Friday, April 1, 2016

Love's a Beach...

It’s been months since I’ve blogged. The other day I wrote my first poem of the year (I believe) and it’s March. I’ve let my creative side slip into a small coma while trying to figure out the meaning of my life in this season and why I am the way I am. Ironically, I need writing to sort through those things. I need writing to breathe deeply into the lungs of my inner soul and then exhale into the atmosphere with punctuation and symbolisms. I need metaphors like a cat needs a ball of yarn to keep her active and playful. And yet, I laid it down to sort through my heart. Interesting.

My youngest son and I just returned from the beach for a four day getaway to stay in a private cottage. It belongs to friends and it is beautiful in every way. It’s homey and crisp, well decorated and relaxing. The island feels like home when I visit and I have secretly moved into the neighborhood in my dreams.

 Once on the beach, Tim (my son) started running. This is my child that is glued to something electronic every day and who has to be reminded to go outside and ride his bike at least once a day. This is my introvert child number two, so by now I know what it looks like. But this day, he took off like a gazelle, all six feet of him, running toward the ocean and then back to me. He looked amazing. He had perfect form and he looked like he should be in the Olympics, at least for beach running. He did this a few times and then, after running toward me said: “I like to practice my running on the beach.” I smiled and said: “Looks good T, you look real good running.”

My child, who is on the Autistic spectrum didn’t squabble about how often this can or cannot happen, since we don’t live near the ocean. He simply shifted into this free beach runner spirit and took off. My mom guilt began to wonder if I was harboring the next Usain Bolt in the suburbs of North Carolina instead of moving him to the beach to let him run free. My slight panic coupled with a quick prayer: “God if this kid needs to move to the beach to become the next Usain Bolt, please let it happen…”

As time went on Tim asked: “Think maybe I can take my shirt off now?” He was ready to shed his civilian land wear for the bare chested beach bod, be it ever so thin. “Umm, I’d give it a bit to warm up.” Cautious mom, ever cautious mom. I sat there in a beach chair in my bathing suit and cover up zipped until the sun assured me that it was going to do its job that day. After two days of rain, I needed more assurance than a half hour appearance. Tim said okay and went about splashing in the ocean, trying to build a mote, creating sand art, running etc… I thought to myself, you know you did something right when your kids love the ocean. I read and watched him for a while and learned a lot about living on your free side from my son that day.

I realized that life, love and relationship can often be a wonderful experience, no an amazing experience, when you allow yourself the pleasure of taking off with wild abandon and enjoying the scenery and breathing the air in big deep swallows. I learned that just because you live in the suburbs far away from the ocean, doesn’t mean that you can’t allow yourself the privilege to run free from time to time. I learned that the journey to freedom may be a 4.5 hour car ride and having your GPS take you off the main road to save time, but it’s worth it. I also learned that you need a willing participant, if you so choose not to journey this life alone, to allow you to be you and take your shirt off to run on the beach.

My mom nature would ask Tim: “Why are you carrying dirt into the ocean?” To which he would reply: “It’s not dirt, it’s sand” and keep walking with handfuls that he would drop into the water. I thought it was odd, he didn’t care.

At some point, it was warm enough to shed his t-shirt and me my cover up. This made him feel freer, me too actually. I had given permission to enjoy the elements without limit and he was happy. I was too. I sat there now allowing myself to be covered in exquisite warmth and my mood shifted from cautious mom, to relaxing mom.

This made me think of relationships of a non-maternal nature:

When you’re in relationship with someone who just wants to enjoy the full experience, no matter how cautious you are, no matter how many rules you have and how dangerous vulnerability feels, allowing them the freedom to be their full authentic selves in front of you, without limitation is a gift. It’s a gift that you benefit from as well because you will relax and receive an enormous amount of love and affection given by someone who is willing to share.

If someone loves you, wants to spend time with you and likes your warmth and embrace, continually fending them off to keep yourself safe only deprives you of one of the greatest experiences you can be having.

If you are afraid of love, relationship, commitment, fear of getting hurt etc… you’re afraid of life.

Life is messy and wonderful and necessary. Let the one who loves you run free with the sun on their shoulders towards you. Allow them in, not to extract from your life but to add to it the joy of being cared for. They were sent to you for a reason and you are a gift to them as well, you make them feel like they just set foot on the sandy shores of life and now they can take off and be free. You allow them the beauty of giving to you from the heart without question.

Allowing a true lover to love you is like letting an artist paint without limitation or a writer to write all the time with endless vocabulary.

It brings new life to weary souls who just want to fulfill their God given purpose to love unconditionally.

Isn't that worth taking a chance?

My dad told me once when I was young, that I wore my heart on my sleeve too much. My response today would be: “But isn't it beautiful to look at? It’s so full of love Dad…”

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Failing Forward on Purpose...

Small confession:  I don’t particularly care for New Year’s celebrations.

First off, if I’m going to stay up until midnight (not a night owl here) I need it to be a quiet and easy transition into the New Year.  It’s just my personal preference that brings a kind of realistic expectation of things to come from one calendar year to another. No resolutions for me thank you, just a grateful understanding that God is still consistently the same as always.

 In God there is no space or time.  God created time. Time does not bind the Creator. Because of this, I have no new expectation from God because God does not change. I do however expect a new revelation of God and what He wants for me.

 So what are all of these decrees, declarations and resolutions about?

I would imagine that these are desires to see new things take place in our lives that have not happened before. What I’ve come to understand is that the “new thing” comes only when I am open to changing within, not with the changing of the year.

When I resolve to understand that my past mistakes are necessary for my future success, then I am making a ‘resolution’ to move forward in wisdom and understanding.  This thinking eliminates for me, the need to expect an outward newness to appear out of nowhere, because I understand that change only occurs from a desire to change.  There is no magic involved.

When it comes to the concept that I must leave all bad things from the previous year in order to enjoy a new year, I disagree. I need to remember the lessons from my mistakes in order to avoid making them again. I need to remember my failures the way that a small child needs to remember that fire is hot to keep from getting burned. I can however, forgive myself for making such mistakes so that I don’t attach a permanent label of failure to my life.

When you think of it, short term failure is not all that bad. Ask any inventor or athlete. Ask anyone who has ever had a dream that began with small efforts that failed until they achieved success.

 Failure can be a launching pad if we allow it to be.

My failures have always, always been relational. I’ve gained wisdom in so many other areas in my life but when it comes to relationships…well, I just kind of stumble through them haphazardly trying to get them right. Each year I make a tiny bit of progress hoping for more. Each year I end up with a list of things that I need to remember not to do again. I’m becoming an expert at ‘failing forward’ in this area. 

Instead of decreeing that I’ll have great relationships in 2016 however, I’d rather quietly ask for wisdom on how to navigate through the difficulties of understanding and relating to the people that are in my life on a deeper level.  You see, the wisdom has always been available I just needed to ask for it, again no magic here.

Whatever area you need growth in for the coming year, asking for wisdom is the key.  James 1:5 is one of my favorite scriptures to date: “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. NKJ

If you choose to celebrate the new year with a crowd, blowing streamers and dancing the night away or at a church service or a quiet party of one, enjoy and remember that what you expect to change this coming year, can only come when we make the effort to ask for wisdom and guidance, whether it’s at 11:59 pm tonight or next Tuesday at noon, there is no deadline.

 And again…no magic.

Happy New Year

Friday, November 13, 2015

The gift of being "Okay"...

Last week, I attended an informational workshop on Youth Mental Health.  The sessions were informative to say the least and eye opening in so many ways. One of the biggest takeaways for me was what people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia go through on a daily basis and what it’s like to hear constant voices in your head telling you that you should harm yourself or others.

One man’s account via video was so intense that I wanted to leave the room at some point and cry. His name is Keith and he had been suffering from bipolar disorder for years when the voices in his head finally convinced him that he should throw himself off of the Golden Gate Bridge. At one point he recalled that while he was on the bus on the way to the bridge, he decided that if one person asked him if he was okay, one person, he would tell them his whole life story and what he was planning to do. He didn’t want to die but he felt immensely outnumbered by the voices in his head.

Not one person asked him if he was okay that day. The voices won and Keith threw himself over the side of the bridge, shattered the bones in his legs all the way up to his torso because of the impact from meeting the water…and did not die. He did not die. In fact, a sea lion brushed up against his legs as he was rising to the surface of the water. After being rescued, Keith now had to figure out how to live. It would take much therapy, medication and counseling but he’s alive to tell his story today.

This man now lives to tell others about what it’s like to have bipolar disorder and how to live with it. The bonus, he met his wife (who was visiting a friend) while he was in the psych ward. They are a dynamic couple that travel and speak on the subject together.

At one point during the workshop we had to break up into groups and act out what it’s like to have voices talking to you constantly. Three of us were carrying on a conversation while one person “the whisperer” had to whisper negative words in one person’s ear. Words like: “don’t trust her, she’s lying, they’re trying to get you…” I opted out of being the whisperer or its victim both times that we did the exercise. Although it was a powerful demonstration, I couldn't take part in those particular roles personally. 

Here’s why

I know what it’s like to hear negative voices in my ears. And if you’re telling the truth, so do you. I believe we all do. It’s common to have to fight off lies and accusations and put downs on a more constant basis than we care to admit. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are all bipolar. It simply means that we are dealing with the manifestation of negative seeds sown into us at one point or another.  It’s so common that we have self-help books, seminars and life coaches to help us overcome such negative voices. While it is true that the majority of people have not experienced suicidal or homicidal voices (and if you are reading this and you have, there is much help for you) most of us have heard negative put downs and self- deprecating noise throughout our life.

In my own experience, I have fought off three words for as long as I can remember: “You are unlovable.” That’s it, plain and simple. I know where it came from, I know when it started but I didn’t know how to overcome it on my own. So on my best day, I was not okay. With family or friends surrounding me, I was not okay. Having a significant other in my life did not change the mantra, it only intensified it and made me try harder to be what I felt I truly could not be, lovable.

The change

The month of October was an intensified cleansing of the heart mind and soul for me. It was painful and devastating. I started losing weight, more than usual (not a bad side effect) but my sleep was sporadic.

Why? Because my relationship with God as my father had finally come to the place where he wanted to take me back to the beginning of where those negative seed-words were planted. He wanted to dig through the soil of my soul and uproot them but it would cause enormous distress at times. I knew this had to be done if I ever wanted to be fully emotionally healthy and also, if I ever wanted to be a light in someone else’s darkness.

So there we went, God and I, to the basement of my soul, digging beneath the cracked foundation in the dirt of my early beginnings. We would make this journey several times during that month and each time something different would be dug up and revealed. I would cry, shake, wake up in the middle of the night calling out to Him and each time, His peaceful presence would be there reassuring me that all would be well. God was silencing the voices of shame, rejection and accusation at a very crucial time in my life, the time when I truly want to be lovable.

The other side

Today, approximately 30 days later and about 1,000 pounds lighter on the inside, being “okay” never felt so good. The sense of peace, freedom, joy and curiosity about my future that I’m experiencing is unprecedented in my life. I have never been here before. It’s a good place, a warm and natural place and I am forever grateful for the pain that it took to get here.

Sometimes I’m by myself but I’m okay. Sometimes I’m tired and have too much to do in one day but I’m okay. I don’t feel like life is going to break me or steal from me anymore. I don’t sense that my walk with God has to resemble me in a wheel chair while He’s pushing me. I’m okay with the ups and downs that come my way. If I need to cry or grieve a loss, I can do so knowing that while weeping does endure for a night, joy will come in the morning. I don’t have to pretend to be fine anymore, I am fine and when I’m not…fine is not far off.

 I know that it’s only been a short time but I can finally handle life on life’s terms and that is something that I have never been able to do. The sense of heaviness from feeling alone in the world has lifted. I feel God’s presence on a deeper more intimate level. I am not invincible, I’m simply accompanied by God’s strength and peace in a more tangible way.

 I’m still sensitive, tender hearted and full of compassion for the suffering that we witness in the world but I know that the suffering won’t always overcome me. I’m okay with my directive to intercede and exhort. The prophetic is not a debilitating cloak but a mantle that I honor in humility. I don’t know the details of my future word for word but I’m okay with knowing that God has planned my life without the aid of my micro-management.

Most of all, the thing that I’ve longed to feel for a long time is AMAZINGLY evident to me now…  
I am lovable and worthy of honest, giving and fulfilling love. Nothing else will do. 
If that doesn’t cause my soul to do cartwheels, nothing else will…

Thank you Abba

One of the most important things that you can do when suffering from depression or signs of mental health issues is to reach out. Life can be traumatic but you do not have to suffer alone in silence. If you can see yourself in Keith’s story of bipolar schizophrenia, reach out. Ask for help from the closest person to you and don’t stop until you get what you need. Fight to live because you are needed in this world. You may be the answer to someone else’s problem one day. But first take steps to take care of you.

If you can relate to my personal story of feeling unlovable and rejected throughout your life, know this: You are divinely loved by a living God who calls your name and reaches for you daily. Answer Him, it will change your life. Tell people that you trust that you need love, prayer and support. Watch the miraculous happen in the midst of a common struggle.

 Feel free to contact me through this blog if you need to. I’m here.
Peace be with you…

Monday, September 28, 2015

Accepting that I am simply ‘Too Much’

If you’ve ever found yourself sitting in a movie theater sobbing while the credits are rolling and trying to picture the story line beyond the carefully chosen ending, or reading the same paragraph in your favorite fiction novel over and over again because it spoke to your soul, or found yourself using the phrase “spoke to my soul”, than it is likely that you may be a too much person like me.

We too much people feel deeply about things that may never affect us and are usually bottomed out emotionally by things that actually do touch our lives.

We love like it’s nobody’s business and we run like the wind when the threat of pain seems evident.

We enjoy deep rich ground breaking laughter and relish a good heaving cry, sometimes simultaneously.

Too much people write sappy love letters with no prospect of ever getting one in return and we don’t care. Okay, we care but we don’t let it stop us.

When we cook and feed our loved ones we look at the expressions on their faces at the dinner table (especially Holidays) to make sure that every bite is pure pleasure.

We can never hear or say “I love you” too much. In fact, we know that we will never get our fill of those words and cease the expectation from others.

We don’t just like sunsets, we have to write about them, photograph them, sing about them all while basking in them.

Too much people aren't just creative, we’re incomplete without creativity.

And by the way, we simply don’t fit in to the normal world. We can’t be normal and that’s where it all gets a bit messy…

I discovered that I was a too much person when I was a little girl. I cried too loud and too much. I laughed too loud and too much. I felt too deeply and too much and it depressed me immensely because I knew that I would always have a problem interacting in the normal world.

I started writing poetry when I was about 11 years old. I needed an escape from reality that painted pictures that I could only dream of. My romantic side came straight out of every movie that I saw and I rehearsed my happy endings daily in my mind. I was feeding my too much nature at rapid speed and it kept me cocooned in my own world and away from my dreaded reality as much as possible.

I grew up in a city where being tough and knowing how to show it meant everything. I tried to fake my way through bullies and fights by acting tough but the real me was always crying profusely inside. Mean spirited-ness hurt me deeply. I didn’t fit in my city because I didn’t have what it took to fight my way through it.

I knew when I was young that if I was ever going to survive and protect my heart and meet the most sensitive Knight in shining armor that ever lived, I would have to move far, far away, like Paris or Monterey. So I moved to Delaware in the 80’s. Today, I currently live in North Carolina…close enough.

I gave up my fairy tales in my twenties and went along with the normalcy of life for as long as possible. Every so often my too much-ness would eek out in the form of a poem, a dance or a good cry but I knew that it couldn’t navigate my course under such normal circumstances. Deep abiding love eluded me and only showed up in my dreams and I gave myself a pass on the happy ending instead, I settled for a good night’s sleep as a young mom.

I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details of being too much and trying to fit in at church, work, my children’s schools, the suburbs and so on. If you are a too much person, you know how that worked out.

Fast forward to now. It’s a year before my fiftieth birthday, my children are nearly grown, I’m divorced and the scary menopause dragon’s hot fiery breath doesn’t even scare me anymore. “Bring it on!” I yell with a clenched fist. “I can handle it!” It is now time to allow the real me, the too much me to live before it’s too late.

With more funerals than weddings under my belt, I’ve decided not to waste my time being someone that I am absolutely not. I’ve decided that God likes me…a lot. I’ve decided to be that mom that tells her kids she loves them all the time, even when they wish she wouldn't. I blog about my life in order to make my connection with the rest of the world stronger. My prayer life consists of one endless conversation with God on a daily basis. I cook with love. Cry often and laugh deeply when life calls for it.

The hardest thing is taking part in the pain and suffering of others, even when I don’t know them personally. Waking up feeling someone else’s grief is quite taxing, yet it goes along with the territory.

I avoid large crowds even when I’m in them by focusing on my destination and not faces because I can read faces and sometimes what I read is not so pleasant. My bedroom is my sanctuary where books and music have free reign. My closet is literally my prayer closet and has seen its share of travail. I don’t just love the ocean, I need it to feel alive and to write. I have a travel bucket list as long as my arm. And I still dream of happy endings but I’ve decided to make those happy endings a daily occurrence whenever possible.

I have no idea what the future holds for me as far as Knights in Armor are concerned, so I let the little girl in me dream big dreams before drifting off to sleep at night. After all, she needs the validation of knowing that being a too much little girl can lead to being an awesome too much woman…

Too all of my too much friends, don’t ever conform to the tendency of normal. Your tears are needed, your heart is needed, your lovingly prepared meals are needed and your overbearing too much love is needed in this world. You are not broken, so please stop all attempts to fix you and just continue being the too much you that you are, for all our sakes.

With more love than you can imagine,

Your Bare Foot Poet Friend

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Dear LGBT Friends...

First off, I don’t think you should write a “Dear Friends in the LGBT Community” letter to post on-line unless you actually have friends in the LGBT community. The word “friends” just sounds so superficial and condescending when it’s followed by a lecture of extreme disapproval.  

That being said:
Dear Friends in the LGBT community,

For the past few days I’ve been trying to figure out what to say to you in light of the reactions by many to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage last Friday. I felt a rush of emotion that bordered between mortified and embarrassed because of what I was hearing and seeing. I honestly couldn't believe that people who love to think of themselves as Christians could be so rude and hateful. I was also drowning in posts and open letters from Pastors who wanted to make it clear that they love you but not your lifestyle. I can only imagine what it felt like to see all of this verbiage come your way and still try to hold your head up anyway. I’m sorry for the offense and hurt that this has caused you. I’m sorry that people use the name of Jesus to be rude and insulting. I know what it’s like to be judged and I hate the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that comes along with it.

You and I don’t share the same lifestyles, but I truly believe that we share the same needs. In fact, the human race shares the same need, it’s just buried beneath the rubble of life’s chaos and we fail to dig deep enough to find it and give it the attention that it deserves. The need to be loved and accepted can be so overwhelming within the human experience at times, that it causes people who feel like outcasts to become severely depressed and sometimes suicidal. This despair is not limited to race, sexual orientation, gender or economic background. Everyone needs to be loved…absolutely everyone. We were born that way.

I spent the bulk of my formative years believing that I was a mistake and unlovable. I struggled with low self-esteem and depression my whole life. I’ve walked away from more misjudged friendships than I can imagine…hell, sometimes I limped away badly bruised and broken. But on the upside, I’ve encounter one particular relationship that has changed the course of my life forever. I cannot use enough words to describe how adored I feel on a daily basis. The validation is overpowering at times and I need to step back and ask myself: “Can someone actually be this loving and accepting of me 100% of the time?” I even walked away from religion because of this love and have not regretted it one bit.

I’m sharing this for one specific reason. Last night a friend posted on fb that the first trans-gender suicide hot-line is now up and running in the US. It’s called Trans Lifeline 877-565-8860. I want you to use it and any other resource like this that comes your way for the LGBT community if you feel that you can’t go on living with so much pain. Please, don’t end your life, when it can be turned around with love and compassion.

My intervention came in the way of what I might call a spiritual resuscitation. I was alone in my tiny apartment in my early 20’s and I had a major panic attack come over me one evening. I was still reeling from being ousted from a religious/cult community that I had known practically my whole life. I moved to a different state because I had lost almost all of my friends and some of my family members including siblings, which has lasted until this very day. This night, I remember collapsing to the floor and begging God for help. I did it despite the fact that I was led to believe that He was not there for me anymore.

Despite being told that I had sinned too much for God to hear me, I took a chance anyway and spoke out loud through tears and fear and asked for help. I didn’t know what help meant then. I didn’t know if I was going to have to join a religion or worse go back to my old one. All I knew is that I was tired of feeling unloved and alone.

I don’t remember much else about that night, accept that I finally stopped crying and calmed down and by some strange series of spiritual occurrences, God began to send loving people my way. It was something new to me. I was usually embarrassed about not having family and friends. I didn’t like my own back story, so I just pretended to be okay as much as I could. But these friends cared and listened. One person in particular asked to pray with me at work when I was having another breakdown in the ladies room. (Yes, I was a mess.) She stayed there with me and talked me through it. Despite how bad a person I thought I was, she kept inviting me to church and being my friend even when I said NO WAY!

God reached into my life in a unique way to show me love. He used the very same creation that was used to reject me, he used people. I still remember the moment that I decided to go to church with my friend some 23 years ago. I was just as amazed as she was. That day I publicly accepted Christ’s love and got baptized and for many years belonged to many different churches. But recently, I’ve felt a pull away from church life and its conventional ways, so I no longer belong to organized church. I do however still belong to the greatest love of my life, Christ. My relationship with Jesus has been strengthened more because of this change and I can sense His presence with me always, no matter where I am, which is why I’m writing this letter to you.

If you are in a place in your life where you have experienced all the rejection you can take and you've been told or led to believe that God is not there for you, I’m here to tell you that it’s a bold face lie.  If you've had to leave home, run away or been ousted by your religious community, please know that you can still cry out to God and He will hear you. God was not behind such hurtful behavior. If you have been smiling and pretending for everyone else around you but inside you feel pain because of how you’ve been labeled and treated, I want you to know that God has no labels. He only has love.
There are a lot of blood thirsty people in the world parading around as God fearing Christians. They use the Bible as a tool of wrath and judgment but through hypocrisy excuse their own vile behavior. You don’t have to answer to them. In fact, you don’t have to engage them at all. If they are constantly condemning you to hell and telling you that you are all that’s wrong with the world, it’s because they haven’t gotten to know the true love of God, they know their religious traditions but that doesn’t always equal God.

Many have been wounded by these people and they will have to answer for that someday. But I want you to know that there is a remnant of people in the world who love God and have been down enough to have compassion and love for the hurting. Most won’t claim to be evangelical experts and really don’t care to be. Most of us are just people who never forgot that moment when we couldn’t take it anymore and cried out for help. I hope you come to know more of those people throughout your lifetime. I hope you come to know how incredible and loved you are so that you can spread that same love to someone who’s been hurting like you. I hope that you find joy and peace if it’s missing from your life like it was mine.

I leave you with one thing, if you can remember nothing else, remember this: God.Is.Love. Any other message is counterfeit...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jesus the social advocate...

After reading the news headlines, I keep being tempted to give up on humanity as a whole. But then I have to remind myself that I would be giving up on myself and those closest to me as well. Yeah, throwing in the towel on all humankind would be counterproductive indeed. The truth is, there is no easy or pat-answer to being able to digest the atrocities and injustices that we all see going on every day. For those that believe in God, we say pray…not a bad start really. But is there more? Are we required to do more than pray? If not, how do we pray? Do we pray for example: “Lord please end all racism?” I’m sure that seems really sincere. Perhaps something we would hear our 5 year old pray. But if that were enough, I’m pretty sure racism would be over by now. Or do we pray: “Lord, please give me the strength and conviction to speak up against racism or sexism and all the other isms that exist? Help me be a true example of love and equality as you are.”  Maybe we’re onto something now.

What I know of Jesus from the scriptures is that He was a talker. He talked to people in their hometowns, he talked to the disciples as they traveled and when they rested, he also (one of my favorites) talked to crowds by the seashore. Jesus talked and talked and talked. His talking is documented more than His praying…hmm. So should we be talking more? Should we be discussing why for example it’s wrong to openly judge other people all the while knowing that we harbor secret sins in our own lives?  Or should we (those that live by such convictions) just keep quiet and pray that everyone would be treated fair? Which seems more proactive?

Speaking out and advocating for what is right is difficult. It requires deep soul searching and an understanding as to who we’re supposed to be on this earth and how we should behave toward humanity. But the way I see it, we have the best example of an advocate ever in Christ. He was so committed to it that He even advocated for the men that crucified Him as He was dying. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do!” Wow…He spoke in defense of his murderous enemies to his own Father. He pleaded for their forgiveness on account of their blind ignorance. Who does that?! Perhaps someone deeply committed to his cause to love and rescue mankind.

What a tough act to follow. 

What would you advocate for on behalf of others? And how far would you go to do it?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When in doubt, protect the children...

Because of the religious system that I was brought up in, I was taught not to question anything from “authority”, unless of course that authority was not a part of my beliefs.  I was not to question the elders of the congregation, those who answered to the elders, the bible, God or anything that could lead to thinking on my own. We were supposed to just trust the directions that were given to us concerning our lives without a second thought.

The problem that I often encountered back then, was that I had so many questions and no one to ask. I lived in a constant state of perplexity about my life. What’s worse, if something inappropriate happened to me by way of an adult in this setting, I never told. I especially did not tell on anyone who had the authority to spiritually punish me. It was something you just didn’t do. There were too many systems put in place to protect the men in position around me which were a part of this religion. I saw speaking up as a lose-lose situation. So consequently, I heard and experienced some pretty creepy things within the confines of this religious cult as a child. It would be years later as an adult, while living many miles away, that I would begin to talk this out as a means of healing.

I found out that I was not alone and that there were other young girls and boys who had been affected by this closed community who policed their own behaviors. I also found out that some cases were so extreme, that the perpetrators were “set aside” to be dealt with in a disciplinary fashion by the heads of the congregation.  Sadly, the authorities were never summoned. Of course the victims of molestation and inappropriate behavior with a child were rarely ever cared for.  Not to mention the embarrassing labels that got attached to the innocent. The whole set up was a nightmare for anyone who needed an advocate.

There are many factors that have occurred in my life over time that have led me to choose a life outside of organized religion and I would dare say that spiritual abuse ranks number 1 on my list of reasons to stay clear of self-governed groups. Spiritual abuse is inevitable when the only authority that you are to adhere to is the one that also runs the congregation and the one to whom everyone answers. Many, without realizing it, have put the welfare and safety of themselves and their entire family in the hands of those who cannot even control their own actions, let alone keep you safe from “evil”.

Once we become ingrained in the thinking that someone else can hear from God better than we can for ourselves and that we are protected solely under a spiritual covering i.e. man, a feeling of helplessness and deep submission to ‘the powers that be’ set in.

One of the saddest things about my experience in this cult as a child was that my own father would have protected me and raised holy hell if I would have told him anything inappropriate that was happening to me. He was not a part of this robotic mindless belief system, so he was not held captive to their lies but he was helpless to take care of me in a way that would have served as my own personal protection, because I was too afraid to tell him what was happening. I was afraid of being blamed or called a liar and then punished and shunned for speaking out.

I know my father would have gone through great lengths to protect me because he proved it to me when I was in a similar situation with an authority figure outside of my religion. He went through hell and high water to seek justice for me through the court system but to no avail. It was a time when children weren’t so easily believed when it came to molestation. But my dad still acted as my defender and that made me feel safe and protected even though I was deeply scarred.

As confusing as it sounds, I differentiated the perpetrators because of who they were in my life although their behaviors were the same.

The difference (in my mind) was that one was a part of my “congregation” and the other was not. There was asylum for the “religious figure” but not for the outsider. Weird isn’t it, that a child would protect the reputation of a sleazy pervert no matter who he was.  This is what brainwashing and fear does to a child. It causes them to split right and wrong in half and protect someone who wears a spiritual title even when his/her actions are harmful. This is more common then we care to imagine.
Recently, there has been a lot of pathetic rhetoric on social media protecting a man who is a religious figure in his community. He is part of a family which has its own reality show. However, it has been discovered that this man violated little girls when he was a teenager. Part of me doubts that this behavior has ever really stopped but has simply transferred victims over time. Yes, that’s pure speculation but highly likely. His advocates want to dole out ‘God’s grace and forgiveness’ and ‘judge not’, applying verse to a situation that cannot be gracefully flowered over with scripture. Tragic.

What I know about the cult mindset is that it doesn’t think well for itself. The cult mindset has to be told what to believe and how to believe it repeatedly, until it automatically reacts and responds to life like everyone else within its teaching. It is one of the most dangerous ways to live and one that is most accepted within some sects of Christianity. There are those who worship their pastors, elders, deacons, presidents of their denomination, priest, prophets, evangelists, ministers of music and anyone else that has been placed before them and deemed ‘highly favored and anointed by God’. In some cases, these men and women have been given total authority to run rough shot over the lives of all those that submit “under” them, without so much as a simple question why.

When this occurs, children who have the misfortune of being raised in these environments become neglected and mistreated. They can be overworked “for the sake of the church” and under supervised because of busy parents trying to please the powers that be. These children are being told that to look good is better than to feel good and pretending and smiling will keep the family a float and in good standing with the church community. In short, children’s lives are being ruined out of ignorance and blind devotion to man, which leaves the door wide open for rage, addiction and even suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

I know this all too well, particularly the rage and suicidal thoughts that followed years after escaping that cult.  (Okay, I was kicked out but thank you just the same.) This was my chance to finally encounter Christ on my own, which was a life changing moment for me. Insert gratitude and relief here.

The sad truth is that Christians are losing the respect of the world in record levels and no, it’s not because of persecution. It’s because a large segment of the population cannot see what everyone else on the outside sees about them. It’s because some forget that they live in glass houses and yet decide to throw stones anyway. It’s because some have mindlessly given themselves to man and not to Christ. It’s because some sacrifice their family’s well-being in exchange for title and position.
Here’s a statement that’s bound to increase my popularity… I believe that many Christians are ruining Christianity and tainting the reputation of Christ Our Redeemer, by being ignorant of their own lives and protecting wrong doing within the four walls of the church. This is sad, but it doesn’t have to be.

What has helped me to continually strive to maintain balance and understanding between the difference of God given authority and self-appointed authority over the years, is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Without truth and knowing, without God’s divine guidance, we follow the masses. However, when we pull away from the many voices that surround us, to tune in to the only voice that truly matters, God speaks to us individually in His own way concerning our lives.  When we make this our lifestyle, we stop depending on man to be our spiritual leaders in every aspect of our lives. We are then more prone to pray for one another because we recognize that ALL sin and fall short of the grace of God on a daily basis. Not just the peons.

It removes the hierarchy mindset from church and makes for a more ‘eye to eye’ relationship with one another. It also keeps anyone from being above the law because we do not perceive anyone as being perfect.

If you subscribe to a traditional church setting, then there will always be those who are put into position to carry out the various tasks of the ministry. These people will have titles. The important thing to remember is that these titles should not compete with God’s place in your life. You can respect the title and position and still maintain your own constant communication with God, allowing Him to be the highest authority in your life. This is sure protection from spiritual abuse and blind following.

To reiterate; Cults consist of people who answer to human ‘spiritual’ authority over God’s authority, as if the leader is God himself. The act of acquiescing to a man or woman because of his congregational status as if they are God is extremely dangerous and compromises our lives greatly.

When we can clearly see the difference between man and God, we do not excuse abuse of any kind simply because it occurs within the confines of religion. We do not hide illegal activity and sweep it under the rug. We openly acknowledge such things and allow justice to be served on behalf of all those involved. We care for the victims. We protect our children. That’s what Jesus would do…

To speak specifically to this current news story about the man I mentioned previously who has confessed that he is guilty of being a molester: There are so many great causes to stand up for that scripture is against; racism, sexism, abuse, violence, poverty, exclusion etc…  So why in the world would anyone want to waste their God-given time by blindly supporting criminal behavior within the church and risk the reputation of the gospel?  This is not sound thinking… it’s an example of following without thinking.

The Emperor with no clothes is not the brother who is suffering exposure so that God can be shown as a just and forgiving God that covers over his bare body. He is simply just another naked man in denial…

*I feel compelled to acknowledge that I am in no way suggesting that Christianity as a whole is a cult. I am suggesting that cult behavior can come from any religious group that worships man (his opinions, judgments and actions) over God. This behavior can manifested even with those who call themselves Christians.