Denise for Congress
Exactly four years ago today, I did something I’d always dreamt of: I launched my own campaign for Congress. I’d worked in politics for most of my career, and loved everything about campaigning; the pace, the clarity of focus, the issues, and the people.
Supporting candidates I believed in – their platforms, their policy proposals, and their qualifications - brought me so much joy. This time, however, I’d be touting my own – a much scarier proposition indeed.
The months leading up to my decision to run were fraught with emotion. I’d find myself 99% committed to running, when - out of the blue - fear, uncertainty, and insecurity would strike, causing me to backpedal. In those exploratory months, I faced unexpected resistance, criticism, and negativity – things that an Enneagram 3 like me will do anything to avoid. There were also practical reasons I wasn’t sure that I could run. For one, I hate division – by nature, I’m a uniter, not a divider (h/t W.). But a campaign is a zero sum game in which someone has to lose, in order for someone else to win. So while I’d prefer it if everyone ran across the finish line together, that’s just not how campaigns work, which meant I’d be fighting my own nature as a candidate.
I also had to figure out how to raise money. My family couldn't afford to finance my campaign, and neither could I. My opponent was the fourth wealthiest member of Congress. I, on the other hand, owned a PR firm and had a rental property that provided just enough income to pay the bills. Raising the $1.5 million required to make the race competitive seemed impossible.
Above all, I was nervous about running as a single woman. A Congresswoman who won her first race as a single young candidate warned me, “they’ll label you a lesbian and a whore – all at the same time.” She shared how lonely she’d felt, doing everything on her own, and how often she’d cry. The picture she painted was awful, and I wasn’t keen on subjecting myself to the same misery.
Even so, my desire to run didn’t subside; instead, it grew stronger. The more I prayed about my decision, the clearer my answer was. So I gathered friends, family, and the best campaign team I could find, and together we launched my Congressional campaign on November 5, 2015 at 10am, in San Diego’s Little Italy.
I’ll never forget how I felt delivering my first campaign speech. I was perfectly in my element. Every word I spoke was filled with confidence and self-assurance. Surrounded by supporters and loved ones, I did what I’d always dreamt of, and it was exhilarating. But the moment I stepped away from the podium, everything changed. Reporters shouted hostile questions. Fake Facebook accounts with misspelled versions of my name and unflattering pictures of me popped up out of nowhere. The local paper ran an article on me that was 70% fabricated. And my primary opponents – people in my own political party whom I’d never even met or seen – made a pact with each other to direct their attacks at me. I felt like I was at the bottom of a political dog pile.
At the end of my first week, I found myself lying on my bedroom floor, sobbing. I’d cried more in seven days of campaigning than I had in 38 years of living. Naturally, I doubted the calling I’d been so certain of. And I convinced myself that I could not handle a whole year of such relentless and overwhelming negativity, directed at me.
Eventually, my attention turned to God, who I blamed for getting me into the race. Why would you lead me down a path that I’m not equipped to navigate? Why would you subject me to so much hostility? WHERE ARE YOU in all of this??
As I laid on the floor, crying, I heard God gently respond. “Denise, you’re right. You’re not equipped to do anything I’ve called you to do. You can’t handle the pain of rejection. You need me. That’s why I led you down this path – to show you how incapable you are of doing anything without me. Let me be your provider, protector, comforter and strength. Rely on me, instead of yourself.”
As a proudly independent woman, the notion that dependence could be a good thing was foreign to me. In all the years I’d known and loved God, I’d bought into the lie that God helps those who help themselves. But believing I was responsible for hustling my own way through life had brought me to the brink of exhaustion. I’d come to the end of myself, and could do no more. I had to rely on God – or quit.
So with a great deal of trepidation, I started handing things over to God. Whenever burdens, concerns, fears, and disappointments arose, I’d mentally and emotionally release them to Him. From meeting impossible fundraising goals, to getting the party’s endorsement, to convincing people to cast a vote for me – I realized just how laughable the notion of doing things “in my own strength” was. And as I gave up steering my own ship, I watched God miraculously open doors I had no business walking through; doors that I never could have opened on my own.
By the time election night rolled around, I was a pro at the whole dependence thing. So when the race was called for my opponent, I felt peace. Disappointment, yes, but mostly peace - and none of the devastation or humiliation I thought would accompany such a high profile, public loss.
Relying on God taught me to trust Him, even when He led me in a different direction than I’d hoped. I launched the campaign thinking it would kickstart my political career. But God used it to draw me closer to Him, instead.
Looking back, I realize that I gained far more than I lost in that race. And four years later, I'm still leaning on Him - every moment of every day. I am the vine, you are the branch. Apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15: 1, 5 God designed the human machine to run on Himself. – C.S. Lewis
November 6, 2019