I’m going to go ahead and have a good, honest tell on myself on where my views have come from. I’m not going to tell everything, but I am going to tell some.
I believe in church, and I believe in The Church, the one that Jesus ransomed with His blood and redeemed. What I no longer believe in is a church that cares about appearances. I don’t know when I got the secret memo that to be spiritual meant to deny what’s really going on, but since I was mostly involved with the who’s who in the Charismatic zoo, I got the download. There were times…years, even…when I felt nothing but loss and felt as though life was little more than surviving from one tragic loss to another. It seemed everything I did crumbled into dust and ashes, like I was raking dry cracked ground and getting nothing but dust. I was raw with loss. I was going into debt “giving” to church causes.
There was a time in my life when I lost my job and saw it as an opportunity to escape from the scene but made the mistake of running it by a major church leader who shot it down. When I recognized that my being laid off was about nothing more than padding the pockets of the shareholders I was determined not to give another corporation that opportunity. Since it was apparent I couldn’t leave without the ministry’s “blessing,” I did the 1960’s hippy thing and dropped out, not really knowing what else to do. Dropping out meant that I went to college so that I could hone my writing skills and become a writer. I realize now that my choice was unwise. I worked, but sporadically. I tried selling vintage clothing on eBay and nearly starved doing it. I was living on donation bread, and my churchmates criticized me for getting too skinny. I would burn with rage when they’d say something about it – as if I was trying to get skinnier. Anyone who knew me would have known that I don’t have to try to be skinny. In other words, one only needed to break bread with me to know that I was not one to starve myself on purpose. I eat a certain way, and I have a certain metabolism, and I am not at all shy when it comes to eating. Occasionally, I’d make a buck or two on eBay and be able to buy postage stamps and a Clif bar. When the giving message got so “compelling,” having already put my tithe in the offering basket, and having spent the rest on the Clif bar, I would often respond to the “compelling” message on giving by putting my only bar in the offering basket. Sometimes all I had to give was postage stamps, so I’d give that. I’d already given family heirlooms. And all for the sake of living a life of being compelled – compelled to what, now, I cannot even tell you.
I would bite my tongue when people would say, “You are getting too skinny” when what I wanted to say was, ‘Well, if you don’t like what you’re seeing then why don’t you feed my ass?’ The final straw was when one of the leaders made a jabbing remark from the pulpit about “some people” trying to starve themselves then shooting me a scolding look. It took months for me to get over that one. I have no idea why I didn’t leave then…I think it’s that f-em attitude I have when someone crosses me as if to drive me away. I almost always say f-em and stay anyway…to my own detriment.
And, really, my first few years saved were years like that…years of loneliness and isolation, years of leanness of soul and of spirit and of the basic necessities. I had accumulated so much unsecured debt trying to keep up with the “compelling” message to give – and keep up the appearance of being “blessed” that I somehow got the “download” that I must keep.
When my mom got sick and I could finally leave that barren place, I was grateful for a “legitimate” excuse – and, by then, I honestly didn’t care what “they” had to say about it, so I didn’t ask. I just told them my mom was sick, and I was leaving. I found a great church where my mom was living at the time, and I saw myself going in there as if on a stretcher and bloodied from the battlefield, only the blood was from friendly fire. It was a chance to at least catch my breath from all the “compelling.” No one was compelling me do anything there but be ministered to with love, and I really am not sure I’d have survived in this world much longer had the opportunity for just a break from it all not come.
Being in a situation like that is like being in a pool where everyone’s drowning yet everyone is afraid to cry out for the Lifeguard, so we all just stay there in a perpetual state of drowning. You can’t even tell your closest friend you are drowning because you already know you would be scolded for being an “o, ye, of little – or even NO – faith.”
And, God is good. He can keep a pool full of idiots from drowning, but He will not make anyone get out of the pool. That, like stopping any destructive behavior, is something that a person must choose for himself or herself.
Trying to maintain something that is unreasonable to maintain is like any addiction. And I am an addictive personality. I was ripe and ready for that kind of scene. I even told the person in charge of the ministry that being in his church was like being in an abusive relationship – and I had actually known quite a bit about that in my time. I’ve never regretted saying it. In fact, it wasn’t long after saying it that my chance of escape presented itself – and I dove for it, head first. I’m sorry it meant that my mom had to get so sick, but you know? She survived and is doing miraculously now, so…was it a God-thing? Maybe. I mean, I know God had nothing to do with her heart condition…no, that was years of 2-3 meals a day at Mexican food restaurants (because it was easier and cheaper than cooking where she was living at the time) and 2-3 boilermakers a day (a boilermaker is an alcoholic beverage consisting of beer with a shot of bourbon dropped in). It was a heart attack cocktail. But, like my not drowning in the pool, she too lived to tell of the goodness of God to keep her alive to figure it out.
All those years, even in the first church I was in, when I started sensing all this loss and deprivation and helplessness, I was looking to God like, ‘what the hell is this?’ I had absolutely no basis of experience to know what was happening to me. I was new to being saved, and new to this wacky church stuff – and church stuff can get pretty wacky, believe me.
In the Charismatic zoo, I was led to believe that quiet denominational churches like the Presbyterians, the Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans were dead churches. But I started travelling to see people and going with them to their “dead” churches and having powerful encounters with the Spirit of God. It was shocking the first few times it happened. Then I came to accept that God is not limited by what anyone says – not even the who’s who among the Charismatic zoo! So I go to a “dead” church now and feel such an abundance of life each time I attend our once a week service (another thing Charismatic cowboys strongly condemn). We’re in at 9:45, out by 11:00. I was told for years that God could not move in such a short, predictable service. If that’s true, then why is it that 21 years after giving my son up for adoption, and 19 years after getting corralled into being an exhibit at the Charismatic zoo, why is it my heart is finally starting to heal from it all? Can you explain that to me?
I can’t either. And I’ve no need to try. I had begun to wonder if it was even possible for my heart to heal. I mean, I was supposedly in some of the most powerful churches on the planet, where the power of God was present to heal absolutely every affliction – yet I did not get healed there. Sorry, but I do know the difference between being healed and living with raw wounds. I’m still healing. It’s like there is a scar on the surface and deep wounding still underneath, but, hey! I’ll take that! I mean, before, all I knew was big open gaping wounds – that I’d learned to hide very well. Just look back on that time in my life and call me an expert mask maker.
The mask is melting in love. God is loving me through my rage, my indignation, through all the ripoff of all the years I gave to all that. And He gave me faithful man who’s shown me more of Christ’s love than I might otherwise have known. I could be wrong, but I have the feeling he wouldn’t have made the cut in the peer group where I was before. He wouldn’t have used all the right language and jumped through all the hoops in just the right way – and I’ve come to adore him for that. I’ve never felt more safe, more loved, more cared for – and more of the rest that God was talking about. My soul is starting to learn how to be at rest, rest that God has me, that He’s taking care of me and loving me through all the hard stuff. I wanted to give up on God too, but His persistent love pursued me and wouldn’t let me…and now I’m so glad!
I’ve a ways to go with fully healing from all the hell I’ve been through, and I accept that I may always have scars. But, for the first time in my entire life, I’m starting to believe it’s possible to be whole. That is worth more than words can say.