Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Daring to Hope

I started to write this as a response to a comment from Alan Knox, but it got too long, so now it’s a post...

It is a funny thing that we tend to have hope for others, but find it so hard to have hope for ourselves. I guess because to hope means risking having those hopes dashed. I must admit, often I try NOT to hope, for fear of disappointment (the glass-half-empty part of my personality, I guess.) And while it seems so easy for me to have faith and hope regarding my eternity, why is it hard for me to sometimes have faith and hope about the little stuff here on earth?

I am continually trying to learn from this experience- after all, it was so painful, I wouldn’t want the whole experience to be a waste. And I have learned a lot, about myself, about human nature, about the kind of person I want to be and don’t want to be. It has been a reminder- again- that God doesn’t go away, even when it feels like He has. That you can always find something good in the bad, if you are willing to relinquish your pain for just a moment. And that there is always reason to hope, as long as we hold onto faith that God is indeed in control, and that He really does care about what we care about. That kind of faith means letting go of our own need and desire for justice to look the way we want it to look and arrive when we want it to arrive. Sometimes, I just have to remind myself to “put my money where my mouth is”- I can talk all I want about faith, but then I just have to do it. Put it on the line, walk in it. Model it for others. Faith is actually more a verb than a noun, I think.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Back Again

Well, I'm back. Kind of. Sort of. For now.
I guess I have a problem with committment.
I know I have a problem following through with what I start.

A couple of weeks off turned into a month, then 2, then 3, and I really debated whether I wanted to get back into this.
Because truthfully, it is much easier for me to just not think about certain things, or if I do think about them, it is easier to not have to try to get my thoughts down into something readable and decipherable.

I am still processing the events of the past year (the turmoil at our old church started exactly one year ago.) Sometimes I get really, really angry. Sometimes, I feel the beginnings of forgiveness and empathy. Most often, I just try not to think about it because I'm frankly tired of it all and I just want to put it behind me.

My family felt that we needed (and actually wanted) the anchor of belonging to a local church.
We are at a new church now, and we like the people we have met there. The pastor knows the whole story about what happened at our old church (most of those who left the old church at the same time we did ended up at the same new church) and he finds the goings-on at that place to be as deplorable as we do. (He lives in the same town that the pastor of our old church does, and I don't think ours were the first horror stories he had heard. Surely, not the last, either.)

I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Waiting to find out that there is some kind of masquerade going on, feeling like when and if I really get to know everything going on at this new church, I will discover something dark and sinister. I know God doesn't want me to spend my life building a wall, being constantly on guard, so I am trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. I am trying to have my heart open, but believe me, my eyes are open too. Slowly, I feel the heaviness of my cynicism falling away. I have the stirrings of something I haven't felt in quite a while. I think it's hope.

So, here I am, hanging out. For now.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Crazy August

Well I am sitting in the public library writing this because lightning hit our house a couple of days ago and took out our modem and a TV. So I have been living without modern technology for a couple of days, and you know, it's really OK. It is hard, thought, not obsessively checking the email every 30 minutes or so. Also, 2 days after the lightning storm, our microwave stopped working for some unknown reason. It less than a year old so it should still be under warranty.....except I can't find the receipt, so we will probably end up buying 2 microwaves in less than a year.

Life is crazy here as tonight is opening night for my daughter and I in the community theater production that we are in. I am exhausted. We have been getting in at around midnight every night for almost a week now. When the show closes in a couple of weeks, we are off on a 10 day vacation to Canada. So between our lack of internet connection, my crazy life right now, and our upcoming (much needed) time away, it will probably be a while before I check in again. Can't believe August is here and will be gone before I know it. How does that work, that the older you get the faster time flies by?

Monday, July 30, 2007

My Superpower: Invisibility

Somehow, I have become invisible.

In a couple of weeks, I will turn 41 (which means I will no longer just be 40, but will officially be “in my forties”- BLECH!!!) I have noticed recently when out in public, shopping, etc., that apparently, I am invisible. It seems people are able to look right through me, and not even notice that I am there. I have heard people who are disabled or morbidly obese describe this phenomenon. It’s really too bad that I haven’t learned to use this new superpower of invisibility to my benefit, say to listen in on certain conversations or pretend I am just not there when someone needs something for the umpteenth time.

It is bad enough when I am invisible to strangers, but it is really amazing that lately I am invisible to my teenage daughter. Last night we were out at a rehearsal for a community theater production that we are both in. She managed to avoid me most of the night, she was hanging out with her friends. Fine, I get that, she doesn’t want to hang out with her mom. But suddenly as we got in the car, all of that endless energy that she had for her friends evaporated and she was too tired to talk to me. Which, again, I can handle. But then she and her friend in the back seat start texting each other so they can have a private conversation in the car and make little comments and exclude me. I told them both how incredible rude it was. I have been relegated to the role of taxi driver who should be there to drive but should not really be there. Quite like how the refrigerator gets restocked and dishes get washed and dentist appointments get scheduled and clean laundry magically appears in the closets and drawers- all seemingly by some mysterious and invisible force. I came home and cried and cried, I was cut to the bone by a seemingly tiny incident, but to me it was just a precursor to what is to come- to get older, to become more invisible (unneeded?) in my children’s lives, to become less valuable in the eyes of our society which glorifies youth and beauty.

Even this morning when I awoke I was licking my wounds, thinking about how her actions and attitude had hurt me. And suddenly, sorrow and realization swept over me- God, is this how I treat You? Running to You when I need something or have a problem, but not really seeing You? Do I avoid spending time with You when my other “friends” (hobbies, work, chores, television) are around? Do I break Your heart the way mine feels broken right now? I am sorry, so sorry, God. I understand better now. You don’t want to be invisible in my life. You want me to see You for everything You are, not just for what You can do for me, not just for a fall back plan when I can’t seem to make things go my way on my own. You want me to need You and want to be with You, to not be too busy for You.

There is a great little book by Nicole Johnson called “The Invisible Woman.”
I love this quote:

Maybe disappearing can become a matter of choice. Maybe I can use invisibility as a disguise for covert love operations. Maybe I can use anonymity as a means of not drawing attention to myself, and fade into the background whenever I need or want. Perhaps invisibility is a gift, given to me for a greater purpose than I had previously seen…I can stop searching for my reflection in others and allow God the opportunity to answer the question in my soul…Invisibility is not inflicted upon me, it is a gift to help me truly serve.

Maybe being invisible isn't so bad.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Smallest Stuff is Big Enough

One of the things that I struggle most with is my need to measure up to the world’s standards. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to live a “big” life, do “big” successful things. I even want to have a “big” ministry for God. It is so easy for me to mix up our culture’s views of success with God’s idea of success. I tend to measure my self worth by what I have done lately, even though the Bible gives me a very different standard to live by and strive for. I tend to think that if only I can do big things or have a big ministry, God will be very pleased with me. More accurately, I will be pleased with myself. (Any questions, just see my profile at right. Oh, and my blogger name…)

I was visiting a church last Sunday and there was a man in the row in front of me, white and in his fifties, with a black boy, about 14, who was in a wheel chair with what appeared to be cerebral palsy. I don’t know anything about their story, or how the boy came to be in the man’s care. During the service, the man held the boy’s hand, gently touched his face, wiped his mouth. They were strangers to me, but I know that this man loved this boy. I cried.

I was seeing God.

I saw His glory displayed more magnificently than the most beautiful sunset and grander than the Grand Canyon. I beheld Him there, just a few feet away from me, close enough to touch. He was doing what He is best at- not preaching, not publishing best sellers, not on television or on a magazine cover. He was loving and serving.

And I was reminded (once again)- I can do that. I will probably never be famous or raise millions of dollars for charity or have my name on a building- but I can joyfully serve, I can love. I can cheerfully make my kids breakfast, attentively listen to my husband, tie my nephew’s shoe, be kind to the waitress who is having a bad day. I can go out of my way to volunteer at the urban afterschool program (something I said I was going to do, but somehow just didn’t get around to…). I can choose to be inconvenienced for the sake of love.

And that would be really big.

PS. Here is the really hilarious irony – I am sitting here, wondering if this is too corny, too cliché, too simple to post- In other words, is it good enough, “big” enough??!!?? Just gotta get over it…………

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I know my posts have been infrequent. It is hard for me to just sit down and write, because I tend to analyze and rethink and rewrite everything, wanting it to be perfect, wanting to make sure I get down all of my thoughts on a particular subject (which is impossible, because one thought just leads to another....). As a result, publishing a post for me is a fairly time consuming committment. And it is a little overwhelming to know that some of my deepest thoughts and feelings are floating around out there for the whole world to read. But I have been encouraged by reading other people's posts and comments. Sometimes I feel like even having a blog is kind of ego-centric- like, do complete strangers really even care about anything that I have to say, anyway?????

I also don't want to constantly revisit the toxic church thing. There's a huge part of me that just wants to move on with my life and forget about it all. But I know that there are still things I need to deal with and learn from, and I know that there are lots of people out there going through the same things. I know that when my family was in the middle of it all, reading other people's stories that seemed almost identical to ours was really helpful. Maybe I can pass that along.

So, thanks to all of you for joining me on this journey.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ignoring the Lifeboat

As I look back over the last few months, I feel freer and more confident and comfortable in our decision to leave our church and its toxic leadership. It’s as if the fog is slowly evaporating, and things are becoming clearer and clearer. I am grateful that my family is free- free from the false teachings, the psychological manipulation, and the spiritual abuse, and free from the persistent pain and turmoil that filled our lives. Free to be ourselves, and to not worry about the repercussions of pissing off the pastor’s wife. I am glad that we made the difficult decision to go, a decision which now seems to be the only decision we could have made. We chose to protect ourselves and our family, and to not let fear of the unknown and possible backlash control us. At the time, it was agony. But in looking back, I almost laugh because as I begged God to give us a definitive answer as to whether we should stay or go, it was as if He was saying, “Hello! What do you call all of the information and insight I have given you over the past few months? What do you call that sick feeling that you have in your gut?” It reminds me of that joke where the guy is on the roof during the flood, confident God will save him. As the waters rise, a boat, a helicopter and a plane come along, but the man refuses help from them all, saying he’s waiting for God to save him. When he finally succumbs to the flood and goes to heaven, he asks God why He didn’t save him, to which God replies, “What do you mean? I sent you a boat, and helicopter and a plane!!” It was as if God was sending us all of these signs, yet we were waiting for the “burning bush,” or the audible voice of God. We were afraid to trust our own discernment. Even with Scripture to back us up (Acts 20:29-31, Matthew 23:27-28, 1 Tim. 3:11, 2 Tim 3:2-7), we still thought that maybe our leadership knew better than we did.

The Holy Spirit was leading us away from there, but we were afraid to do the wrong thing. Joyce Meyer says that if you miss God, He will find you. So true. We really didn’t have to worry so much about making a wrong decision regarding whether or not to leave our church, because no matter what we did, He would have taken care of us. If there was a lesson He wanted us to learn, He would give us that opportunity where ever we were. A lot of that fear came from the way we were taught to always be obedient, always submit. We were terrified that if we weren’t obedient to what God was calling us to do, there would be serious consequences. But I now see that if God absolutely wanted us there for a reason, He would have made it extremely clear to us. As long as we are seeking Him and His truth with all of our hearts, He will honor that.

I myself tend to get caught up in wanting a “burning bush” answer to all of my questions. I tend to play little games with God, wanting God to give me a sure sign that I am doing the right or wrong thing. It’s easy to do when you hear so many testimonies from people who talk about how God "told" them to do this or that and they did it and then they had a huge spiritual breakthrough, or became wildly successful in their ministry, business, etc. In thinking like this, I tend to get paralyzed by fear, terrified that if I don’t do everything “according to God’s will,” I will not be blessed and I will miss out on something. But my husband and I have learned that for the most part, God expects us to use the intelligence and discernment that He gave us. He expects us to investigate, question, research, and study, in addition to our prayer. He will send people to speak into our lives and provide wise counsel, but not to control us or run our lives for us (idolatry). He doesn’t send people to tell us what to do, but rather people will often confirm what He has already put in our hearts.

And when He sends the lifeboat, helicopter and plane, we should get out of our own way and jump in.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Willing Participant

I wonder why we choose to continue to accept and endure abuses in our churches? It has been going on in our former church for many years, and as I read other blogs by people who have had shockingly similar experiences, it quite frankly makes me really, really angry. In my naivete´, I somehow thought that church would, or should, be a refuge from the BS that exists in the world. As Christians, shouldn’t we know better? Shouldn’t we be kinder, gentler? Shouldn’t we have greater integrity, more humility, less selfishness? I recognize that churches are full of imperfect people who are the products in an imperfect fallen world, but some of the stuff that we have experienced goes way beyond saying the wrong thing, or at times being inconsiderate or selfish, or having personality conflicts or differences of opinion. I am talking about manipulation, malice and deceit, things which are so opposite the ways and will of God, and yet somehow become disguised by our “spiritual leaders” as things that those of us less spiritual folks “just don’t understand.”

And we believe it, blindly following along, even though something inside of us says, something is wrong here. At first, we may not be quite sure what it is, but we begin to catch the faint whiffs of something rotten. Even so, we choose to believe the lies that the enemy places in the hearts and minds and mouths of those whom we trust to follow, instead of believing the voice of the Holy Spirit. We choose to believe that maybe those in leadership are much more discerning than we are, and we ignore those doubts and questions that we have. Why is it that in so many of our churches, we are expected to check our own intellect and discernment at the door? Looking back in hindsight, I see that the Holy Spirit tried to grab my attention many times, but instead of listening to and believing what He had to say, I chose to remain in bondage to the lies which were taught to me. I was afraid to believe that those that I loved and trusted were actually Pharisees who could possibly lead me down a path filled with falsehood and vain religiosity. It was in letting go of my idolatry of these people that I was able to begin to see and accept the truth, and to begin to break free of the web of lies that had become a safety net for me. And time has shown me that the breaking free is not an event but a process, one which I am still undergoing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Coming Clean Part IV: Mercy Amidst Ugliness

“When you pray, I will listen. If you look for Me in earnest, you will find Me when you seek Me.” Jeremiah 29:12-13

I have prayed for some really frivolous things in my lifetime, but at that point, I was desperate, I just needed answers (even if they weren’t the answers I wanted) and some peace. And God mercifully obliged.

Around Thanksgiving, things seemed to be pretty peaceful. I had backed away from several relationships and church activities, figuring I would just do my thing and not get caught up in the BS. I continued to pray for clarity, that I would either be convicted of sinful attitudes in my own heart, or that I would have confirmation that there was indeed something very rotten going on.

My husband called from work one day saying that he had been tapped by the pastor to be on an investigation committee concerning some allegations against the worship leader. The other members of the committee were a current board member and a former board member. My husband had never served on the board. When my husband asked why he had been chosen, he was told, “We don’t really know, your name just came to mind.”

The story is rather long and convoluted but basically, the pastor’s wife decided that the worship leader was stealing money from the church and immediately began to tell members of the youth group and others just that. There was no concrete evidence, just her own suspicions. The pastor and his wife began to harass the music store in question, wanting information. They kept on visiting, calling, sending board members to try to get information. It became very clear that this was a witch hunt, that the worship leader was indeed assumed guilty until proven innocent. Interesting that they could be so sure of his guilt, when they had known him for 17 or 18 years and felt highly enough of him to make him worship leader in the first place. And interesting that this went on behind his back, before they ever approached him about the subject and asked him if he had an explanation for some discrepancies. (1Tim 5:19)

While we were not in attendance at the board meetings when these allegations were first leveled, one of the board members there recognized that the worship leader was being railroaded. When this board member asked for the evidence against the worship leader he was told by the pastor, “You don’t need it- he’s guilty.” This board member went to bat for the worship leader and eventually resigned because he would have no part in convicting an innocent man with no proof. He was later maligned by the pastor at an open membership meeting of the church, described as someone stubborn and unwilling to meet and work with the pastor and the board. These were out and out lies told to the church body, another example of what happens to those who don’t fall into line.

My husband went into the investigation with an open mind- he just wanted to find the truth. He did not go into it with a presumption of guilt or innocence of the worship leader. After the investigation was said and done, there was no proof that completely exonerated the worship leader, but there was also no proof to convict him, either. This was a man of upstanding character who had served the church and the pastor faithfully and loyally for many years. He was not given the benefit of the doubt, he was put through the wringer, his reputation defamed and destroyed and his business damaged. Worst of all, the distrust and false allegations against him deeply, deeply wounded his heart. After the investigation concluded, the pastor continued the rumors that the worship leader was in fact guilty, ignoring the conclusions and recommendations of the investigation committee. Which just goes to show that he never, ever wanted the truth, he just wanted someone to prove his version of the events.

There was a lot more ugliness involved, but in doing this investigation and talking to a lot of people and in dealing with the pastor himself, we found out about much more villainy going on there than we ever suspected, even more than our rather large list of misgivings.
In fact, throughout the investigation, my husband kept saying “I just don’t want to know this.” It was a very difficult and confusing time. But we discovered things we never would have known about, God opened up our eyes and did indeed answer my prayers for confirmation.

Even with all of the information that we now had, deciding to leave was still extremely difficult, and took several more months. The confusion still existed, mostly, I believe, because of the teachings of that pastor that we should never question authority, that those in authority (ie he and his wife) were so spiritually superior to the rest of us that there was no need to question them, and that how much we were willing to “submit” was in complete correlation to our spiritual maturity.

I would like to say that once we left, everything miraculously came into focus and became clear. It didn’t. There was still a lot of doubt, that maybe they were right and that we were the ones who were deceived. Even with all of the proof we have of spiritual abuse going on there, and even as I talk to people who are still there who tell me the kinds of things still going on, there is the occasional bit of doubt. But we have peace with our decision, knowing that we did the right thing to protect our family from this abuse. But I can't help wondering and worrying about those left behind.

Monday, June 25, 2007

40 Day Fast

Please take a look at this blog, The Secret Life of Kat (also see sidebar.) I just found it and it looks really cool. Bloggers are taking turns fasting and praying about world poverty and then writing about it. Brant tells a story about coming face to face with horrendous human suffering, grace, and mercy. I am looking forward to using this as an opportunity to focus my attention off of myself and onto an urgent problem and how I can be meaningful part of the solution.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Africa- The Latest Celebrity Bandwagon?

Thought I'd take a break from writing about the "church stuff". (I mean, there is more going on in the world than what happens to little old me.)

Last night I bought a copy of the July 2007 edition of Vanity Fair. I can't wait to read it- all of the articles look so interesting. This is not a magazine that I normally read, in fact, I don't think I've ever read it except maybe in the dentist's office. Anyway, I picked it up because the whole issue is about Africa, and the issue is guest-edited by Bono (he's so cool- a rock star and a humanitarian, and, I believe, a Jesus follower.) There are of course lots of celebrities mentioned and featured on their 20 different covers this month- Madonna, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali, etc etc. Sometimes this really bugs me- like famous people are the only ones who care, who are making a difference? I get tired of seeing some of them jump on the bandwagon for the latest and coolest cause. (OK, I am not able to look into their hearts. I am certain that many, if not most of them, are truly interested, and it's not fair for me to try to judge their motives. And if they can raise awareness for this issue, then that is extremely valuable.) But, puleeez- don't they get enough attention for their latest movie and who they're dating this week and what designer they are wearing at the next awards show?!? They have to garner all of the attention for their charity work too? I think it might be really cool to put dirty, dusty volunteer relief workers on the cover (I know that wouldn't sell copies- didn't I mention that I bought it in large part because Bono is the guest editor?????)

The fact is that this crisis is finally coming to the forefront because of the celebrity faces now involved. I have to wonder- have we as a church done enough? I know that Christians and churches and Christian organizations have for many many years been involved in providing relief and trying to solve some of these problems. Is it simply because we did not have a celebrity spokesperson that this work went largely unnoticed by the world? Or is it that each and every one of us could have done more? I don't know, I'm just pondering.

When I start to get annoyed with the attention that the celebrities and secular organizations get for being involved in this cause, I try to remember that it really doesn't matter to the dying people who helps them, they just need help. And they will take it from anyone (including radical Muslims who are looking for the newest members of their terrorist cells or child soldiers to fight their wars.) I can't help but wonder, if we as a church had done our duty over the course of recent history, would this crisis be as heartbreaking and disasterous as it now is? Have we done everything we have been called to do? Have we not just spoken of the love Christ but demonstrated it with action and loving compassion? Have we just taught about eternal consequences but not addressed people's immediate physical needs? Have each and every one of us cared enough to at least pray for this situation and these people? I must admit, that much too often I have been too wrapped up in myself to pay attention. It is easy to change the channel or turn the page of the newspaper when the suffering is so far away. It is easy to write a check and let someone else get their hands dirty.

No, we can't get angry when celebrities and secularists get publicity for doing what we are ALL called to do. The last time I read my Bible, God didn't much care about fame or having the world know about our good deeds anyway. Maybe it is good for us as Christians to be faced with the goodness and care and compassion displayed by non-believers. Dare I say it- maybe we could even learn something from them? On page 52 of the Vanity Fair issue, Bono states:

This is an emergency- normal rules don't apply. There are no easy good or bad guys. Do you think an African mother cares if the drugs keeping her child alive are thanks to an iPod or a church plate? Or a Democrat or a Republican? I don't think that mother gives a damn about where that 20-cent pill comes from, so why should we. It can lead to some uncomfortable bedfellows, but sometimes less sleep means you are more awake.

I think God would smile at this. After all, Christ never promised us a life of comfort. On the contrary, I think the more uncomfortable we are, the more He likes it. Is it possible that out of this terrible tragedy God could work something good- like an opportunity for common ground and dialog between groups that would not normally sit at the same lunch table together? [a rhetorical question :)] Maybe it's time for us all to jump on the same bandwagon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Coming Clean Part III: The Ugly

I have spent a long time laying out our story because I want there to be no room for doubt concerning why we finally felt that we must go. I think it is clear that there was spiritual abuse going on, and I have not even mentioned any of the information we received regarding the appearance of financial impropriety. Maybe I appear a little defensive about our decision to leave. Actually, I feel defensive, probably a result of the manipulation that we endured. When we did announce that we were leaving, the pastor told us that in a year we would have the same problems in whatever church we were in (read: we were highly critical, unforgiving, easily offended, spiritually immature, and destined to be “church hoppers” because we would always find something wrong where ever we went.) Never mind that we had been there almost 4 years, and those families who had left at approximately the same time, because of the same issues, had been there for 8 – 10 years each.

Around November of last year was the beginning of the end for us, when our church life (and it was a pretty big chunk of our entire lives) began to unravel. I had been seeing things at our church and with the leadership for a couple of years that just didn’t seem right. However, I got the “do not touch my anointed” and “those of us in leadership are way more spiritual than you and have more information than you” speeches a lot. I was left to scratch my head and wonder, am I just crazy? Are they right? Am I rebellious, immature? Am I the problem here?

In August of 2006, I was accused of saying things against the pastor’s wife that I did not say, and I knew these accusations came about due to the manipulation of a relatively new believer, and I had had enough. Actually, I was less angry about what they were claiming that I had said than I was furious about how they had coerced a “confession” from this tender soul. It took everything in my power not to RUN. Every fiber of my being was screaming RUN RUN RUN! But I had been taught the dangers of being easily offended and I didn’t want to be an immature “church hopper”, acting simply out of my flesh. (John Bevere’s book “The Bait of Satan” is certainly valuable, but in our church it was constantly misused to clobber anyone who dared disagree with the pastor or his wife. It didn’t matter what kind of pain was inflicted upon you or your loved ones, the answer was simply to not be offended and to forgive. Very convenient when you are the one who always seems to the one who is offensive.) Also, my husband and kids were settled in this church and we all had friends there and did not want to leave.

I found myself constantly confused, sure that I was seeing what I now recognize as spiritual abuse. My head felt like a ping pong ball, constantly tossed back and forth. Am I deceived? Are they deceived? How can others not see these problems? They must be right because they are in ministry and so spiritually mature (as they told us over and over and over again.) I must be really immature. I really need to repent. But isn’t it wrong to gossip and spread rumors about people and be generally mean spirited and try to control other people’s children- no matter how long you’ve been in ministry or how long you’ve been saved? One thing is for sure- the enemy thrived on my confusion, created it in fact. I was rendered useless for the kingdom at that point, because my mind, energy, and emotions became consumed. And the confusion fed itself, because in recognizing my ineffectiveness, I wondered if it was my fault, something I had created in my own mind.

I had an extremely difficult time differentiating between conviction and condemnation. Was God trying to teach me something? Was the enemy deceiving me, playing tricks on me? The different sides of the story replayed in my head constantly and took over every waking (and often dreaming) thought. I really believed that maybe I was just crazy. After all, there were plenty of people whom I liked and respected, people I considered friends, buying into the “submit to authority always” bit. I began to pray for clarity. I asked God to show me any wrong attitudes or beliefs that I had, and that if I was indeed correct about the evil I thought I was seeing, to please provide concrete confirmation. I just wanted to know once and for all if I was all wrong, or if I was somehow seeing things that it seemed no one else was seeing.

In November of 2006, God answered my prayer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Coming Clean Part II: The Bad

Again, I wonder how much I detail I want to get into regarding the reasons we left our church. In fact, I started working on this post a week ago. I keep looking at it and re-reading it- I’m just not quite sure the direction I want to take this. To make a laundry list of everything that went wrong would make it seem that nothing good happened at our old church. But, in fact, there was much good fruit there, which made the decision to leave extremely difficult. It is, in fact, why so many have stayed there and continue to endure abuse, manipulation and control by the leadership.

I had been seeing red flags regarding arrogance, slander, elitist attitudes, and divisiveness from the very top of the leadership ladder. I saw people (especially young people, since the pastor’s wife was also the youth pastor), mistreated, emotionally manipulated, and slandered in front of entire groups of people. And no one said anything, we all just stood there. Why? Because no one dared speak out against the pastor or his wife. We were taught the “thou shall not touch the Lord’s anointed” lesson over and over. In fact, the pulpit became the perfect place to get this message across when the pastor and his wife felt threatened or if someone was not falling in line. Fear ruled- if you did not fall in line, you were sure to be the next one maligned in the pastor’s kitchen. Yet there was also the flattery, to your face you were told how wonderful you were and how much they loved you, in order to draw you in, gain your confidence, make you feel as if you were part of the inner circle. And it worked. Quite well, actually. It worked on me, and it was one of the things that I needed to repent for- that at the beginning, before it dawned on me that if she would talk about others to me, she was talking about me to others, I allowed myself to be drawn in. And I so easily believed the lies that were told about others. Of course, the flip side is that now that we have left, those left behind are believing the lies told about us. And I had to repent for all of the times when I was witness to the gossip and slander and said nothing. I told myself that it wasn’t gossip, because I was in the inner circle and she was confiding in me, she must trust me, and I wouldn’t repeat it (and I did not). But I knew that just listening was just as wrong as spreading the gossip. For this participation I am truly sorry.

There was perfection paraded as “excellence.” I have seen many gifts wasted because no one could measure up to the neurotic expectations of the pastor’s wife. No matter what anyone ever tried to do for a ministry, for an event, etc, it was never good enough for her. Which might not have been such a big deal except that she could never keep the details of everyone else’s inadequacies to herself. It didn’t take long for me and many others to figure out that no matter what we did, it wouldn’t be good enough. So we stopped trying. When it came down to it, the leadership did not want people to develop their gifts too much. Consciously or unconsciously, I think there is a fear that if people grow too much, they won’t need the “spiritual leadership” of those in charge any more, and those in charge might lose their control. (I put “spiritual leadership” in quotes because I think their idea of such was more along the lines of coercion, bullying, and subtle manipulation than guidance, advice, and gentle admonishment.) Actually, I have pity on this woman because I think it must be very difficult to live in her skin. I think she can never live up to her own expectations for herself, and she seems to spend her life “doing good” so that God will like her more.

It became impossible to be ourselves, because we could never be sure what would get back to the pastor and his wife. My husband, my teenage daughter and I had to always be vigilant about what we said and who we said it to, because if the pastor’s wife found out and she didn’t like it, it would be broadcast to several members of the youth group and the inner circle. We not only had to worry about what we said, but I found myself having to keep quiet about any details in our personal lives, because she was so critical. For example, when a man in our church was for a while consistently missing church because he’d gotten a job where he had to work most Sundays, the pastor’s wife let it be known that SHE wouldn’t ever take a job where she’d have to miss church (lucky for her she was never the one responsible for putting food on her family’s table.) Members of the youth group and adult members were told who in the church they should not associate with. If 2 college aged members of the youth group decided that they wanted to see each other and the pastor’s wife/youth pastor did not approve, there was gossip, manipulation, the use of the pulpit for condemnation.

The pastor is another whole story. He is a man who talks about how humble he is (doesn’t telling people that automatically negate the humility???!!!) I have heard him on at least 2 separate occasions say from the pulpit “I don’t have any sin in my life”. He talks about his integrity, yet my husband and I and several of our friends have caught him in lies (which he will deny, because he really doesn’t even know that he’s lying, he just lives in his own little reality where he is the king). We are aware of some financial dealings which are not “kosher”. He has had no problem telling us and others in the church about what he considered to be the assistant pastor’s shortcomings. He has perpetuated rumors that our worship leader stole money from the church, even when an independent investigatory committee concluded otherwise (more on that later.) Worst of all, as I mentioned his wife is the youth pastor, and he is completely unable to be objective in that area. Many people have had serious and credible issues with her, but woe be to the person who attempts to broach that subject with the pastor. Many, many have tried to talk to him, but he will have none of it.

There was so much more than this going on, and my mind has consciously or subconsciously forgotten much of it, a way of preserving my peace and sanity, I suppose. Sometimes I wish I had written it all down, because it’s easy to forget it all. And I guess that’s good, it makes it easier to move on when you’re not constantly dwelling on the details. But when the doubt starts to creep in, when I start to wonder whether we were actually the ones who were deceived and whether our decision was a fleshly one based on our desire to leave an uncomfortable situation, I wish I had a master list that I could quickly refer to and say, “Oh yes, that’s it right there in black and white.” A Former Leader expressed these same doubts. These doubts are a result of manipulation by the leadership, a kind of brainwashing, if you will, and a tactic of the enemy to keep us imprisoned in legalism and religiosity. I posted a lengthy response to this on that blog entry.

Tag - I'm It

Apparently bloggers like to play a game called "Tag" and I am "it". I have been tagged by A Former Leader. The question is- What are 5 Things you dig about Jesus?

1. He always knew exactly what to say. He never walked away from a conversation and then 10 minutes later slapped His forehead and thought "That's what I should have said!"

2. He was never afraid to tell the truth. He was not afraid of being unpopular.

3. He turned everything upside down. The last would be first, the first would be last, the way to find life is to give it up.

4. He died for me while I was still a sinner, when I was His enemy.

5. He is as real now as He ever was and ever will be. He is constant, unchanging. I always know what I'm getting with Him. The only surprise is that when I think I'm beginning to understand how much He loves me, He showers me with even more.

I guess I'm supposed to tag 5 other people, but since I'm pretty new to this, I don't know many people. The only person that I "know" that has not been tagged yet is malegra. If you are reading this blog and want to play along, please post your 5 things that you dig about Jesus and link back to the originator of this game of tag, John Smulo.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Coming Clean Part I

I am pretty new to the blogging world. My husband found some blogs which were supportive and encouraging when church life as we knew it began to unravel last fall. I have debated whether I wanted to go into all of the details which led us to finally leave our church. Part of me feels that it is important to get it out there, to let others know that they are not alone, that they are not the ones who are crazy if they see a bunch of red flags going up. But another part of me just wants to forget it and not rehash it. The truth is that I still think about it and get angry every single day. Everyday I have the hypothetical conversations in my head where I would be able to eloquently and wisely and discerningly tell the unbelievably deceived leadership of our former church what we have seen that is just wrong, wrong, wrong. But as you know, conversations NEVER go the way that we had planned, and the conversations that I wanted to have never took place. Even if I could have those perfectly scripted conversations, all of my words would have fallen on deaf ears. If there are none so blind as those who will not see, then there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. And my conversations would not be the first, nor would they be the last, I am sure, of a long line of messengers who have been ignored, maligned, slandered, or shunned. That is not to say that my husband and I did not try. I have brought small issues up over the years and was lectured and looked down upon as rebellious, immature, easily offended. My husband most recently tried to have conversations with the pastor in which he ended up being accused of having a “critical spirit” (is that anywhere in the Bible?)

I have come to realize that in dealing with people who are so deceived, especially those who have set themselves up as unaccountable, arrogant spiritual leaders, no human words will ever get through. This realization does make it easier to give the whole thing to God, and, I hope, to someday forgive. When I can bring myself to do it, I pray for my enemies (which I never realized was so hard to do until I really had to do it.) And I try to pray for them sincerely and with pure motives. I must admit that when I do pray for them, often my underlying motivation is not so much to bring healing to the church, but that they will see the pain they have caused and be brought to their knees, and that if they would be publicly disgraced I really wouldn’t have a problem with that (and in fact, I hope that I could be around to see it.) So that IS really awful and immature and vengeful and not Christian, but it is very human, and I’m trying to be really honest with myself and with anyone who might read this. For if there is anything I have learned from dealing with these people, it is that I do not want to fall into the trap of arrogance that has snared them. I pray that God will help me to always be completely honest with myself, recognizing and repenting for the part that I played in the mess we have just escaped. And believe me, there have been things that I have had to repent for. I so identify with Former Leader, I have had to repent for many of the same things that she describes.

I hope that my account of what happened to us and our friends will encourage others to be truthful with themselves and to seek to find what Christ intended His church to be. In being truthful, we need to acknowledge that churches are made up of people, that people are not perfect and that every single one of us requires His grace and mercy. One of the most difficult things for my family and I, and what I see so many of our friends who are still at our former church struggling with, is finding the line between what is faulty behavior of broken human beings requiring our mercy and forgiveness, and what is spiritual abuse, control and manipulation, and where is the point at which we must stand up for ourselves and for others in the congregation and say “No more.” Sometimes the abuse is clear cut, but in our case (and I’m sure in many others) the line gets fuzzy because of the good fruit that is being produced. My hope is that in getting this all down, truth will become clearer not just to myself but also for others who are struggling with the same issues.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Originally posted May 30, 2007

I am babysitting my 11 month old nephew today. Since my youngest child is 12, this is quite an adjustment for me, you know, being COMPLETELY out of control, having my schedule dictated by someone who weighs all of 18 lbs (although, my dog does a pretty good job of bossing me around, and she only weighs 11 lbs.) I decided that I would not even try to accomplish anything around the house today, (hard for me, being so type A and goal driven), just hang out with the baby and enjoy his sweet little company. So far, so good, but wow- am I exhausted. I read the other day about a 60 year old woman who just had twins through artificial insemination- what is she thinking!!! I mean, HELLO, there's a reason why God made menopause! In Ecclesiastes it says that there is a time and a season for every purpose under the sun, and let me tell you, I think that childbearing at the age of 60 is probably out of season! Which makes me start to think about what there might be in my life that is out of season. Maybe there are things that are too early, that I am trying to force along, or too late, that I need to just leave behind so I can move on.

My family and I are in between churches right now. It was a very difficult decision to leave our church, but something we knew we had to do. Because of some of the things we saw going on there, we are a little gun shy, guarded and apprehensive about jumping in anywhere new. We said from the beginning that we were going to take our time in finding the right place for our family. Still, we have an urge and a desire to be connected and "plugged in" again, for a chance to serve and fellowship. This past weekend we spoke with a friend who had left the same church shortly before we did, and he expressed the same exact sentiment. So there is the part of us that wants to hold back, and the part that wants to just move ahead. We want to get involved somewhere, but at the same time, it is really nice right now to not be committed to a bunch of committees and classes and events. We can just be.

When I talked to my husband about it the other day, I mentioned that I go through the same thing with my professional life (or lack of one.) Right now, my husband makes really good money & benefits and my oldest daughter has only one more year at home before she goes away to college, and I have the gift of time. I can stay home and not have to work like a fiend and really enjoy this time with my kids. I remind myself often of how blessed I am, how many women would love to be in my place. And yet...I want to work and be successful and ACCOMPLISH. It seems to go back to my post from a couple of days ago (May 25), why do I focus on what God isn't giving me, instead of what He IS giving me? I have time, but I want to work. When I am swamped with work, I just whine that I need more TIME.

It seems I spend most of my life living in the future, always looking forward to tomorrow, how it will be different and better. For today, I will enjoy the sweet little baby who is napping in the next room. I will enjoy my kids when they get home from school today. "THIS is the day that the Lord has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!" (Psalm 118)

Typical Day

Originally posted May 27, 2007

It was pretty hot today, my family went to church, then came home for lunch, then went out again to the mall, just to hang out. We didn't buy much, just looked around, stopped for dinner. Pretty typical.

Yesterday we got our tax refund check. We talked about using some of it for a vacation, or maybe for a down payment on a new car this fall when my oldest daughter gets her license. Pretty ordinary.

Tonight I sat down here at my computer to surf the web, see what's going on. Pretty normal.
On my home page I noticed a story about women who have been rape victims in Darfur. I passed that one by to read a story about the ratings for the latest installment of American Idol. Again, pretty typical, ordinary, normal.

Then I went back to the story on Darfur. A typical, ordinary, normal day for a refugee in Darfur might include hunger, lack of latrine facilities, sickness, disease, rape, death. When I hear these stories, sometimes I am moved to compassion, instant prayer, despair over the state of our world, where human beings could actually do these things to each other while so many of us just go about our business, oblivious to it. Other times, indifference which allows me to wall off my uncomfortable feelings about such things and allows me to continue on with my day to day life with a shrug and a "How terrible. What should we have for dinner?" creeps in and I somehow become complicit in the slaughter. It is in part self preservation, for if I allowed myself to really think and feel about these atrocities for long, I am afraid that my heart would be broken into a million pieces that couldn't be repaired. Yet I know that it also allows me to go on selfishly, to dwell on my own problems (which in my own head seem huge, but when compared to what goes on in literally millions of lives, are completely inconsequential.) It allows me to continue to life inside of myself, in my own universe, where I am at the center and the relative importance of events is judged by how these events affect me.

I can't spend my life with my nose in the newspaper and my eyes glued to CNN. Because what happens to me and my loved ones is important. Each is precious in His sight (Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies ? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7). I am just as precious to God as the baby dying of malaria in Africa or the woman grieving the loss of that child. But spending 5 or 10 minutes a day to pay attention and feel real compassion and keeping those events in prayer is good medicine, a reminder of how good I have it. Of how much power and influence I wield as an American, how wealthy I truly am on a global scale (If you have assets worth more than $61,ooo you are among the world's richest 10% of adults. Collectively that 10% owns 85% of the world's wealth. World Vision Newsletter, Summer 2007, pg.11).

And how awesome is our God, that at the same exact time He can hear my prayer that my kids will get to school safely, He can hear the prayer of the woman in Darfur praying for her child to get well, and for a teenager who has found herself pregnant, unmarried & terrified to tell her parents, and for the man in India who just wants to make enough money to feed his family today.

Our God is anything but typical, ordinary, or normal. Romans 8:38-39 says "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." The world may fall down around us, and yet through Jesus Christ we cannot be separated from His love. And that holds true for all 6 billion of us.

Awesome, indeed.

Jumping In!

Originally posted May 25, 2007

OK so I set up this blog account way back on December 23, I was really excited and I was thinking that as soon as the Christmas rush was over, I’d be blogging away. And I found that, like so many things in my life, the planning and anticipation are much less work than the actual doing of the thing. Every time I thought about sitting down to actually write something, there was always an excuse, usually just not feeling like having to do the work involved. Not that it is really hard to sit here and type, but it requires some thought and some time and a willingness to share with the whole world. A frightening concept, to think that once I post this, it is out there for all of the world to see, and there will be no taking it back. Maybe that is the real reason that I’ve put this off for so long.So here it is, almost the end of May and this is my first real post. I read something from John Eldridge last week, about how we tend to think about what God is NOT giving us, instead of what He IS giving us. We all know how true this is, not one of us can ever be grateful enough for what He has given us and what He has done for us. Still…I wonder why it is so incredibly easy for me to be dissatisfied. Why is it so easy to dwell on what I don’t have instead of what I do have? So easy to compare myself and my life to others, and concentrate on what others have that I wish I had? And I’m not necessarily talking about material things either. Sure, I wouldn’t mind having new car and being thinner. But, I wish I were more generous, less selfish, more loveable, one of those people that are just so kind and …good. You know the people I’m talking about.

I talked to a friend this morning whose 12 year old son, who up until this year has been an incredibly intelligent, sensitive, spiritual, deep thinking young man, has been getting into fist fights and bragging to his friends about his bad grades and how much time he has spent in the guidance counselor’s office. Apparently, in his circle of friends this is way cool and acceptable, something to be proud of (hey, we all have to have goals.) We discussed how difficult it is to explain to a 12 year old that people’s opinions really don’t matter, that we should be aiming to please God. And how those boys will drop him in a split second at the first whiff of trouble, but our God is One Who never leaves us (even when we deserve it.) Yes, how do you explain that to a 12 year old who is in the midst of hormonal turmoil and is careening toward the season of teenage angst, when so many 40 year olds I know (including myself) struggle with this very thing? I am very aware of the amount of time and energy I expend on wondering what people think of me, how I look, and whether I appear successful and put together enough. I know in my head that the only opinion that counts is God’s, but honestly, honestly, I worry more about the people around me than my heavenly Father and His Son, my Savior. I need to get that into my heart and really and truly believe it. And realizing that just makes me feel like I am really immature. Honest, but immature. While I am busy worrying about other people, and running around in circles to project the right “image”, I am way too distracted to be and become the person that God meant me to be. You know what they say- if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.

Post Script- I actually wrote this yesterday, terrified to “send it out there”, afraid to let the world inside my head and heart. I am trying not to let fear dictate my life- here goes…!

Starting Over

I originally starting writing on another blog, however, that blog was not anonymous. After a couple of posts, I realized that I have things to say that would probably best be revealed separate from my personal and professional identity. I am republishing some posts, with the original dates.