Learning from Heroines of the Faith: When You are Called Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Guest post by Michelle DeRusha

50 women

It was Day One. I sat at my desk, a typed list of 50 women at my side, my laptop open in front of me. I was ready, poised to embark on an eight-month research and writing project for a book about women in Christian history.

I glanced at the first woman on my list – Hildegard of Bingen: 1098-1179 – and paused. The twelfth century. What even happened back in the twelfth century, anyway? I wondered. Wracking my brain, I struggled to unearth deeply buried facts from my high school European history class. Was that when the Vikings lived? Or wait, maybe it was when the Crusades took place? Although I seem to recall something about a Norman invasion, too.

Turns out, I was a century off on all three accounts.

As I sat hunched over my laptop, my hands wrapped around a warm mug, doubts ping-ponged around my head.

Clearly I was not the right person for this job.

Cleary I wasn’t smart enough, historyish enough or researchy enough to write this book well.

Clearly the publisher had made a grave mistake in contracting me, the woman who didn’t know word one about history, to write a history book.

I wanted to quit, even before I’d begun.

Luckily, Hildegard of Bingen, a nun living in twelfth-century Germany, had something important to teach me about resilience, perseverance and courage in the face of fear.

As her parents’ tenth child, Hildegard was dedicated to the church as a tithe when she was eight years old. At sixteen she officially “took the veil” and entered the convent as a Benedictine nun. At age 36 she experienced the first of her visions, messages from God which, over time, became more specific.

But when she heard God’s command to speak and write, Hildegard balked.

Can you blame her? God seemed to be instructing Hildegard to do what virtually no other woman was attempting at the time. As a woman and a nun living during an era in which most women were illiterate and certainly not encouraged to write or preach, Hildegard was afraid of God’s call.

And so she did what many of us do when we feel inadequate and insecure; when we are afraid of what we suspect will be a challenging directive from God.

She ignored Him.

“Although I heard and saw these things, because of doubt and a low opinion (of myself),” she later wrote, “and because of the diverse sayings of men, I refused for a long time the call to write…”

Finally, buoyed by a close friend’s encouragement, Hildegard penned what she saw and heard in her visions…and then some. She eventually produced three major theological works, including the 600-page Scivias, which she wrote over ten years while also serving as abbess of the convent.

Hildegard undoubtedly struggled with fears, doubts and feelings of inadequacy during those years. After all, while twelfth-century male theologians benefited from years of classical learning, Hildegard’s education was rudimentary at best. Yet she persevered, writing not only theological works, but science and medical books as well.

She trusted, in spite of daunting obstacles, that God had called her to this work.

As it turned out, this combination of perseverance and trust would be repeated in story after story and woman after woman, from the twelfth century to the twenty-first. In the end, Hildegard herself and the stories of the women who followed her gave me the courage to write this book.

50 Women Every Christian Should Know


Hildegard of Bingen is one of fifty Christian women featured in Michelle DeRusha’s recently released book, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith (Baker Books).

From Catherine of Siena and Anne Hutchinson to Susanna Wesley, Harriet Tubman and Corrie ten Boom, this book of engaging narratives spans more than 900 years and brings into focus fifty incredible heroines of the faith – women who inspire and encourage us. Women who remind us that we are not alone, that the battles we face today are not new, and that God is always with us in the midst of our struggles.


Friends, Michelle is having an awesome contest and you still have time to enter! {Ends 10/22}
Take a few minutes to honor the woman in your life who has influenced your faith journey, either a personal heroine or someone you admire from history. {There’s prizes involved.} Hop over here to find more. But do that right after you leave us a comment below sharing the name of that person for a chance to win a FREE copy of 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith (Baker Books).


Michelle DeRushaMichelle is also the author of Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband and their two boys. You can connect with Michelle on her blog and on Facebook and Twitter.



41 thoughts on “Learning from Heroines of the Faith: When You are Called Beyond Your Comfort Zone

  1. I have always admired the women of the suffrage movement. Alice Paul was determined in her passion for women to vote and the sacrifices she made along with the other women are incredible.

  2. You are in good company with Hildegard! And only 30 years off on the Norman conquest (1066)… I was a bit of a history nerd, okay, still am!

    I remember being terrified of preaching a sermon every week when I was in seminary… That terror lasted into my ministry… It had become much less so, but still rears its head every now and then

  3. Michelle!!

    I am so proud of your writing this book!! Honestly I’d give you a really big hug if I could but since I can’t instead I’ll clap & jump up and down from here!! AND Hildegard needed to speak to me today from her story…if you could read a few chapters from my rough beginning memoir, you would see why 😉 I am catching up with everything & there’s still how you just aren’t so efficient living in another country BUT I absolutely NEED to read this book!! Hugs to both you & Jo Ann (soooo wish I could be with you both at Allume 🙁 )

    • Beautiful Abby! What a joy to see that pretty smile pop up here this morning. And yep, we’re all jumping up and down over Michelle’s book -it’s auh-some.

      Keep going, friend. I’m honored to be on the journey with you.

    • I love you, Abby, and I am cheering for you loudly, girl, as you embark on your memoir-writing journey. It’s hard a times, but well, well worth the effort. I won’t be at Allume this year either, but I think of you often, girl, and am so glad you all are doing well overseas. One day someone may be including YOUR name in a book! 🙂

    • Abby, you will LOVE this book. It’s remarkably encouraging. And if you’ve not read Michelle’s Spiritual Misfit, head right to the bookstore. It’s the best memoir I’ve read in ages.

  4. Love hearing the stories of ordinary women who do extraordinary stuff. Thanks fir following through on the challenge Michelle! Thanks for passing it on Joann!
    My mom, my aunt Rosalie, and author Linda Dillow have all been part of doing extraordinary things in my life. what a great writing prompt!

  5. Honestly, I can think back to about a dozen women who have influenced me on my journey. I honestly have to credit the woman who started it all for me. My dear friend, who I miss every day, Melissa Hefenieder. I met this woman as a young 19 year old girl in a brand new town. She was instantly open and invited me into her family. She showed me God’s love as I had always craved. She guided me into a deeper relationship with Him and showed me how a church family really should love. When I moved away from that town, just two short years later I sadly fell away, believing the lies Satan was telling me. (I have since, because of some amazing women {Jo Ann Fore!!!}, found my way back.) But I will never, ever, forget what she taught me about marriage, love, church, God and life. <3

  6. Oh Awesome inspire me Lord Jesus with the gift of Your perfect Holy Spirit to put myself out there like my sister in Faith Michelle!
    Thank You Michelle for showing us in the middle of doubt we can still do it. Amen.
    I just received my autographed copy of 50 Women I am so excited! It came on a day I really needed a lift and I did not realize till later that you had signed it. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

  7. My mother is my heroine of faith. Even when the culture shifts and her faith is not popular, she never waivers. Growing up, we didn’t have much money. Sometimes there was no food left in the pantry, and my mother (and father) would pray and trust Jesus to provide. He always did. Whenever we were in need, there would be a knock at the door and someone standing there with a check or bag of groceries. My mom’s example instilled in me at a young age that the Lord is always faithful, even when I am faithless.

  8. I don’t know her name, but she was my Sunday school teacher. She challenged us to ask Jesus into our hearts and to write the date in our Bibles. I thought long and hard before doing that, but it has made all the difference in my life.

  9. My faith heroine would have to be my mom. Every day for as long as I can remember she told us “God is good!” I never realized the impact those simple words would have in my life and love of God! Her faith and trust always filled us with hope and the knowledge that all was well all the time, in joys and troubles, He had a plan that was beyond understanding to make all things work for good of those who love Him according to His purpose! Our journeys with Jesus were roads well traveled, with some bumps along the way, but whether we turned to the right or to the left, we were never alone. God is good!

  10. First person was my Mom. We didn’t have a church when I was little, so we learn through Mom. Later the church I was confirmed at would not include us as members, because us kids attented public school. That is when I started searching for God through many different religions. While I was living in Texas, I received the Holy Spirit when I attended a Pentecostal church with a coworker named Linda. In Arkansas, I found a new start up of a Presbyterian church called, Friends of His, held in YMCA gym. It was a church for the unchurched. I felt God through many of the women there. Lately, I was influenced by my husband’s Aunt Alice who had been a missionary with her husband, Rev. Norm, and a great prayer warrior. When she died, she was excited and prepared to meet Jesus. I want to be that prepared too. And I must give a big shout out to JoAnn, as it was through her, I really began my personal relation with my Lord.

  11. Great example of a woman who obeyed God despite her reluctance and found writing to inspire many people. I also have the example of my mom who gave me the desire to know God and then of a college roommate who led me to Christ by her words and her commitment to the Church. It is wonderful to know that God has so many different women that entered my life to impact my ongoing walk with the Lord.

  12. I just love Hildegard so was so pleased to see she was one of your 50 women. A great book by the way! I blogged today on my faith heroine.

    I think our biggest growth occurs when we are out of our comfort zones. Sometimes not pleasant but always a lesson.

  13. The most inspiring Christian woman that I have ever met was Natoma Riley. Her husband was a well loved minister in the church that I attended and they were very different than any pastor and wife that we had ever had! She actually had a job outside the home to the consternation of the other church ladies. She was an avid supporter of her husband but was not easily cast in to the role of church lady or preacher’s wife. She had 3 children, one of whom had severe diabetes. She was outspoken yet dedicated to her Lord. She was real! Later she lost a great deal of weight and published 2 cookbooks of low fat recipes. She is my hero.

  14. My Great-Aunt was a Franciscan nun and lived her life for God. I will always remember her quiet testimony of serving the Lord by serving others.

    I also love history and reading about great Christian leaders of the past. After reading For You They Signed: The Spiritual Heritage of Those Who Shaped Our Nation by Marilyn Boyer, I decided to write a book about the Christian ladies, contemporary to our Founding Fathers, who helped shape our country, but I never got farther than jotting down some notes. This sounds like a wonderful book.

  15. Michelle, Hildegard’s story is encouraging to any writer, but I’d not realized that she had encouraged you, personally. And *that* encourages me and others. You are such a naturally gifted author, so it’s heartening to know you’ve struggled. I’m sure that it wasn’t heartening to you! =] Yet Hildegard came to your rescue. And now, you, to ours. That’s really one of the most incredible things about writing. Our words outlive us to encourage and edify readers through the centuries. That’s why it’s so important for writers to heed their calling, and so often, I think, why Satan sends fear and doubt our way. He knows that the Lord will use our words long after we are gone to keep speaking His truth and encouragement into hearts. But don’t go anywhere ok? =] We’re longing to read more.
    PS It’s one thing writing your own story which, by the way, you did extraordinarily well. But writing such dense, inviting, and significant essays on historical figures is far more difficult than meets the eye. Judging by how well this is written, I’m amazed you could pull it off in eight months. All that research is really time-consuming. Wonderful job!

  16. Thank you for sharing your struggles and doubts about creating this valuable book for us. I wanted to enter the name of the most influential person in my life: Pat Self. Pat is a Woman of the Word who, as that ONE woman God sent in my path, led me on the journey from believing I was Worthless to Priceless in Him. I wanted to publicly acknowledge her by blogging our story, but, alas, my skills prevented it at this moment in time:) Thank you for providing the opportunity to shout out praises for her faithfulness and obedience to serve Him after he saved her!

  17. I was so excited to receive your book on my front porch! I have begun reading through some of the women and It is a delight. One of my favorites has always been Gladys Aylward and I have read her biography and saw the movie but was not aware of her reaction to the movie. I loved that as much as I already knew, you still educated me a bit more about her life. I can’t wait to dig into more of my favorite women.
    However, the godly woman who influenced my life the most was my maternal grandmother. I remember going to church with her when I was a little girl and being given pennies to put into the collection plate as it passed. Our own family did not attend church regularly, so these were special times for me. My grandmother taught a women’s Sunday School class every Sunday from the time she was just 17 yrs old until she was in her 80’s and no longer able to attend due to her health. She took ‘elocution’ lessons as a girl to be prepared for teaching. Every Sunday she would prep for a Sunday afternoon meal with the family(three families as well as my grandparents), and then head in to church to teach her class, attend the service and return home to put the meal on the table…as well as freshly homemade biscuits. There were close to twenty of us who ate at her table every Sunday for many years. She was amazing!! She lived and breathed her faith authentically! She lived to be 91 and then went home to be with the Father. How I would loved to have seen that reunion!

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