wrong with wanting a good job and salary. The issue becomes the definitions we attach to things. For me, these things became markers of approval. A full life was a life of influence and plenty. I was working with the wrong definitions.
What was the turning point? Was there a rock bottom or a point that you realized that you couldn’t live like that any longer?
The turning point came in the form of a severe burnout and depression. At the age of 43, I woke up one day hating my life so much I was looking for ways to quit it. Nothing will sober you up more than to realize you have the life you wanted, and its emptiness swallows you whole. None of the achievements I’d worked so hard for were giving me any of the validation and comfort I wanted. (If you want to read more about that, I’ve written about it here).
So what happened next? What actions did you take? Did you connect with community or find new Truths that helped you find freedom?
The moment of truth came when I finally made the decision to quit my job. It seems like such a simple and even small thing. People quit their jobs every day. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Who would I be then? After being the shadow of a person for months, tired, sleepless, and depressed, with a big gulp I timidly typed up and handed my resignation. It was the hardest and most freeing thing.
After I quit it, I realized I wasn’t just quitting that job. I was quitting an entire way of looking at myself and others. I was quitting a pursuit of 15+ years to make a name for myself, that had turned out to be a house of cards.
My husband coined the aftermath of my quitting rehab and detox. Indeed, over the months that followed, I relearned to be a person again. Stripped of all the things that gave me identity and security, I had to learn to walk again. Scripture became my shelter. I read and pray like never before. I had lost my way home and got to see God’s truth afresh. It was such a gift, that literally saved me from myself.
To find myself face to face with the gospel again was the greatest respite from the relentless pursuit of so many years. Jesus’s work on the cross makes me whole. The Bible clearly states that it is by grace alone that we are saved. Our identity is safely in the hands that were pierced for my sake, that I may have communion with the Father. Losing sight of that had meant losing my lifeline. Lies spread into every crevice of my thought-life. Reconnecting to the Vine, revived my heart and made room for the Truth while exposing the lies.
Being part of a gospel-centered church was also pivotal. To hear God’s Word preached Sunday after Sunday makes a dent. When I was lost in the idolatry of success those words became medicine when I finally understood my workaholism and idolatry.
I love your story because I see myself (and many others) in it. You made such a bold change that required such a step of faith, and I’m so grateful to hear about the changes that brought for you. Tell me about your life of freedom. What does it look like for you now?
Today I see my life is small and my God is big. I was so hungry for spectacular, so avid for results, I had reduced God to a small caregiver I’d summon when things got too hard to face or I didn’t have the outcome I was hoping for. Today, my life is small and simple. I don’t have a big salary for an important position at a big-name company. My days are invested being a wife, a learner, and a mentor, writing, reading, and studying. I try to live each of those roles out of the title that makes every breath possible – disciple. I am a follower of Christ.
Do you still wrestle with those old struggles? What do you do on those days to fight for your freedom?
Of course! The flesh is in perpetual opposition to God. There are days when I fear my life is too small to count. My calendar, once filled with meetings with big-name clients, now has writing days, and coffee dates with women I mentor. Sometimes I feel like my contribution to our household economy reflects my worth. I’m especially grateful for my husband, who is the first to bring me to the Truth.
Today when I feel down and realize the root is a thought that is faulty in light of Scripture, I try to preach Truth to my heart instead. The feelings may linger, but I pray, confess my heart out to God, maybe share with a trusted friend or two and ask for their prayers. Don’t want to entertain what is not Truth-based. The gospel is too precious, was too costly, and is too powerful, for me to waste my time investing in things that are not aligned with it.
Yes! Are there any key scriptures, quotes, or books that have been helpful for you on your journey into freedom?
My story of freedom is a story of RESCUE. He rescued me from endlessly trying to build my own little kingdom of self-sufficiency. Clarity on who He is brings clarity on whose I am. God has Lordship over all things and we are utterly dependent on Him. This brings Him glory. It’s a heavenly perspective that helps me to put things in their rightful place – Jesus on the throne, my life in His hands, my heart trusting His. He’s strong, I don’t have to be. He is trustworthy.
“Know therefore today and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above, and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39 ESV)
“Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth. Unite my heart to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11 ESV)
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” (Psalm 20:7 NIV)
“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)
Those are such powerful Truths! And I love what you said about our own little kingdoms. I’ve built a few of my own over the years, and you touched on something I think a lot of people can relate to in your story. I’m so grateful you’ve found freedom. Okay, one last question, because I’m a big believer that gratitude lists help us remain present and fight our battles, tell me 3 things you’re grateful for right now. 🙂
1. God’s Word – It’s made ALL the difference. God’s words have carried me through the painful process of ridding my heart of all previous go-to behaviours and definitions and held me tenderly in the safety and provision of His promises. I testify of His goodness and faithfulness with all my heart!
2. God’s people – My husband and close friends who prayed me through the dark time. For new ones that bless my life and teach me the good fruits of love, gentleness, and patience.
3. New beginnings – He is making all things new. Writing is a hard and humbling activity for me. I’m grateful for the ministry of words that I feel called to learn to steward. It keeps me utterly dependent on God.
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Paola Barrera is a writer who desires to let the Word be the lamp unto our feet it says it is, letting it edit our narratives and words with those that matter most – God’s. She writes regularly at Words Outloud and lives with her husband Gustavo in Montreal, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @Paola_BarreraR and Instagram @paola_m_barrera.
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Special thanks to Richard Lee (with Unsplash) for the image of the birds in flight to accompany this post!