I woke up this morning with words swirling around in my head and I knew it was one of those days where they wouldn’t stop until I took the time to write them. So here I am. The whole house is quiet. Except for the littlest pet shop TV show entertaining our early riser. The rain has enveloped our home and brought with it an unexpected blanket of comfort. And my coffee. Oh lovely coffee. Is fresh and happy in it’s San Diego cup. If feels like the writing stage should be perfectly set right??? Then why. Why do I still feel so swirly? So confused?
Yesterday was a hard day. Actually it was a wonderful day. Yet simultaneously VERY difficult. We spent the morning organizing for our move next week which always feels like a giant weight being lifted off. The freedom from de-cluttering is quite euphoric I think. It almost deserves a parade and glitter, but that would add to the mess now wouldn’t it. Then, after lunch, we got in the car to drive an hour south to spend the rest of the day with people we love most. It was the car ride that caught me by surprise. I actually quite enjoy our long commute. That’s when I talk to Perry, or Steven. Or actually, they talk to me. (If you don’t know who they are, subscribing to their podcasts needs to be the next thing on your to do list to day. Not kidding. Thank me later) During the 18 months that we’ve lived here, Isaac and I have probably listened to several hundred sermons during our drives. And of course, yesterday was no exception. However we had already listened to every sermon on each of their church apps, so we had to dig a little deeper into their podcast streams to find fresh content. This time, it was Pastor Steven, from November 2006. Little did I know his words were about to cut straight to my core, bypassing all of the layers and walls I had apparently built up over the last 6 years. I’m still pretty certain it was a setup. But I’ve learned by now that God usually works like that. He’s into setups.
This struggle has been one that we have kept very private up until now. Call it fear, uncertainty, insecurity. Whatever you want. But in all honesty, I think I was just hiding. Waiting. For something, someone, at some point, to just come and rescue me from all of the hurt and pain and yuck we had embraced as our new normal. It was all we knew. It’s been a battle for me whether I would (or could) ever even write about it. I don’t ever want to be deemed as disrespectful or gossipy. It’s just not in my nature. I’d rather keep silent. Protected. But the more I walk this out, the more I realize that this is just a part of my story now, and who knows, maybe it’s a part of someone else’s story too. Someone else, who’s waiting to be rescued too.
Yesterday as Pastor Steven’s words flooded our car, Isaac just grabbed my hand, and I knew, without a word, that we were both thinking the exact same thing. They echoed… Jesus, and His love, is simple. He loves us. And He loves others. And He calls us to do the same. He doesn’t condemn, He convicts. He doesn’t rub mistakes in your face, He forgives and welcomes you back with open arms. He doesn’t walk around in arrogance & elitism only hanging out with people who are walking righteously. He actually hangs with the sinners. The least of these. He doesn’t judge. He comforts and loves. He’s not religious. In fact, He was killed by them. He’s not proud in any way. But humble and full of grace. He doesn’t love conditionally based on how much we serve at church, or read the word. On the contrary, His love is unfathomably unconditional. Now for two people who were practically born into the church all of these truths should be second nature right? We should know them inside and out, and recite them in our sleep. However much like children who do what you do and not what you say, seven years ago, we began following the lead of our pastors into very dangerous ground. And it was an extremely slow fade. One that we are just beginning to truly recognize the depths of. (disclaimer… we mean absolutely no disrespect to our former church or pastors. God works all things together for the good, and we know that much good came from our time there. However, in that, we have never felt so alone. And my hope in writing this, is that maybe one person will read it, and feel for the first time, that they aren’t alone either. )
When we began attending this church our daughter Ava was 11 months old, and we were desperate. We were new parents, and our marriage was in shambles. So often I wondered if we were going to make it, and this church and the new friends we found became the hope we had longed for. Because of our pain, we listened to any advice that came our way. Anything to offer relief. Anything to make us feel included and needed. And advice, they offered. A lot. Over the next five years we became engulfed in this new culture. And it became our new normal. Isaac worked full time at the fire department and spent almost every waking minute serving at the church. We were quickly put into leadership and served in almost every area of the church. From nursery, to ministry team, to baptisms, house calls, hospital visits, counseling and events. We did it all. Well mostly Isaac, but I was as involved as I could be with 2 kids under 2. It was literally like he was working 2 full time jobs. And being a husband and a dad. But in those years, being a husband and a dad took second place to ministry. I’m not dissing on Isaac, that was just what we were taught. So that’s what we did. Like I said, it was a slow fade. What began with helping us through our own marriage problems evolved into having their say in every area of our life. And since they had helped our marriage so much, why wouldn’t we trust them? Right? And that’s what we did. Blind trust. The thing about blind trust is that it’s actually INCREDIBLE. We SHOULD trust wholeheartedly. But where we went wrong was blindly trusting in the advice of men, and not the words of our Maker. During that season, their interpretation of what God was saying for us, became our truth. Remember? DANGEROUS ground. It seems crazy. Like really, how could two people who have known Jesus for over 20 years fall for that? How could we not know? But we didn’t. We just didn’t see it. And that’s the scariest part. So when they told us that we were being rebellious if we were too scared to preach, we believed them. When they told us we were disobeying God by sending our kids to a certain school, we pulled them out and re-enrolled them in the church’s private school. When they told me I was being a needy, selfish, controlling wife for wanting Isaac to be home more, I submitted, and cried when he had to leave to serve the church, again. When they told us we couldn’t hear God for ourselves, we started to doubt our relationship with Him and our ability to make right decisions. After a few months of trying for our third child, the pastor’s wife told us to stop because a new baby would take time away from ministry, so we stopped trying. And I cried some more. When they told us to cut off relationships with family members we loved, we believed them, and we ceased contact. For six years. When they told us we could only talk to them about our problems because they didn’t want us looking like weak leaders to anyone else, we obliged, and became even further withdrawn from the world around us. When they said, dress this way, remove that piercing, look this way, we did. And we went into debt to do it because that’s what they told us to do. When they said, you can’t hang out with “those people”, they drink, or they aren’t involved in church enough, or, whatever their excuse was that time, we pushed people away. People that we loved dearly. When Isaac had to take a break from ministry for 5 months to focus on a work promotion, we were completely cut off. The phone calls we used to receive every day went silent. The “friendships” ceased. This “family” we had grown to love and given everything for 5 years simply, disappeared. Apparently, we were only worth as much as we could serve.
Reading this now after being removed from it for a while seems rather insane. How did we get to that point? I have a crazy amount of emotions that are resurfacing as I revisit all of the pain and confusion and stupid decisions that we walked through during those years. How did we let it get that far? How did we possibly let someone else convince us that we couldn’t hear God for ourselves? For our family? In a scary way it makes me feel somewhat relatable to women who stay in toxic relationships. During our years counseling others we heard lots of stories from women, and the overwhelming theme was, that they just didn’t think it was really, “that bad.” They would make excuses for their husbands/boyfriends behavior. They justified his abuse and continued forgiving because that is all they knew. That is all they thought they deserved. And they were too weak, too broken, to get out. While we weren’t in an abusive marriage with our church, we had come to a point where we were so broken down by their words, and how much we failed, and how much we didn’t measure up, that we literally couldn’t think soundly anymore. Where we used to hear God clearly, we doubted we even could anymore. Where we used to make sound, well thought out decisions, lack of confidence and confusion now abounded. We got to a point where we didn’t even recognize who we were anymore. And that is an extremely scary place to be.
Eighteen months ago we moved an hour north and we stopped attending that church. For one of the first times in years, other than starting Pursuit 31, we knew we heard God clear as day that we were to move. And so we did. Not without our fair share of negative unsupportive phone calls, and “You’re disobeying God” tactics, but this time we knew we weren’t. We knew we heard our Father so clearly, and that gave us strength to keep walking out what He had told us to do. Even in the face of major opposition and disapproval. The strength we gained from the separation has been miraculous. Like we can finally breathe again after not having air or something. But we are learning more and more that our healing from all of this is not an overnight process. It isn’t as simple as a new geographic location. A new school. And new friends. We’ve realized that over the past 18 months we have been limping around, not really even able to fully function. Almost in some sort of haze. We’ve been moving as much as we can, but with this huge “injury” that keeps weighing us down. And until yesterday, I didn’t even realize it. I knew things had been off. I knew that we weren’t experiencing joy like we used to. I knew that we had a hard time navigating decisions and being confident that we could hear God’s direction, but I didn’t understand why. Until yesterday.
Pastor Steven’s words washed over me like a thunderstorm after a long drought. Hand in hand we listened as the truth of God’s word started penetrating the walls we had built around our hearts. The walls that didn’t want to risk letting anyone in again. The walls built up by years of lies and negative words from our leaders. The walls that really, I didn’t even know were there. My heart began to fill up with hope and simultaneous grief from the choices we made and the things we had believed. But for the first time ever, I started to realize why we had seemed to be stuck in rut. I had believed God was displeased with us, that we had screwed up too bad, that we hadn’t worked hard enough, that we couldn’t come back from the mistakes and decisions we made during that time. I was in a perpetual cycle of self criticism from the past which was only keeping me further in bondage. No wonder I felt trapped. No wonder the joy seemed jaded. Even after their voices of condemnation had been silenced, I had almost recorded them and played them on repeat in my head myself. How could I possibly move forward in joy, and hope, and purpose when I continued to let our past define us? Simply put, I couldn’t. Yet these words. These words Pastor Steven was speaking from the Bible held a key to a door I didn’t even know was there. And as truth was revealed, the lies we had been told for years became evident for the first time. And I started to feel hope that there was a cause for my turmoil, and there actually IS light at the end of this dark tunnel.
As we continued on the road to meet Isaac’s sister at the strawberry patch my mind was reeling. It was like a lightbulb had been turned on in my soul and I saw things for what they were for the very first time. I had inklings all along, but the truth of it all was a lot to take in. My heart became heavy as I wrestled with what we had become in those years. The people we had turned into. And at the same time I’ve never been so thankful for God’s hand of covering and grace over our lives. We arrived at the farm and I started to breathe in the newness of summer. The smell of strawberries and baby animals. I watched our kids race through the fields to see who could pick more, and I looked over at my love and he was smiling back at me. I breathed again. For what felt like the first time in years. I exhaled. Breathed again. My heart was starting to be filled with children’s laughter and the joy of family. The locked door on my heart was now identified, and me and my Jesus were about to wage war on that intruder.
We spent the rest of the evening around a fire with some of our best friends. A lot of these things we had never shared, yet now that we recognized them we had to get it out. Like when your body realizes you ate bad chicken or something. It’s healing to get it out ya know? To speak it out loud. But I didn’t want to stay there… I am DONE being stuck there. I am so thankful for amazing friends who just let us talk, who actually do love us unconditionally. And who walk with us through our crap instead of rubbing our noses in it. So much healing took place in my heart last night… healing I didn’t even know I needed. We were silent almost all the way home. Processing. Somehow things become real once they are spoken outside of your own thoughts. And once they’re real you have no choice but to face them. As we got home and tucked the kids, Isaac hugged me tight and said.. It really is gonna be okay. Which is of course, all I needed to know. We realized that now that we had pinpointed the root of our struggles we needed to forgive. Move on. And make peace with our past. Because God will work it together for our good no matter how difficult it was. And in the process we need to Choose Joy. Every day…. and then choose it again. Jesus clearly already gave it to us for the taking. We just have to choose it. And walk in it.
There’s SOOO much that kept me from writing this today. Doubt, fear, insecurity. Being told I was wrong… again. But I knew deep down that I had to get it out. Even if it was just for me. There’s so much freedom in that. For it is now in the light. I usually have more rhythm to my writing so this word explosion is new for me. But so be it. Ya do what you do. Even if none of this made sense to anyone else, I feel a giant weight lifted. I feel like yesterday, I was rescued. From a prison I didn’t know I had. By no means do I mean any disrespect to pastors and authority. They are SUCH a gift and being able to submit under a covering is an incredible thing. What I am saying is that we need to be careful who we come under, and we need to take the counsel we receive and filter it through the Word of God instead of taking it as pure truth. Which was our biggest mistake. I am not writing this to pull anyone from church, because we are called to be a part of His body, and I hope that everyone can find an amazing Bible based church to call home. On the contrary, my hope in writing this is that if anyone relates to my words or more story, that you will run to Jesus, and not man, so that He can rescue you too.