Dear Me

Dear Me,

You are loved. You are wanted. You matter simply because you ARE. Beyond just existing, you are a one-of-a-kind, never-before-seen and never-again-to-be-repeated-in-all-of-space-and-time dynamic miracle, endowed with immeasurable power and worth.

 

Dear Toddler/Early Childhood Me:

You are not inherently whiny and lazy because you’re not in the mood for an adult hike and are being coaxed up the next hill with Oreos…you are a very young CHILD. You don’t have a memory of this, but it’s pretty much the only one anyone else seems to remember of you at this stage, other than you cried a whole lot when you were an infant because of chronic ear infections and were a late walker.

Child, hear me now – YOU are not lazy. Your feelings are valid. You are allowed to honestly express what you like and do not like, want and do not want without judgment. You are allowed your honest emotions and their free expression.

Dear Early School-Age Me: 

Oh sweet girl, you belong wherever you go, whatever you do. You’ve already experienced the greatest defining, transcendent, mystical moment of belonging all by yourself, wholly independent of religious indoctrination…just you and Whatever God There Is who made Themselves real to you. I know you already feel like the outsider trying to figure out the magic formula to make people like you and accept you as one of the herd. Sweetie, you already belong. You always have. You always will. Hang in there, lovely girl. Whether it be those closest to you or the entire herd of thousands that cannot see it, it doesn’t affect your inherent worth. This is going to be the roughest part of the road throughout your life. I’m so very proud of you every step of the way.

You are allowed to fail. You absolutely MUST fail. You are going to be as careful as you know how to be on the ice for the first time and you are going to fall anyway. Even when those closest to you in authority stand over you in condemnation as you lie there in pain with the wind knocked out of you, criticizing you for not being careful enough…Girl, there is NO shame in falling. You will get back up despite being shamed and denied comfort. You are 7 and you are a badass. You’re also going to survive a terrifying hospitalization for respiratory issues around this time. Did I mention you are a badass?

You are also WICKED smart. You absolutely don’t think so and you’re going to spend these significant years and many more to come figuring out how to conform to arbitrary standards as “proof” of your abilities…but darlin’ you have no idea how brilliant and extraordinary you are. There’s a reason you are struggling to meet the arbitrary standard. You are so much more.  How I wish you could see it.

Dear Middle School Me: 

Don’t rush it! Adulthood and all its excruciating disappointments will come soon enough and cloud enormous chunks of your life…but not yet, not You. Don’t be so eager to experience things for which you will never be ready. Embrace who you are NOW…a lovely, sweet dork. Oh how I wish I could go back and be you again, before tragedy and cynicism took their toll. You are so sweet. So naive. So safe. You have no idea how safe. Savor these years, sweet girl. You can’t wait to get through them, but you will one day look back on the you that you now despise with great fondness.

Dear Teen Me: 

Oh honey, it’s a good thing you don’t yet understand how much power you wield. Though you’ve managed to clean it up on the outside, you are still very much a clueless sweet dork at heart. Without that, you could do some serious damage to both yourself and more than a few boys. As it is, there will be damage to both, but you know what? You have nothing – repeat NOTHING – to regret or reason to feel shame. Do you hear me? Nothing. You are not stupid and weak because a boy broke your heart. Most importantly, YOU are not responsible for the feelings or actions of any boy who shows interest in you, and your self worth is NOT tied up in his actions towards you, good or bad or even devastatingly tragic. I need you to understand this now.

You’ve already made a calculated decision as to the type of guidance and support you’ll give your future children based on your experiences. If only you’d see yourself worthy of that wisdom and grace even decades later. You are not a manipulative slut for being a sexual being. You are no man’s self-effacing whore. No, Woman, you most definitely are not.

Dear Early 20s Me: 

If I could choose any past me to visit, it would be you. I ache to physically hold and console you. You are drowning in isolation, disappointment and shame, unable to comprehend how you descended into such chaos, betrayal and devastation. You can’t figure out what you are being punished for, what you did to deserve this. Sweet, sweet, wonderful, faithful, girl…I see you. I see you. I see you. More importantly, They see you. Your salvation is near. Hold on. I’m with you there now. Truly.

Dear Mid 20s Me:

See? I told you! Oh, these are most glorious days! Such relief. Such fun. Such fulfillment. You totally think you’ve got life figured out at this point and have arrived. You totally haven’t, but you are in a crucial restorative time and are savoring every bit and taking nothing for granted. You were made for this and you know it. You’ve never felt closer to your God and your family. Sigh…enjoy this magical oasis, Mama. These are beautiful days and your miracle children will rise up and call you blessed. I’m praying for echos, ripples of you to cycle back through again. But you, now? Soak up every second. It is truly your salvation.

Dear 30-Something Me:

Holy shit. You are giving up nirvana, totally convinced you are doing the “right” and honorable thing. Full time ministry. I mean, if you follow all the rules God will bless you, right? BAM! Crohn’s disease. A church “family” whose love is most conditional. You double down on being the good, compliant girl and you are literally sick and lonelier than ever. Oh dear…what was that about being no one’s compliant whore? Lovely Woman, again, no regrets for you. You ARE doing all you know to do and with all the integrity you can muster. Don’t beat yourself up for these years or declare them wasted. They are anything but.

Dear First-Half of 40-Something Me: 

You think you’ve already endured the hardest things you’d ever have to face. Nope, nope, nope, nope. You are finding out just how strong you are. You are taking the biggest risk of your life and all your greatest fears and weaknesses are being challenged..and you know it is right and good…that it is God. You are simply holding on in the hope it won’t always feel like death and terror. I am so FUCKING proud of you. *This* is what everything has been leading up to your entire life. Every bit of your dorkiness, sincerity, smarts and tenacity is being put into play and utilized.

Dear Present Me: 

You amazing, beautiful, woman…I love you beyond words and you are worth everything. Look at you getting out of bed and keeping young humans alive and thriving day after day even though you are scared shitless and feel more lost and lonely than ever before in your 45 years of breathing, living to witness your oldest as adults beginning their own terrifying, ridiculous journey. What a fabulous gift, knowing more of what you don’t know than at any point prior! Everything you thought you knew and were taught to depend on has vanished. You don’t get any more of a clean slate than this. You are all of every girl you’ve ever been and more. You are more. 

You are more.

You are more.

You are more.

You are infinitely more.

Dear Future Me: 

You are loved. You are wanted. You matter simply because you ARE. Beyond just existing, you are a one-of-a-kind, never-before-seen and never-again-to-be-repeated dynamic miracle, endowed with immeasurable power and worth. See ya tomorrow.

Mama, Help Me

Mama, help me! Please be real

Mama, help me! Hold my hand

This absolute brilliance

To see things as they truly are is more than I can bear alone

Mama, help me…help me…help me

I listened and followed you out

My senses instantly assaulted with stench and horror – a legion of putrid corpses exposed

Mama, help me! Hold my hand and walk with me through

Mama, help me! Please be real

Don’t leave me here to die in the light

Alone

Journaling That Doesn’t Suck 09/27/2016

Went for a slow walk yesterday around the fake lake. It wasn’t exercise as much as knowing I have to get out and begin moving, to start putting one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t have to be pretty or accomplish any other goal than moving forward steadily.

Didn’t listen to any music to distract myself or try to elicit a cheap emotional release. Just walked and BE’d.

Said “hi” to a lot of friendly people getting their exercise on. Smiled at their dogs.

A little stormy weather was coming in from the west. Looking east, though it was around 9 a.m., the line of dark clouds not quite eclipsing the brightness of the sky in that direction gave it the illusion of a sunset.

What is your impression of the picture above? Is it a sunrise or a sunset and how does one tell without being there? Impression and “feels” mostly. I dunno. Perhaps if I looked it up there would be a more sciency explanation like more particulates in the air at dusk…but at any rate, my first impression upon looking east was that it surely looked like a sunset at 9 a.m.

Insert the obvious life metaphor. Although I’m pretty sure that’s entirely my problem right there. I assume what’s so goddam obvious to me and speaks for itself SHOULD be apparent to everyone.

But it’s not. Some days (like all of them lately) it seems like the whole world is upside down in delusion, insisting the sun is setting and it’s time to sleep  when I KNOW it’s a sunrise and it’s time to get busy with the day.

How do I know?

Because the sun rises in the east and I know which direction east is.

So was your initial impression of the above photo a sunrise or a sunset? Arguing about which one is truth is pointless without being there. It’s absolute fucking madness to be there in person, day after day, the sun rising and setting in the same place as it always has, and STILL insisting a sunrise is a sunset because it just feels right…or you prefer it to be so.

Do what you want, World. I’m done engaging anyone and anything that trades the truth for a lie and would rather live in delusion than the most basic self evident truths.

I’m hoping last night was a collective turning point and that a majority of us have a clear sense of direction and know the difference between east and west, day and night, and will act accordingly.

I’m getting busy in the day while it is still today. Who’s with me?

San Diego All Over

Endless-loop thought: – How did I get here-AGAIN?

I did everything I knew to do, everything I’m supposed to do, and once again, it just doesn’t fucking matter. It does not matter what I do, think, say, not do, not think, not say…the only one who matters, the only one I want has left me isolated in the horrible void – the upside down – to desperately try and fill his own with ???…whatever it is today.

Here I am back in San Diego. Again.

Alone. Paralyzed. Cried out on the floor of the apartment. It’s over.

If we’re destined to repeat this cycle, I sure as hell hope it includes the miracle desert restoration.

It’s a hope I didn’t have the last time I was here.

Fuck you, San Diego.

Holding out for Blythe, our oasis in the desert – home, creation of new life, family.

That’s the last time I remember being truly happy and whole – there.

Praying (screaming into pillows) to Whatever God There Is that we can get to there from here…again.

The Day I Officially Came Out as a “Done”

 

October

I’ve only attended church twice as a nonprofessional in the last few years, and both times were in Nashville. Just about this time last year, I made a trip out to see my oldest kids and used the opportunity to meet my blogging brother, John Pavlovitz, as he was speaking at an LGBTQ-affirming church in Franklin. John and I already had a legit friendship/kinship established and had a blast finally meeting in person.

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The next day, my daughter Kathryn and I made our way to church to hear John speak. It was in that service during the worship time (church-speak translation: music concert/congregational karaoke) that I had quite the jarring epiphany.

I knew it was time to pull the plug on Four Creeks.

That in and of itself wasn’t the thing. We’d been coming to the end of everything for a while; people, money, sanity…will to live. Jimmy and I had set out to have Four Creeks be a church community where absolutely anyone of any persuasion, background, identity, ethnicity was valued and welcome to participate in absolutely every facet of church life. We did exactly that. It just turns out there wasn’t a market for it where we were, at least not one we were capable of tapping into by ourselves without resources and support. We had zero of either after the church that originally sent us out yanked everything out from under us very early on. We knew from the start we were dead walking. It was just a matter of time.

As I looked around the sanctuary at the beautiful diversity of humans worshiping together and the genuine love and enthusiastic community all the congregants shared, I welled up with thankfulness and awe that it did exist somewhere and that I was there to witness it. That Sunday last October, seeing the dream in vivacious reality in Nashville in stark contrast to our terminally ill child at home, I knew the time had come.

There was only a relieved resignation in that thought. It was the next one that I had never prepared myself to consider. If Four Creeks ceased to be, if our 20 years as professional Christians truly was coming to an end, what now? What kind of church would we want to join and in what capacity? Then came the epiphany.

None.

This was the exact moment I allowed myself to BE what I’d already been inside for a decade in Church World – DONE.

As glad as I was that this church existed and that so many people were being loved, valued and finding value in it, all I could think as I was immersed in the familiarity of a typical worship service that just about anyone else from my evangelical tribe would find familiar and appealing (except for worshiping along side a married gay couple or 20) was, “I don’t need this. I don’t want this for myself.”

Having been on the production end of church my entire adult life and living behind the veil working with pastors and church boards as employers (dear, wise friends when we were lucky; dangerously insecure and immature mega jerks when we weren’t), I’m basically ruined for the entire church machine. I can’t just sit back and enjoy the show. I haven’t had the luxury of finding value in church from that side of things since I was a child.

I get other people finding value in the routine, their preferred music (whether it be modern praise band, hymns or liturgy) or looking to their favorite pastor to inspire them. I just don’t. Having been raised in that world with a view behind the curtain, my oldest children don’t either. My youngest have zero concept of it as all they know of church is Four Creeks, which by both design and fate had no programming or any traditions to speak of other than simply meeting, breaking bread together and studying scripture and its practical applications with integrity. Kathryn and Ryan have since expressed just how relieved they are that their younger siblings won’t be raised in the church culture they were (before Four Creeks). I am too.

I’ve heard a lot of people admit that even if they themselves don’t really want to go to church, they feel they should for the sake of their children. I’m just weird, I guess. I told my therapist that it is for the sake of my children that I don’t want to go to church ever again.

That was last Thursday. Three days later I went to church with my children…because I wanted to…and it was profoundly healing and wonderful.

 

Coming Out

Hello from the other side.

I’ve been away from blogging for a bit as I’ve been undergoing the final stages of a massive life overhaul, “massive” being a bit of an understatement.

Here’s a list of things that if you’d told me even a year ago I’d be doing now I’d have laughed in your face or possibly slapped it:

  1. Terminating 20+ years as a professional christian.
  2. No longer identifying as christian, except when I do (more on that later).
  3. Getting a tattoo.
  4. Relocating to Tennessee after 30 years as a California resident.
  5. Living separate from my husband for an indefinite number of years.
  6. Changing my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat with the intent to vote for Hillary Clinton.
  7. Learning to be happy, confident, healthy and whole – mind, body, and soul – for the first time in my life (despite the majority of people I know being unable or unwilling to accept any of that to be possible considering numbers 1-6).

The process of coming out has been exactly that – a process – spread out over the last decade, the final fiery refining crucible in the last year. The years leading up to this big one were all about wrestling with my comfort and security lust to be able to get to the place of being willing to die to everything in order to see what remained  – what held true – after all that was consumable and expendable was burned away.

To contextualize my life in biblical metaphor (which I’ve always instinctively done since childhood), the last 10 years were my garden of Gethsemane where I agonized over whether or not I was willing, or even able, to go all the way. The last year was Good Friday to Easter Sunday, actually doing it and seeing it through to the end.

My first post-resurrection blog is an attempt to reveal the pure mustard-seed-sized gold nugget that remains now that the flames have subsided. I totally just mixed my metaphors there, but you’re with me, right? That’s all I ask, friend…that you stay with me without fear or agenda. Hear me. See me. Me is all I can be anymore and all I can give. That said, here’s all of me that remains after dying.

Oh Hey, I’m Ignostic

I’m a personality profile, self-reflection junkie. I’m obnoxiously obsessed with it, really. Perhaps this is over compensation for my personal lifetime baggage of believing my true self was not to be trusted or respected. Figuring out the real me and then loving her by honoring and trusting her has been the single most important thing I’ve done in this process. Realizing the futility of looking to any other human for my self worth, be it my parents, church people (gah, such disaster there!), or even my husband, was the second most important discovery. Though it’s natural to do so, it is unfair to the other person(s) and doomed to result in bitter disappointment and distract from the real work that only I can do in myself.

That’s why I get super excited when I come across words or ideas that perfectly explain what it is I’ve been feeling but haven’t yet been able to put together cohesively in my own mind, much less able to explain to anyone else.

The concept of ignosticism or igtheism was one such “Oh, there I am!” liberating discovery.

Here’s a boring wiki explanation, should you care to read http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ignosticism, but this is my take on it –

You might be more familiar with agnosticism, which claims nothing can be known about god’s existence, so the agnostic claims neither faith nor disbelief in god.

As an ignostic, one may claim genuine faith and spirituality based on personal experience (as I definitely do) but considers all god talk to be stupid, and by stupid I mean wholly inadequate to explain or quantify whatever god there is (my way of saying the “One True God”).

This very much includes my former tribe’s canonized god talk, the bible.

I no longer see the bible (though it was demanded I must) as “God’s Word.” I do see it as 100% the word of humans, gloriously representative of the complex mix of ridiculous, horrible, lovely, noble and sacred that we all are.

Am I calling the bible stupid and without value? Absolutely not. As I showed you above, the biblical stories, metaphors, and traditions are intricately intertwined into the tapestry of my life, from which I could no more untangle myself than I could unravel my own DNA…nor do I wish to.

Whatever honest human expression we create in regard to a conception of god is not stupid. It is holy and god-breathed in as much as a human made in Their image is. But to declare any of it to be absolute truth and to justify dehumanizing those who disagree CANNOT be God, and no matter how great the external pressure may be to conform, I will have no part in it. I’ve lived through (or rather ended up dying because of) so much human arrogance in the name of God.

Ironically enough, I take great comfort as I read the bible and see this cycle being played out over and over throughout the ages. There is nothing new under the sun. We have a long history of slaughtering prophets who dare challenge their culture’s iron-clad and bejeweled God Box, culminating in Jesus himself.

Sooooo, with this new perspective, I no longer entertain any thoughts or discussion regarding absolutes of “God is…” or “God says…” or “God wants…” but if a person is willing to engage in discussion centered on “what God is like” based on Jesus’ words and example, then I’m more than happy to engage.

The only absolute god talk that has any value to me is –

Whatever God there is, IS (I AM). God is Love. 

The only practical application (religion) I’m left with then is –

I AM in God’s image as a human. The only way to experience God is through my humanity. To worship/commune with/experience God is to cherish and honor the divine I AM that I am and the divine humanness of my neighbor. 

The quickest way to get me to disengage is to get angry and aggressively defensive with this very personal conclusion, as it is the only thing that remains after the inferno as my mustard seed nugget of faith and hope. If the simplicity of this so unhinges you, then you cannot handle ME, nor will I give myself over to you to be handled.

Heaven, Hell, afterlife? I don’t the fuck know, and – this is important now – neither do you, your grandma, your pastor, any preacher or teacher (celebrity or otherwise), religious tradition or any human that has ever lived and died on this planet, not even and especially the ones who wrote/edited/compiled/translated the writings a fraction of us in time and space call the bible.

You can tribe up around whatever god talk in which you find value and I won’t try to talk you out of it or think less of or belittle you (THAT would be stupid), but the only way for me to be now, on the other side, is tribeless – cage free.

Which begs the question:

Am I a Christian?

Hmmm, it’s complicated. I guess it depends on who wants to know and why. I know for a fact that I’m disqualified from being considered a “true Christian” by my former evangelical tribe’s standards. I’m well acquainted with the parameters of that particular God Box, and I definitely don’t fit within its confines. I tried stretching my legs within that box, but the tribe would have none of it. Rather than even consider doing a little remodeling to accommodate natural growth, they shoved me out and told me in no uncertain terms that I was not accepted there, for which I’m exceedingly grateful.

I’d spent so many years contorting and distorting myself in order to fit within that God Box that I honestly thought that muted and mutilated version of myself WAS my true self. I don’t think anything less than being ejected from that world would have gotten me out in the open and free. I was disoriented and in tremendous pain at first, but now I’m hitting my stride. The possibilities are wide open before me and I’m free to roam. Every once in a while someone within the box tries to shame me back in. It’s getting easier to just smile and say, “Nah Bro, I’m good, peace out” then continue to explore freely rather than waste any energy arguing about boxes.

But do I identify as a Christian anymore? Sometimes. Sometimes not. The week before we moved, my youngest son came down with strep throat. In the emergency room at 2 a.m. the clerk taking down our information asked about religious preference/affiliation in the event of a hospital admission and need for a chaplain. I paused for a second and then did what would have been unthinkable at any point prior in my life. I declined to identify as Christian and answered “none”…and it felt so deliciously right.

It took me a second to realize I had a big stupid grin on my face and how weird that must have looked, but that’s just it; no one cared. Nothing happened. No lightening bolts from the sky. No one jumped from around the corner to revoke my christian membership card.

Instead, a peace that made no sense, especially considering I was in the ER in the wee hours with a sick child days before moving, washed over me as I just let it BE what it IS, which in that moment truly was none, nothing, nada. I’ll have to do a separate blog on this sweet revelation and release into nothing and how I’ve never felt more connected to Whatever God There Is there.

Believing Jesus

On the other hand, I’ve never been more grounded in my understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, so in that respect I am solidly and wholeheartedly Christ-ian. Again, the irony is great, but it is the shedding of all doctrines requiring specific beliefs about Jesus as being necessary for a get-out-of-hell-free card that would have most Christians I know refuse to consider me one of them. That used to bother me…a lot. I got over it.

It’s much easier now that I’m living in a place where no one knows my story and no one filters my identity through the labels of “pastor” “church” or “christian.” I get to approach each new relationship on my own terms, revealing what I choose to reveal about myself organically, no longer imposed upon and controlled by a system that tells me who and how I must be.

I’m free to believe Jesus without restriction and in full integrity as fearfully-wonderfully-made divine human me; free to live in and act out of the Great Truth of who I AM while upholding the sacred worth of every human who crosses my path without judgment or defensiveness.

What’s in a Name?

At one point I seriously debated whether or not to rename this blog, dropping any trace of “christian.” I also considered whether or not I wanted to (or should) continue to be the administrator of a FB group I started, Beautiful Rowdy Christian Bloggers

When I died, my appetite to convince anyone with god talk died as well, and much of what was being posted didn’t jive with me anymore. I don’t fit in the Progressive Christian God Box either, though that one is roomier, constantly being redecorated, and usually worth visiting from time to time, but I won’t be taking up residence there. It was the posts from fellow beautiful, rowdy prisoners struggling to be free of all boxes and find their footing on the outside that convinced me to stay.

Ultimately, I decided to retain the label of Christian, however loosely, whether anyone else thinks I have the right to it or not. It is no longer the unbearable, ill-fitting burden it once was. It was necessary and good for me to drop it completely for a little while, and Jesus never once balked or told me to get back in the box.

No. This is who was waiting for me just on the other side of death (gunna leave ya with yet another metaphor based on Matt 11:30) –

“Hey Girl, been waiting for you out here. Give me that ill-fitting burden you’ve been carrying for so long. It was never meant for you. Rest now and recover. When you’re ready, I’ve got a custom-made pack that fits you just right and is light enough to run with.” 

Be sure to check out David Dietz’s blog about God in a Box here. It was a major “Oh, there I am!” epiphany for me when I knew I was ready to start running again.

Peace out, Peeps of All Persuasions. You’re inherently beautiful and worthy. Do whatever you have to do to stay rowdy and running free. You are not alone.


*Inconsistency in capitalization of “christian” and “god” throughout this writing is deliberate and not a whole lot of typos. If I feel it, I capitalize. If I don’t, I don’t, no matter what formality dictates I should. I’m letting whatever IS BE regarding all things personal god talk.

What Do You Do When You Know You’re Too Much?

I’m a severely introverted and reserved person. These days, in person, I’m unlikely to impress you. I don’t emote much. Whatever I’m feeling (and I feel the full spectrum of emotion with deep intensity) this is probably all you’re going to get.

 

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This is my excited face

My randomly selected combination of genes allows me the luxury of attaining the label of “attractive” female from others if I put just a bit of effort into my outward appearance. Truth is, I’m much more comfortable downplaying any outward attractiveness to the point I’ll even deliberately sabotage it when I feel the real me – my passion – my soul – who I really am, think and feel is being dismissed because it’s just too much for someone else to handle – which is most of my life, most of the time, and all my relationships at some point or another.

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Exhibit A: Flaunting the Frump

Free Willy

Spiritually and emotionally, I’ve been Shamu my entire adult life in Church World – a creature designed to travel and hunt in vast open expanses of ocean in community with my own kind, artificially isolated and enclosed in a kiddie pool as a commodity, my only value being the ability to perform for the entertainment of others. What choice did I have as long as my keepers were the ones holding and doling out all the dead fish?

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I’ve been in a horrible and weird state of limbo for 4 years now. We stopped performing and started acting out of our true nature with full integrity as Four Creeks Church. The first chance they got, the powers that be, the very ones who had given us their full blessing in front of the crowd, shut us into the tiniest holding pool in the back, out of sight, and withheld all fish…and then got very testy when I didn’t just quietly submit to that fate. Me being seen and heard was very bad for business.

I could have gone Tilikum on them. Lord knows I was screwed up and traumatized enough to convince myself I was justified in inflicting harm back.

And I so totally could have…on multiple occasions. I could have used my words to bring the whole joint crashing down on itself. Easily.

Instead, I used my words to bare my soul and let anyone who would listen see just how deep I go. The underlying message in all my writing has always been, “Help me, please. I’m dying here in these shallows” while exercising restraint to withhold the details as to what specifically was going on and who was doing it in the hopeless hope that some kind of reconciliation might be possible – that someone, anyone involved would turn and see and acknowledge this wrong and make it right.

That hope has died. Way too much artificial sea water under the bridge. Too much, too much, too much. I am too much for just about everyone and everything in this place…even myself.

I’m going to be swimming out to sea very soon and that hope has been the only thing keeping me alive. But my present reality is this – I’m still here, right now in the tank out back, severely malnourished, atrophied and covered in sores and I’ve got a couple more months to go here. I still, right now, am desperate for connection and relief; a kind word, hell…just basic recognition and “I see you” is really all I need.

Or is that still too much to ask of the “men of God” holding all the dead fish?

Why I’m Equal Parts Horrified and Happy That Trump is the GOP Front Runner

I can’t help but shake my head and chuckle a bit seeing most of my very politically vocal conservative Christian friends tripping over themselves to denounce Donald Trump in the last few weeks when, from where I stand, it surely seems they paved the way for his ridiculous rise to prominence and influence.

The leaders of the tribe in which I was raised and served my entire adult life declared last summer (via text of all things) that I am not one of them, and for that I’m incredibly grateful. When they definitively pulled the plug on 20 years of ministry relationship, a gorgeous freedom washed over me, pushing me over the final hump to begin to explore with full integrity what I truly believe and to start living fully in that truth.

I’m a goddamn bleeding heart liberal.

Well, at least part of me is. I’m actually a die-hard pragmatist – a conservatively liberal libertarian socialist. I go with what works and makes sense in any given circumstance, and there are elements of each that fit the bill.

I really, really like having free public education for my children, safe drinking water and well maintained roads (SOCIALISM)! I’d gladly welcome smart socialized healthcare but also consider Obamacare to be a suckass cluster-f*ck.  I despise the heightened emphasis on standardized testing (which started with Bush’s No Child Left Behind way before Common Core).  I don’t see securing our borders and upholding our great American tradition of welcoming immigrants as mutually exclusive. I think well-regulated capitalism is fabulous. I absolutely 100% think separation of church and state – freedom OF and FROM religion – is essential. I’m a Christian who does not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned and thinks the demonization and opposition to Planned Parenthood is misguided and harmful to lives.

That should be enough to piss absolutely everyone off.

I think our potential as humans when we humble ourselves and cooperate is magnificent and downright divine!

I also think our ability to deny our self-interest in order to achieve it is historically exceedingly rare. Certainty, self-justification in our own “rightness” and unwillingness to compromise and power lust are just too tempting and strong a pull.

In leaving (being rejected by) my evangelical christian tribe, I also gladly leave behind the political bullying, shame and intimidation that, though of course not representative of all, was very much systemic.

“Christian” was synonymous with conservative Republican or Tea Party Libertarian but NEVER Democrat. “Liberal” was a dirty word. I wish I could unsee the use of the slang “libtard” on social media by supposed “christians.”  Gross disrespect and complete lack of objectivity toward President Obama  was encouraged and celebrated – in the name of God no less (ditto wishing to unsee the prolific use of “Obummer” and the like).

I’ve experienced first hand the disdain for intellectual integrity and scholarship, biblical and otherwise, from my own pastors from the pulpit and on social media (and that insane text) together with an insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories and blatantly dishonest journalism to feed a raging false persecution complex.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t have much sympathy for my former tribe as it tries to distance itself from the monster it’s been feeding.  Breeding and catering to the tyrants is the norm in the churches from which I come. Calling church leadership out on this is what earned us the boot. The Dysfunctional 100 Acre Wood

But why would I have reason to be happy about Donald Trump being the GOP front runner and the subsequent back tracking and panic of the conservative Christian Republican base?

Cause maybe – just maybe – it’s enough of an outrageously ridiculous predicament to get my former tribe to take a long hard look in the mirror enough to do some soul searching and to find the reflection of Jesus there again.

I dunno. I honestly don’t really even care. With my new-found freedom from intimidation and tribe-less existence I’ve changed my political affiliation to Democrat and am Feeling the Bern, even despite my uber Libertarian husband’s raised eyebrows. He cheers me on to vote my conscience even when it leads me to different conclusions than his own. I cheer everyone on to do the same – vote your conscience, that is, without fear or intimidation. Just make sure you’ve really searched it deeply and with full integrity.

Anything less and eventually we’re going to have to deal with the dragons we create.

I Am Vain

Gospel of Snark blog post from this time last year. The tally of complete emotional/spiritual unravelings in the process of planting, nurturing and then letting go of Four Creeks Church stands at 3. I felt during each one that I was going to die. I was right. Over the last year my laziness and vanity were finally starved into oblivion. Jimmy and I are so very, very relieved to be on the other side among the dead-living and immune to the bites of the living-dead.


 

In preparation for facilitating a new round of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I’m going through the little twice-daily devotional book Day by Day (formerly The Daily Office) for the third time. This morning I came across one of my favorite quotes that I strongly related to the first time I read it 3 years ago.

“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself –– and to all who will notice — that I am important…I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.” – Eugene Peterson

Scazzero, Peter (2013-03-26). Daily Office (Kindle Locations 346-347).  Kindle Edition.

I AM LAZY

My entire adult life in church in ministry has been miserable and drowning in busyness and physical and spiritual exhaustion because I am a lazy ass. We’re talking pathological here. I’m extremely passive as a result of equally heavy doses of nature and nurture. I was raised in a culture with a double whammy of indoctrination from both family and church that the “right” (and only) way to live was to abdicate “the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals” and to let authority (parents/church) do it for me.  For the most part, having a naturally passive personality, I was happy to let others dictate life for me because it was easier, because…I am lazy.

My laziness is rooted in fear – fear of facing the discomfort of conflict. It’s much easier for me to conform and play by the rules in a system I have no responsibility in making than to take responsibility for my own, because…what if I get it wrong? What if someone doesn’t like it?

Rejection and criticism wreak havoc in the life of a comfort junky. It is deeply, desperately ingrained in me never to be/act/think wrong. It’s the worst. I feel the worst. I am the worst when others think I’m wrong. It’s not that I have a need to convince anyone that I’m right…no, no, no. I just want to avoid at all cost the risk of anyone thinking or believing I am wrong…because in the system I come from, the wrong person is not respected; the wrong person is not worthy of love; the wrong person must be stopped, condemned, corrected and made right immediately or forever rejected because – THOU SHALT NOT BE WRONG.

I am lazy mostly out of fear of being wrong.

Comfort and safety are my #1 inherited family idols that I was taught to hold up as supreme and noble motivation. Over time, they insidiously morphed into a lazy, dishonest, hot mess of an inner life while I feverishly expended energy maintaining a squeaky clean, socially acceptable, respectable outward life. I became grossly church busy for 18 years as the wife of a minister at the expense of my family, my health and my sanity because…I am lazy.

I repressed and denied my true thoughts and feelings and allowed people to direct me down soul-sucking paths I didn’t want to go because I have tremendous safety lust and…I am lazy.

It’s taken me every bit of the 3 years I’ve been working in EHS “going back in order to go forward” in order to identify and unpack this baggage. To no longer be conformed to the pattern of my world and be transformed by the renewal of my mind is an intense and prolonged process – a gnarly, epic wrestling match.

My entire Church World experience had sold me on an alter call, some tears, and a one-and-done prayer and doubling down on the rules as the answer to all Christian struggles. God loved me enough to utterly break me before I was ready to get over myself and my laziness in order to stop buying (and selling) the shit substitutes. But wow did that love feel like death…because it is; death of SELF in order to live as Christ.

THE SCARLET “W”

The planting of Four Creeks Church saw my worst fears realized and magnified on a personally horrifying scale. We stepped out of the established church system in which we’d worked and served faithfully our entire adult lives and set aside it’s comfortable human traditions and secure structure to embark on a grand experiment to see if a church that preached and taught and modeled Jesus alone and the exclusive inclusiveness of his Gospel of Grace could fly.

Starting out, we honestly thought we had the full support and partnership of our home church. If anyone had told me we’d end up completely rejected and unsupported just 9 months in, I never in a million years would have been on board to sacrifice so much or take such a personal risk for myself and my family – absolutely not my M.O. as a comfort junky and safety slut.

And why were we rejected and dropped like we were hot from the fires of hell? Because we were wrong in the eyes of a few influential and very vocal church people. Our teachings on prayer, worship, love, how to be the church and do life were all wrong. It didn’t matter if they were all taken straight from Jesus’ own words and example – it challenged the long established system, which, in Church World, is the ultimate in WRONG.

Rather than be associated with anyone or anything that had a reputation for being wrong, even the nicest and more sane personalities in leadership distanced themselves from us and let us go, out of sight and out of mind, to fend for ourselves so they could try to get back to safe and established business as usual without being sullied or inconvenienced by our scarlet “W” of wrongness.

WAKING UP ANGRY

I’ve heard it said anger is a secondary emotion and that it’s really an expression of underlying fear or hurt. In my case it was a massive sucker punch of both. I’ve also heard it said, “Jennifer seems angry in a lot of what she writes and shares on Facebook.”

Um…yeah…and DUH.

You don’t open up the flood gates of a lifetime of repression and resentment and get a gentle trickle. When my eyes were pried open and I saw things clearly for the first time, I woke up angry, terrified and in a tremendous amount of pain, and very, very much on my own with God alone to figure out how to deal with it. What intimacy and reality in relationship with my Father I have found there.

Pardon my French (or don’t…I truly, honestly no longer care), but since one of the first things that earned us the scarlet “W” was me using the wrong words, I’ve freed myself up to use all the words that best express my frustrations and to try to get across just how much of a cluster mind fuck this experience has been to have everything I thought I knew, every system I’d ever trusted, every rule, every certainty utterly and completely destroyed in order to build new and completely different…in faith.

I AM VAIN

The laziness, the repression, the grief, the bitterness are all quite familiar traveling companions to me at this point. I’ve worked very hard to honestly identify, embrace and submit them over the last 3-4 years. But, as EHS has a way of doing, a brand spankin’ new layer of dysfunction was brought to the surface and made visible to me this morning.

I have had such a hard time with bitterness because I am vain. I am most vain when you mess with or challenge…

My family
“I can’t believe those gossip-mongering, power-playing church biddies said such things about my husband and actively campaigned to put us into financial crisis. Could they really not see how amazingly good my own children are and what obviously fabulous parents we are to think we could possibly be a bad influence on anyone? How could anyone in their right mind with any compassion in them whatsoever justify doing that to any family, much less one so *perfect* as mine?!”

Oooh girl, that’s some hardcore bitterness coming from someone so *perfect*

My work ethic
“None of you understand how I’ve worked my ass off apart from church as a corporate peon, full time for 13 years; working holidays, even weekends and then exhausting myself 3 services on Sundays plus rehearsals, all with my family in tow. I never got away on weekends for family fun time. Why did I do that for so many years only to be rejected the second we stopped entertaining you? Not only did you not appreciate my sacrifice, you went above and beyond to treat us like shit. Ungrateful assholes.”

Oh so much bitter…even if I alone am responsible for making myself the lamest martyr on the planet fueled by my own dysfunction. It’s a lot easier and even feels kind of good to resent church people rather than myself. Ick, it’s a lazy and vain combo. That’s unattractive and thoroughly anti-Christ. Way to be Jen.

My intellectual integrity – 
“Oh no they didn’t! They did not just haul out the most tired and ratty scripture sound bite out of context to try and shut me down and shut me up.”

I suffer from the delusion that if I just explain myself clearly enough, citing sound evidence and reason about how I got to a certain view of scripture, that people will accept it (and me). I’m so very cool if you hold a different view…just don’t ever, EVER, denounce me as wrong for holding mine unless you want a deluge of scripture references explaining their context and blog links to help make my point and justify myself. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that hardly anybody appreciates that the way I do, and that hurts and then starts the whole sick bitterness merry-go-round spinning again. I’m getting better about not buying a ticket for that ride, no matter how tempting it is to justify myself, but vanity is a true beast in this scene. It just can’t handle people accusing me of being wrong in the name of God on the internet.

THE PERFECT VULNERABLE STORM

All of my weakness and vulnerability is tied up and on display at Four Creeks, not the least of which my laziness and vanity. I had what amounted to round two of an emotional breakdown last month. Thankfully, it wasn’t anywhere as debilitating as round one had been right after we launched Easter 2012, but alarming enough for Jimmy to panic a little and text the older children, “Mom is losing it again guys…help?” Poor guy is just not okay when I’m not okay. I love him so.

Here we are almost three years in and in more dire straights financially than ever. We had some people leave. It was a long time in coming and it needed to happen, but it was still very, very scary. For the first time in all this I entertained the possibility that we just might be forced to fold this thing and quit at a time when the few faithful people we do have are beginning to really catch on and run with us. Oh how the bitterness welled up fresh out of me as I wrestled with that thought. I love these people and what we are doing together so, SO much. The thought of having to quit now after enduring so much was too much. Then the thought…what on earth would my life be like not being in ministry, not even going to church for that matter. I just couldn’t see myself going back into a traditional evangelical church setting ever again as a free person. That was mind blowing to consider.

I spent a few sleepless nights and a lot of tears trying to wrap my head around those possibilities. A lot of crying out to God these words, “What more do you want from me here? I’ve done everything I know to do, said everything I know to say and now slammed up against yet another wall. Seriously God, WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Silence.

Then the bitterness welled up in me more fierce than ever. “It shouldn’t have to be this hard. None of them see. None of them care.”  Jimmy was off driving for Uber in those awful wee hours. I was truly feeling tormented and utterly alone and unseen. In those toughest moments of panic came a whisper…

“I see you. Until that alone is enough for you, you’ll stay stuck.” 

The fog of fear lifted a few weeks ago, but it all made sense this morning when I realized it is my vanity that keeps God alone from being enough; His provision from being enough; His acceptance and love for me being enough. Vanity feeds off people providing those things, and my vanity, having been brutally kicked in the crotch, spawned quite the formidable bitterness monster. The only way to kill that nasty beast of SELF?

Faith.

Laziness and vanity have a hard time putting down roots in a life of faith. Faith perseveres and strains and sacrifices without need or desire for human recognition or approval. Faith is aiming for a much farther and grander target than instant gratification. And as my two biggest and oldest vices starve and wither the deeper in faith I dare to go, the more familiar I’m getting with the bravery and humility that are my new traveling companions.

I’m Right Here

I’m here. I’m here. I’m right here…and I am not well

 

Squatting in the ashes, scraping festering sores

And there you are…right there

Cold eyes deliberately unseeing

Cadaverous hearts, pickled and pristine

 

I would cherish any of you to sit with me where I am

Even as Job’s friends, whether mute or fumbling

To try and make sense of failure and despair

But no…you will not acknowledge me here

 

Denying my family – YOUR FAMILY – so much as a scrap

The affection and resources you lavish on dogs

Days became months turned to years spent right here

Silently screaming, staring at your backs turned…right there

 

I’m here. I’m here. I’m right here…and I am not well