Anchored in the Father’s Joy
For HLN’s Christi Paul, having true confidence is all about asking the right question.
By Patrick Wood
On a warm Atlanta morning, I meet Christi Paul at CNN’s headquarters, where the HLN anchor and host of Find Our Children keeps her office. Just minutes after the interview begins, a fire alarm blares, echoing through the halls. We join scores of CNN employees as they evacuate the building and cross the street to Centennial Olympic Park.
Paul sits on a cement bench and occasionally rises to greet colleagues as they pass by. The former pageant winner has all the affability expected of someone in her profession—a woman who is used to presenting herself well on camera. Yet Paul’s confidence isn’t merely put on, as if to fulfill the icon of newswoman, stalwart in the face of tragedy, with finely pressed clothing and impeccably coifed hair. Hers is born of a dark and painful journey through an abusive marriage and the ensuing years of healing.
In the late 90s, Paul found herself far from her family and childhood home, anchoring at a station in Boise, Idaho, and married to the man of her dreams—or so she thought. Shortly into the marriage, Paul’s new husband became somebody else. Behind closed doors were the drunken tirades, growing a little louder each time. These moments included all sorts of names for his wife, none of them uplifting. The morning she woke up with bruised arms, she knew it was time they got help. And when he continually refused, the relationship came to an end.
Even so, while parting ways with the man prevented further abuse, it didn’t eliminate the fact that Paul still had herself to live with—crushed under the weight of depression, a tarnished self-image, and the debris of shattered dreams. She had always wanted to be a mother, though not in a dysfunctional marriage. And there were gifts and talents she’d hoped to develop, but now it seemed that the time for dreaming had passed. She felt herself giving in to an overpowering sense of worthlessness.
It wasn’t just the vulgar names Paul's husband called her behind closed doors that had accumulated in her soul. There also were the public moments—subtle jabs aimed at making his wife look silly or incompetent in front of others. “After four years of listening to someone belittle, accuse, and abuse me,” Paul says, “I couldn’t see myself as anything other than small.”
To make matters worse, these feelings of worthlessness felt deserved, if for no other reason than because she chose to marry the man and allowed the abuse to continue for so long. Paul managed to muster enough poise for the cameras, but it wouldn’t last long. Everyone has a breaking point, and hers was rapidly approaching.
Desperate for help, she sought the wisdom of a seasoned Christian counselor. Week after week, the sessions included soul-searching questions that help people identify their root problems. Yet, the counselor explained, it didn’t matter how many Paul answered—none would be of any lasting value—unless she faced the one that mattered most: What does God think of me?
A lot of people are too afraid of the answer to honestly consider that question. Such was the case for Paul, too, because of the way she had once responded to the Lord’s leading: before deciding to marry Justin, something inside had warned her the relationship wasn’t right, but she ignored it. Then it spoke a little louder, this time with the aid of circumstances—just days after the couple got engaged, Paul was offered her dream job. Being called to anchor in Cleveland with NBC seemed like a gift from above. But her husband made himself clear: marriage would mean moving to Idaho, no questions asked. And so after the wedding, they did exactly that.
Sometime after the divorce, a friend encouraged Paul to reconsider what God’s perspective might be toward her and to give Him a chance to speak. She sat down in the solitude of her new apartment one day, and to her surprise, a voice spoke clearly into her heart. It wasn’t audible, but neither was it her own thought. You are my child, said the affirming voice. Four simple words, expressed with authority and love, told Paul what she really needed to hear. This wasn’t coming from some cold, distant judge. It was the voice of a loving Father.
That’s when Paul’s heart—and world—opened wide. “Truly viewing God as a parent for the first time gave me the audacity to hope again, despite my failures,” she says. “With God, we never run out of second chances.”
It’s taken Paul some time to absorb this truth. Back when she was still going through the counseling process, the idea of a fresh start was merely a growing hope; but the more time she spent with her Father, the more she learned about being His child.
Paul weaves this theme throughout her memoir, Love Isn’t Supposed to Hurt. Most importantly, she finds, understanding our role as children of God brings a sense of freedom to our sense of self, liberating our identity from whatever labels we’ve been given by the world.
The only one worthy to define us as individuals is the Lord—not our failures or mistakes, and certainly not the poisonous words or expectations from others. “True transformation begins," she says, "when we realize how valuable we are in God’s eyes.” But that can occur only if our sense of worth is anchored in the right place. God “designed you to specifically be you, and no one can take that away.”
This truth enabled Paul to forgive not only her ex-husband but also herself for allowing the abuse. She has advice for those who have been verbally abused and still suffer resentment: Choose to forgive—doing so is essential in recovering self-worth. She explains, “We have to learn to value ourselves enough to say to the one who hurt us, ‘What you think of me doesn’t define me. What you do to me won’t destroy me. I’m choosing to let this go so I can be free of all toxicity.’” It’s not okay that it happened, Paul says, “but’s it not okay to let it wreck you, either.”
This realization inspired her not simply to hope for a better future, but to pursue one, making use of the untapped talents that had been suffocated by self-belittlement and fear of criticism. One of these was singing. That might sound trivial to some, but to Paul it was always a big deal. “If it matters to us, it matters to Him,” she says.
Likewise, what matters to Him will matter to us as we grow in Him, and it will show as we seek His guidance about relationships and vocations. But for this to happen, Paul points out, we need to make time for the Lord. “If we just learn to slow down, break away from our hectic schedules, and be okay with silence, God would have His chance to speak.” Paul’s resolute tone and hand gestures—familiar from her reporting style on Find Our Children and other issues close to her heart—reveal how strongly she feels about this final point.
The desire of Paul’s heart is to raise godly women, not just within her walls, but everywhere—especially the downtrodden who have been in a situation like her own. As she speaks to audiences on the subject of verbal abuse, her emphasis isn’t on ending relationships. It’s about learning to create healthy ones.
But for this to happen, one’s identity needs to be in the right place: “First and foremost, we’re children of God, and that is enough,” says Paul. “When you know your sense of worth is from Him, you don’t need to rely on someone else for it. And that is freedom.”