Kristin Armstrong: Living Strong through Grace
- 2009 28 May
In 2003, just four days before her divorce from cyclist Lance Armstrong became final, Kristin Armstrong completed her first marathon. She clocked in at less than four hours, with an average of just 8 minutes and 42 seconds per mile.
That race, Armstrong now knows, was a metaphor for her new life, which would soon include not only her divorce but also her ex’s rapid engagement to singer Sheryl Crow.
Now, the former stay-at-home mother—who spent all five years of her marriage in France, raising her three children, while her husband collected Tour de France titles—is slowly becoming a household name of her own. A veteran marathoner who runs almost every day, Armstrong is also a contributing editor to Runner’s World magazine and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in magazines like Glamour. And, she has written several books, including Happily Ever After: Walking with Peace and Courage through a Year of Divorce, which details the year after her separation.
Armstrong’s latest book, Work in Progress: An Unfinished Woman’s Guide to Grace, describes the transformational journey that she underwent when God began to challenge her conventional notions of beauty, after which He led her along a path of rediscovery about what it means to truly be a woman of God. The book’s fulcrum was Armstrong’s realization that she had sacrificed her identity to salve her marriage.
“As tends to happen with scoffing, I became the woman I scoffed at,” she writes. “I married, left my job, house, convertible and moved to Europe and became a full-time mommy to three beautiful children.”
With confessions from journals and life experiences as well as life lessons from dedicated friends, Armstrong shares meditations on Scripture and teaching that detail her twelve traits of a “grace-filled woman,” which are: beauty, confidence, softness, trust, truth, generosity, forgiveness, courage, diligence, wisdom, authenticity and freedom.
Recently Armstrong shared about those traits and how they became a book. Here’s what she had to say:
What prompted you to write this book?
This is my fourth book, and it came out of a conversation at about mile 20 on a training run. My friends and I were talking about how we wanted to improve, but we didn’t want self-improvement. That was the problem, we felt. So it led me to a search of Scripture to see what improvement would look like, and that (became) the 12 characteristics that I write about in the book.
Why improvement? And why not self improvement?
All the things that were blocking us had to do with self. We wanted a deeper level of growth. I run with an amazing group of women—the same group that I go to Bible study with and raise my kids with. They’re the people who challenge me and keep me accountable, and so much of this wisdom comes from their stories and lives.
What are some of the cultural lies and stereotypes about women that you wanted to challenge?
It was a culmination of a lot of work that I have done, including other articles. Things about beauty, confidence, courage, authenticity—these are things that I think are resounding issues and messages that women really struggle with, but don’t always know how to articulate what the struggle is.
Why are so many women people pleasers? And what challenge do you think perfectionism poses for women today?
It’s so easy to morph from being pleasing to becoming a people pleaser. Women are so vulnerable to this, because from the time we’re little we’re raised that we are to be soft-spoken and nurturing. Even though we’re all grown up, we can be a pleaser-daughter, a pleaser-wife, a pleaser-employee. It’s putting our own self and desires on the back burner to putting someone else first. And when that person isn’t God, we’ve got a real problem. That’s the only realm where being a pleaser is good.
How did this play out in your own life?
I wrote an article about this for Glamour magazine years ago, which led to an appearance on Oprah. It was about how many people are struggling with this, but no one wants to talk about it. So many people would have something to add, say, to the conversation about being a pleaser wife. It’s so easy for women to lose themselves in relationships. We give so much and we put so much emphasis on these relationships that we lose who we are.
How do you think these lies are played out among Christian women?
If we aren’t being our true authentic selves and doing the things we love and using our gifts and being all that we’re intended to be, we are not even being the woman that God intended us to be, much less the woman our husbands fell in love with originally. Being in a relationship should elicit that kind of fullness.
In another chapter I address the issue of softness, which can be confused with submission. (Softness) means that our vulnerability is also our strength. When we are able to have intimacy with a man while exposing our softness to them, then they are able to show their strengths and that starts a chain reaction. Women have a tendency to always be striving, striving. Men say, “Whoa!” They feel totally disrespected. If we could just stop promoting ourselves and our independence, and let someone know that they’re needed, it would be a good thing.
You say that women are often very judgmental of one another—and very cruel about their judgments as well. Why do you think this is, and how do you see this playing out among Christian women?
Sometimes when women have their own issues with confidence and self-esteem, which is the same trait from pre-school to adulthood, they judge other people to make themselves feel better. It’s just a reaction to fear. We’ve all done it, but it hurts. It hurts the person we’re doing it to, but ultimately it hurts us. We need that community of women. We weren’t designed to do everything alone, and when female relationships fly down the road, all of our other relationships, including our marriage, are impacted. If our girlfriends are with us, and we’re being real and kind, we don’t have to dump things on other people’s laps.
It’s like that saying, that you shouldn’t expect your husband to be your girlfriend.
Right. Your husband can totally be your best friend, but that doesn’t mean he’s your girlfriend. If she’s of the caliber that she should be—which she should be, at this stage of our lives—then you should return home a better person. She won’t let you go home more toxic than when you left.
Talk about what it was like to go through a divorce as a Christian woman, and from a high profile athlete no less.
Oh, it was such a treat—so much fun! (laughing) You know, I was married for five years and I’ve now been divorced for five years. And it’s good to have this perspective that I do now, which is that that (divorce) doesn’t define me. But no, (divorce) is not fun for anyone to go through in private, and it’s certainly not fun to go through it in public.
My philosophy was that I wasn’t the famous one. Strangers would tell us that they were praying for us, and it bugged me that that many people knew my personal life. But I was like, “Hey—that’s all the more people who are praying for us. I’ll take it. I’ll take all I can get!” But it won’t always define you. That’s what you have to remember.
When you were a kid, you write, you were picked last for sports. What happened to transform you into a marathon runner, and what role has this transformation played in your life?
After I had kids, I began jogging to try and lose weight and get back in shape. It wasn’t until I went through my divorce in 2003, when a couple of my friends started saying, “You look terrible. You’re too skinny. You don’t eat and you don’t sleep. You need to train for a marathon.” I started going out with them on the weekends. I had too many decisions so I just followed. When my divorce was final I ran the Dallas White Rock Marathon. It was an incredible experience. It was something that I thought was reserved for people who had talent and ability. I was so used to being on the sidelines that I didn’t think I could do something great, too. It gave me a lot of confidence.
Then I wrote them a thank you note and they said, “Wow! You’re a good writer! If you don’t send this somewhere, then we will.” So I sent an e-mail to the general editor at Runner’s World, and somehow the Editor-in-Chief looked at my essay. It was published in August 2004. (Afterwards) they got so much mail that I became a contributing editor, which has opened up a lot of doors. I’ve also done five more marathons and one ultra-marathon, which is 50K.
So is being an athlete now part of who you are?
It is. I probably love the writing as much as the running, but it’s an intersection of passion. My running has developed a real sacredness for me. It’s my time with myself, it’s my time with my friends, and there are so many metaphors for life that come out of them.
What do you hope that the book will do for women?
If there’s a sense of hopefuless, I love that idea. And also, if women can find groups of likeminded women, whether that’s a Bible study or a book club or a mom’s group, (where they can) develop those relationships, and if that could be a fruit that that could come from my writing, I would be humbled to the ground.
To learn more about Kristin Armstrong or her latest title, Work in Progress: An Unfinished Woman’s Guide to Grace (Faith Words), please visit her "Mile Markers" blog.
**This interview first published on May 28, 2009.