The Casualties of Conformity

Use your imagination with me and picture this scenario:

It is a cold night, snow is on the ground and more is on it’s way. A homeless man, has been wandering around the city for hours trying to find a suitable place to sit that would be out of the blistery wind. Suddenly, he stumbles upon a shelter. This shelter is lit up as a lighthouse in a storm. The homeless man’s heart skips a beat as he makes his way to the door. Finally some warmth and maybe some food for his rumbling stomach! He walks up the steps to the door and just as he reaches for the handle, the owner of the shelter opens the door. The homeless man asks him for refuge and the owner tells him he would love to give him the necessities for the evening. But just as the homeless man could feel the warmth of the shelter’s more than adequate heat, the owner tells him in order to enter, he has to prove himself worthy. In order to take advantage of the shelter’s amenities, he must do several tasks. The homeless man, eager to get in, agrees to do whatever the owner tells him to do. The owner than lays out the stipulations, “in order for you to get the reward of the heat and food, you must run around this building thirty times. Then, I must witness you do 200 sit ups. After that, I must hear you read a 500 page novel, and when you are finished, I want you to learn a new foreign language. When you have done all these things and are fluent in a new language, then I will be more than happy to let you in and feed you and let you feel the warmth of my heater!” Discouraged, knowing he didn’t have the physical or mental stamina to accomplish the owner’s demands, the homeless man turns and walks back down the stairs and out into the cold never to be heard from again.

This story would sound a little far fetched and ridiculous to most people. The majority of us would be angry at the owner of the shelter. He has more than enough to share with the homeless man, yet he made this man jump through hoops just to get to enjoy the basic necessities. But isn’t this how churches treat people looking in on them sometimes? They have the promise of life everlasting, the beautiful gift of God’s undeserving, unmerited favor, yet some still tend to make people prove themselves worthy in order to obtain it.

It’s like they hold God’s grace as a carrot on a stick, and only by following their rules are you able to achieve it.

How many people have been turned away from God because of this?

I was at a gathering this weekend that included many UPC members and ministers and many, many ex-UPC members. As I looked around it made me sad. There were so many good people who want to do right, and I’m sure if you asked them, they want to make it to heaven, but they have been taught that the only way to get there is to live a lifestyle that seems so out of reach for them, How many people have been turned away from Christ altogether, because they are taught that the only way to please God is to jump through so many unnecessary hoops?

How many times have you witnessed someone leave a legalistic religion just to end up wandering by themselves in the cold? They don’t even try to seek God because they only way they know how is to prove to God they are worthy of his grace by living a life following a list of rules, and they know they can’t live up to that kind of perfection.

If we were honest with ourselves, nobody can.

But imagine the story above ending with the owner of the shelter putting his arm around the homeless man, giving him a warm meal, a soft bed, and resources to help him in the future. It would have made for a much better story. Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? Jesus made grace and mercy free for us by dying on the cross! He gave us a new commandment for this dispensation, love.

If we take Jesus upon ourselves and accept his gift of grace and mercy, we in turn will strive to be more like him. Not because we want to show him we are worthy of the beautiful life he has promised us, but because we love him and others so much we want to share our gift! Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” By stacking on unnecessary stipulations, we are making his yoke heavy and unobtainable to us as humans.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. Not one person in a legalistic church can actual live up to those standards one hundred percent of the time. If we could, there was no reason for Christ to die.

Acts 15:10-11 states this:

Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

Peter was saying to the Jewish Christian converts, don’t make living for God harder than what God intended it to be. We are saved through grace. The end. No additional ands, buts, or ors about it. And I think those who make people believe that in order to obtain eternal life you have to follow additional rules will be held accountable for that one day. They are limiting the power of God’s grace, and turning away many people from the shelter of God.

Death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. What more could we do?

Grace is underserved, unmerited favor. We didn’t deserve it, but we get to partake in it anyway. By placing stipulations on God’s grace we are grieving him greatly and telling him, he isn’t enough for us, we want more.

How many people have we lost along the way due to a legalistic mindset?

The definition of legalistic is this: strict conformity to the letter of the law rather than its spirit.

Chew on that for a moment.

How many souls have been cast aside as casualties of conformity?

I’m sure it grieves God.

Reflections on 2020

Happy New Year!

What a crazy year 2020 has been! I don’t think I need to recap for you all the crazy that has taken place in the last 365 days! As I write this, my New Year’s Eve, probably as most of yours, looks a bit different as it has in years past. Normally, around this time we would be with friends celebrating and ringing in the new year together. Instead, here I sit, alone in my office, in my pajamas.

To be honest, I’m not all that sad about it, but, that thought scares me a little.

By nature we are meant to be social. Humans are designed to be around other humans. Yes, that includes us introverts as well!

As 2020 progressed, and the “new normal” has included less and less people around us, I find myself almost forgetting what my 2019 normal was like. Large birthday parties have been replaced with birthday “parades”. Face to face in home small group has been replaced with Zoom meetings. Church has been online nearly as much as in person, and when we do get to go in person, we are separated by pews and masks. Going out with friends has been replaced with intimate dinner and drinks if we are lucky, if not, more Zoom and or Houseparty it is.

I am thankful for all of the technology in this day and age that does keep us somewhat connected, but the more I think about how much I have missed out on this year, it does make me sad. I miss my friends’ laughter, a house full of kids sleeping over, my extended family lunches on Sundays. I miss shaking hands, giving hugs, and seeing smiles. I can only hope and pray 2021 will bring back these things, because I am not okay with being okay to sit here alone.

On a more positive note, I can say that being home more has given me time I wouldn’t have had otherwise to get to know other people who aren’t so local. Because of all of the restraints, I have had many more opportunities to participate in Facebook groups, and online Bible Studies. It really is amazing that I can now say I am friends with people who live many, many miles away. I am thankful for the technology that brings us together! (That unintentionally sounded a little like an AT&T commercial).

My resolve for this coming year, as hopefully the vaccine will be effective, is to cherish my time with those I love. I am going to be intentional about making plans with family and friends both local and far away.

As this year comes to an end, I also want to thank each and every one of you. You have shared in my journey and I have enjoyed hearing from many of you. So, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Here’s to your 2021 being the best year you’ve ever had!

A Lesson About the Past

When I first started this blog, it took me a while to come up with a fitting name for it. After entertaining several equally cheesy ideas, I landed on the current tag line: Finding my Freedom, Doing my Life. The title, albeit a little cheesy, encompasses the entire point, discovering more and more freedom from spiritual trauma everyday while just carrying on with my day to day life, then writing about it. I know other people have experienced similar feelings and situations, and sometimes it is just nice to know you really aren’t crazy, others have walked the same path. Or, maybe we are all crazy and normal is just a mirage we all foolishly continue striving for. Who knows? In any case, I pledged to be open and honest about sharing experiences whether they be uncomfortable or silly because it seems I find freedom and learn things about myself while doing the mundane all of the time.

But the name of the blogsite really hit home for me this past week. If you have followed me for any length of time, read my book, or know me personally, you know my family is big on yearly vacations. Particularly vacations to any Disney destination. We have so many special family memories there, it is difficult for us to vacation anywhere else! My kids have practically grown up doing Disney “right” and aren’t shy about sharing their knowledge with others. Just today, my son spent almost an entire hour advising an adult on how to plan their upcoming trip! And let me tell you, at thirteen, the kid knows his stuff!

With all of the mess of 2020, vacationing was a huge deal for us this year. We all needed the mental break, and believe me when I say we did our research, took precautions, and weighed out the best options to take our trip as responsibly as possible. Sometimes, for your mental health, you just have to get away! And this trip did not disappoint, it was glorious! We spent Thanksgiving on a beach and cyber Monday at a Disney park. Just the reset my brain needed!

I say all of this to get to my point: sometimes while simply “doing my life” I still come across things that may trigger me or sometimes blow my mind at the grace of God. Being incredibly transparent right now, the former is exactly what happened on vacation.

Everyone in my family (except for me) are Star Wars fans, so you can imagine the excitement level when we were lucky enough to get to ride the new Star Wars ride at Disney! I was excited too, but let’s be honest, probably not as much as my husband or my kids. Anyway, I was mindlessly walking through the attraction taking notice of all of the intricate details Disney, as always, puts into their shows and rides and then bam! I suddenly found myself utilizing grounding techniques I have learned from different therapists throughout the years. I was triggered by a Star Wars ride! Insert hand to head slap!

If you read my book, Free, you may remember me mentioning a recurring dream I had as a child and even into my adult years. In this dream I am standing in a room in the middle of a crowd of stick figure people. I am screaming at them to talk to me or pay attention in the slightest and they are all ignoring me, standing with their arms folded over their chests and noses in the air. I am a believer in dreams, and this one haunted me so much, I still get goose bumps thinking about it. I think it accurately represents my childhood and even church life; always feeling like the outsider, and always super insecure. Feelings of loneliness and isolation flood back to my body when I think about this.

So, as I was nonchalantly walking through a room with several storm trooper animatronics looking at me, I suddenly got a rush of anxiety. Here I was, literally standing in my dream in real life. I started to panic. Do you have any idea how hard it is to use grounding techniques in such an immersive ride experience? Let me tell you, it is difficult! I could feel a panic attack coming on and I had no where to go. I was able to calm myself after taking deep breaths, closing my eyes and using my other senses, and eventually leaving that room, but I learned something about myself. I was strong enough to get past those intense feelings, yet still vulnerable enough to have the experience in the first place.

Sometimes, I like to lie to myself and pretend my past is no longer a part of me. But guess what? It is always there. In many ways, I have found freedom from it while doing my life, yet at the same time, it is still there, lurking in the crevices of my inner being and occasionally it likes to rear it’s head at the most inopportune times. This is part of the learning experience, being prepared to handle these feelings. I have to learn to embrace my past, learn to be thankful for it. I mean honestly, my past is what made me who I am today. While I am far from perfect, I am growing and learning, and that is the important part.

I think there is a certain balance of not living in the past, but acknowledging the wisdom gained from your experiences. I don’t think I’m there yet. Experiences like the “Star Wars incident of 2020” (that is what I am calling it) tell me I have not mastered this skill. It also makes me wonder if one can ever completely master it. Maybe this is part of the mirage of normalcy I mentioned earlier. It is definitely a tight rope walk, but I guess that’s the beauty of it. Falling off the tight rope every once in a while sure does keep me humble, and soon this experience will be in my past as well, and I will be able to remember it less painfully.

As Rafiki in the Lion King says, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”

He makes a wise point. And I mean, who can argue with a monkey from a classic Disney movie?

Flawless

First off, I am excited to say, this is my first blog I am writing from MY office! It’s not really all mine at the moment, I am having to share it with my online learning children, but, it is slowly but surely becoming my own! I even have a white, fluffy chair! (Thank you mom) I have never had a space to get away from the crazy that is the other four people and two dogs that I live with, but Covid did have some positives! A finished office space was one of them! Sometimes it’s the little things in life!

The holidays are once again upon us! It hardly seems possible we are halfway through November already! I have been a bit of a slacker recently as far as writing goes. I think it is simply because I am just struggling to stay afloat right now! 2020 has brought many challenges, and I feel like I am barely treading water between trying to socially distance while still staying connected, my kids learning online some days and in person some days, and all the while trying to keep up with normal day to day life at work and at home! I am emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I am sure most everyone can relate.

I don’t know about you all, but for me, I feel ill-equipped and under qualified to navigate such a crazy time, and I can be pretty hard on myself about it. Thankfully, my husband is such an amazing guy, he keeps me sane (most days).

As someone who struggles with self-esteem, I have a tendency to constantly look at all of my imperfections, and somehow Jereme can always seem to see past them. When I think I am a hot mess, when I burn dinner, or sleep through my alarm, he is there to reassure me I am doing a good job. When I am down on myself because I have love handles and (a few) gray hairs, he is there to put his arms around me and let me know he doesn’t care a bit about those things. When I struggle with what to wear or how my makeup looks, here comes my husband to let me know, in his eyes, I am beautiful no matter what I am wearing or how dark the circles under my eyes are.

I was pondering this thought earlier and it occurred to me, this is how our heavenly Father views us. The Bible refers to God’s people as the Bride of Christ, and because of the perfect sacrifice found in Jesus, in His eyes, we are flawless. Jesus lived a life of blameless perfection in order to be the spotless lamb needed to wash our hearts clean from our blemishes. When we accept His sacrifice, the Bible says we can be presented before our Bridegroom as holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5)

Are there times I mess up? Of course! But I can rest in the assurance that just as my husband thinks of me as beautiful and capable even when I am falling apart in my own eyes, my heavenly Father sees me as chosen, and a royal priesthood. Thankfully, because of grace, I don’t have to depend on myself to be perfect, I can put my faith in the finish work of the cross and sleep soundly knowing I am in God’s hands.

Ironically, when I was first discovering God’s grace, someone who felt I was slipping away from God altogether said to me, “I hope you never sleep at night.” This was their way of asking God to bring me back to the hamster wheel of legalism. When in actuality, knowing that God loves me enough to send his Son to be the perfect sacrifice, allows me to sleep like a baby! No, seriously, I have never slept so well in my life! I can lay my head on my pillow and realize that even if I blew it hardcore that day, it doesn’t change how God views me.

So, while 2020 has brought out the best and also the worst in many of us, try not to be so hard on yourself. Keep your chin up, you are doing the best you can and God sees you.

In His eyes you are flawless.

Men, The Monsters of Modesty Culture

When writing blogs containing this sensitive of a topic, I have a hard time figuring out where to begin.  What actually is a good intro sentence to what I am researching today. Yeah, I got nothing. 

So here it goes.

Women’s modesty and men.

“Men are visual creatures.”

Now, since I am not a man, obviously I have no first hand knowledge on the subject. However, as a woman, I have heard this argument to support the idea of women dressing in a particular kind of way in the spirit of not “causing our brothers to stumble”. So let me just begin by describing how that comes across to a young girl.

We will get to the men in a bit.

As a teenage girl growing up in a religious environment where the idea of modesty included skirts and dresses exclusively, the above statement was quoted frequently as a deterrent from dressing “inappropriately”. We were taught men can’t help but lust after us if we showed too much skin, wore something too tight, or wore pants. (I never really understood the logic behind the last one). Hearing this statement as a girl developing into a woman it caused me to be ashamed of my body. It also made me very afraid of men, and acutely aware if a man even so much as looked in my direction.  I came to assume all men were just sex monsters waiting for any opportunity to take advantage of viewing my body whether they acted on their lust physically towards me or in their own minds. 

What a sad little box to put men in.

Having mentioned briefly what this teaching taught me as a woman, let’s go into the man’s side of this. I have done some research, so I think I have an idea of what I am about to say. If you’re a man and disagree, please feel free to correct any misunderstandings I may have.

Yes, men indeed are visual creatures by nature. Men do tend to get aroused by visual cues more than women.  This is a scientifically proven fact.

But, does this mean all men are walking sex robots? Or unable to control their urges? Absolutely not.

There is a gigantic difference between noticing and lusting.

We can notice and even admire our friend’s new car. What becomes a problem is when we allow that admiration to turn into coveting. Same idea applies.

It is completely normal for a man to notice an attractive woman walking by. There is nothing wrong with that.  It does NOT mean the man is lusting.  Noticing only turns into a problem when that man continues to look and allows his mind to run away with impure thoughts. And clearly, if a man allows those thoughts to progress into actions there is an issue for certain.

Sexual attraction is natural and designed by God, to imply that it is sinful is misrepresenting God’s intent.

I read an article in the Huffington Post, about a woman recounting an experience she had while wearing a pencil skirt to work. Something that should have been deemed “modest” by most church standards right? She said she received unanticipated sexual comments and several looks from her male coworkers.  Was their behavior her fault for wearing a pencil skirt? Absolutely not!  It is the men’s fault for not controlling their thoughts or actions. To suggest otherwise is offensive to men and women everywhere!

So where does this leave us? Should a woman dress modestly for the reason as to not cause a man to stumble? First, I think, we need to evaluate what modesty actually is. I wrote an entire blog on this subject you can find it here, https://findingmyfreedomdoingmylife.com/2020/02/07/the-oxymoron-of-modesty/. So I won’t go into this too much again, but being modest means: not to stick out in a crowd, not to wear anything too noticeable, expensive, or over the top, to dress appropriately for whatever the situation.

Outside of those guidelines, I say, “you do you boo”.

One might wonder why a woman would choose to wear something revealing or sexy knowing that it may cause a man to notice. I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you as a wife, I feel like I am doing my husband a favor by dressing in a way he will be visibly attracted to.  I couldn’t care less what other men think of me. There are also times when a woman just wants to look pretty, and show off what God gave her. And I see nothing wrong with that motive either.

In conclusion, the premise that men cannot control their sexual urges while being visually stimulated is ludicrous.

All this teaching accomplishes is cause women to be afraid of men and makes men to feel as if they have every right to lust because they can’t help it, they are just wired that way. It lets the men off the hook for their actions while putting the blame on someone else. It makes men feel like their brains are by nature animalistic and if a woman dresses a certain way, she must be asking for it. (I keep thinking of an image of a bongo monkey hopping around in a male brain).

It is easy to see how this type of thinking would easily bleed into viewing sexual assault as being brought on somehow by the victim. After being taught this mindset, the question automatically becomes, “what was she wearing or doing to provoke him?” This is just wrong.

It is not my job to police anyone else’s mind or heart. And I am sorry men, but if you allow your admiration to turn into sinful lust, that’s on you. Put your big boy pants on and take responsibility for your own actions.

Jesus said in Matthew 5, if a man looks at a woman in an inappropriate manner, it would be better for him to pluck his own eye out. I don’t see any mention of blaming the woman he was looking at. Was God angry at Bathsheba for bathing, or at David for lusting and sleeping with her?

I often wonder what Jesus would say concerning this argument. Would he agree with the idea men just can’t help themselves? Or would he tell them to suck it up buttercup and get their own thoughts under subjection?

From everything I have read about Jesus, I’m pretty certain his answer would be the second one, and it would be insulting to him to assume otherwise.

Read More

A House Divided

If you live in the US, (or enjoy reality TV shows) you probably watched the presidential debate last evening.

Can I just say, wow, that was tragic. No matter what side of the stage you were rooting for, I think it is safe to say, nobody really won here, neither opponent, nor the American people. I think we can all look at what happened and agree, this is a huge reason we are so divided as a nation.

But don’t worry, discussing politics is the last thing I want to dive into. That roller coaster is too much for me to handle!

But, it did dawn on me, as I was reflecting over last night’s events, a divided house will never stand.

When I began this blog site, I made it very clear my intentions were not to divide, but bring to light the real life consequences of how we treat people.

I have said this over and over, and I will say it again, yes, I am mostly addressing the religious organization I grew up in, because that is what I know. It would be irresponsible of me to talk about subjects I have no first hand knowledge of.

I ran across a Facebook post the other day about a woman who had left the UPC. Her appearance has obviously changed since leaving and she is having fun experimenting with looks she never got to try before. While she was at the store, minding her own business, a clearly UPC or other like faith woman loudly spoke negatively of this woman’s appearance. The ex-UPC woman handled the judgment graciously and left the store.

I shared her story on my Facebook page, others I know did as well, and the response was disheartening. I actually saw people either discrediting this woman’s story, or supporting the woman judging! I really don’t know why this shocked me so much, it really shouldn’t have. I have seen it time and time again.But there it is, the cancer that is eating away at Christians everywhere.

I am guilty of it, you are guilty of it. When we hear of someone who is supposed to be on our “side” acting in a way that was hurtful to others, it takes a lot of effort to stop our own emotions dead in their tracks and look at the situation from the viewpoint of the other party. It is difficult to dismantle our own biases and see things objectively.

The first thing we as humans want to do is get defensive. “No way someone from our ‘side’ could’ve done something like that!” We try to discredit the other party, justify the reaction of our ally, or even victim blame by saying that person was asking for it in some way.

Why is this?

I can tell you from personal experience, I don’t believe the woman who was ridiculed was lying. If you think she was, I encourage you to read some other blogs of those who have left the UPC, watch some of their YouTube channels, read their books. It may surprise you how common this reaction actually is. Would it shock you to know there are actually support groups and specialized therapists for people who left the UPC and other similar religious organizations? There is a legitimate reason for them.

Do those things make you angry? They should! They should make everyone on all “sides” so angry we all start a revolution! A revolution of love.

Love is the only salve that can heal.

Does it really matter if a person dresses differently than you? Does it really matter if they have brown hair or purple hair? What if they are a different political party? A different race? How about if they left your church to attend another? Or are a different religion all together? Or no religion at all?

How do we handle such controversial differences? These beliefs are personal to us.

How did Christ handle them? Jesus said out of our hearts our mouths speak, and we will be justified by our words and also condemned by our words. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan? Which one of those characters do you want to be? Those who snubbed their nose at someone who wasn’t on their “side” or someone who sees people for who they are, and helps them on their journey regardless of their differences.

It is scary to me how quickly we are able to defend our allies no matter their behavior and dismiss those we view as against us.

We will never succeed without unity. And unity will never be accomplished without love.

A house divided will never stand.

When Things are too Painful for Words

Those of you who have followed my blog for any length of time should be familiar with my blogging process. When an ah-ha moment hits, no matter the subject, I write about it. This is one of those moments.

As I was lying down waiting for Jereme to get home from a night out with friends, I started reading my Bible. To be completely honest, I am taking a short break from Facebook for lots of reasons, and out of not having much else to look at I decided to do some extra Bible reading. Makes me sound like a terrible Christian, but I am someone who feels the need to tell on myself, so just thought I’d throw that tidbit in.

As I was reading, I came across Romans 8:26.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
Romans 8:26 ESV

I was just going to breeze right by this verse, but I couldn’t stop rereading the phrase, “too deep for words”.

We’ve all been there, those types of situations that just seem too heartbreaking to speak about. We have all suffered unspeakable losses at some point in our lives. While I was reading, several situations in my own life came to mind. I have made most of my life public, but there are a few things that are just too painful to even write about. So I started doing a little digging into this verse just to unravel it a bit. And wow, have I have underestimated the value of this verse!

This may be a different kind of blog post, but bear with me, I’m getting somewhere with this I promise!

When I start researching, I love to use an interlinear app, mix in some Google searches and commentaries, then write out the verse in my own words using the information I have uncovered. So I’ll just take you on my little journey into Romans 8:26!

This is exactly how this verse reads in it’s original context: (because I am typing this on my phone, I am just going to use the English words here, but I’ll highlight the important Greek ones).

Likewise now also the Spirit joins to help the weakness of us the for things which we should pray for as it behooves not we know but Himself the Spirit makes intercession with groanings inexpressible.

Yeah, you confused yet? I was too. So let’s break it down.

The Greek word for weakness is astheneia. Which can translate as illness of body or mind.

The Greek word for the phrase “joins to help” is synantilambanetai. Which literally means the action of one who assists another to bear a burden by taking hold on the opposite side to share the load.

The Greek word for intercession is hyperentynchanei which translates to, appeal to someone.

Now here’s where it gets interesting!

The Greek word for groanings is stenagmois. This is the noun version of the verb, stenazo. (Meaning, they both come from the same root word). Stenazo is groaning together with someone due to physical suffering, loss, or distress.

And lastly, the Greek word for inexpressible is alalētois, which means just that, something not expressive with words.

Now that I have bored you with the original Greek, let’s put it all together!

(Jen’s translation!)

The Spirit bears our burdens with us, by taking hold of the opposite side and sharing the load. When we do not know how to pray, and all we can do is sigh within ourselves due to physical suffering or a loss, the Holy Spirit appeals to the Father for us by sighing and groaning together with us.

Wow! You may want to go back and read that again!

Personally, I know there are times when I have just been too sad, too heartbroken, or just out of words to say and all I can do is sigh in my heart to God. And in all my years, whenever I experienced this, I just felt weak and honestly like an inexperienced Christian.

But, the Bible tells us plainly this is normal! These types of situations are exactly why God sent us His Holy Spirit! There is no need for us to utter words out loud, and it is okay to just be strong enough to sigh within ourselves. This is when the Holy Spirit comes along beside us and carries our burden with us!

How amazing is that?

If you have stuck with me this long, thank you! I sincerely hope you feel the same amount of relief I felt when I read this.

It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. We have help in carrying our burden, and we don’t even have to speak a word.

The Merry-go-round of Trust Issues

Well guys, ugly, raw, unfiltered blog here.

This could all very well be the pain pills talking, but I’m just going to tell you about my day and what lead up to a random ah-ha moment of self discovery.

I spent my morning at work training a new employee. Nothing special happened other than feeling a slight twinge in my back while helping a patient not to fall. Went on with my day, no big deal.

After work, I decided to go grocery shopping. Of course, as fate would have it, after avoiding a near run in with someone from my past, I grabbed a cart with a janky wheel. Again, no big deal, just had to push it a little to the left the entire time. Bent down to pick up a case of water, then put it in the bottom of said janky wheeled cart and realized quickly my back was going to be sore for a while. This time it was a little more than just a slight twinge.

This happens to me from time to time. Part of getting older I suppose. So here I am, 1:24 in the morning wide awake on pain pills, sitting with my legs up on the couch and a heating pad in order to get some relief.

Clearly, now is the best time for my brain to kick into self reflection mode. (Sarcasm intended). But, even now I suppose that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Trust.

I’ve written about this before. This is a huge obstacle in my life. If you read my book, you already know my father left when I was young, couple that with some twenty-five years of spiritual abuse, and it’s understandable why this topic would come up in many therapy sessions. (My father and I do stay in contact now, he’s not really the point here).

Something my therapist said to me once has stayed with me. Maybe, I remember her question specifically because it is something I’m still working through. She asked me one day, “so, you don’t trust anyone completely?”

The best answer I could come up with honestly was, no.

The deep in your gut fear of abandonment and rejection is real.

And as I am lying here with nothing but my thoughts it occurred to me, I don’t trust me either.

While my body is telling me I’m in pain, my brain is second guessing myself. “Is it really that bad? Maybe the pain is just in my head. Maybe the little twinges I felt earlier in the day weren’t real.”

Then I began reflecting over my day and started second guessing my training abilities. “Did I actually explain that correctly? Is what I was saying the right way to do it? Have I been doing my job wrong for the last three years?”

Insert epiphany.

Maybe the reason I can’t trust anyone else, is because I don’t trust me.

I am sitting here second guessing my own body guys! Who does that?!

Logically, I know that I know how to do my job. Obviously, I’m not too terrible at it or I wouldn’t still be there! So why in the middle of the night am I questioning all of my daily activities?

Learning to come out of my shell and be myself took time. Untangling a lifetime of crazy has taken some effort. But clearly, I have some more work to do.

How can I put my full trust in Christ if I can’t get ahold of my deeply rooted trust issues? They seem to be a part of me. My identity. It’s who I am.

Hi, my name is Jen, and I have trust issues.

Maybe someday I can change. Maybe at some point in my life I can experience pain, or joy, or even sadness without the merry- go-round in my head telling me it’s not real.

Maybe someday.

What Happens When Your Church Becomes Your Idol?

When I started publishing a blog I knew there would be backlash. When my book came out, I had no doubt there would be backlash. I knew what the response would be from many people, at least, I thought I knew.

I fully expected mud to be thrown at me personally, and I expected to step on people’s toes and be on the receiving end of a comment or two made out of raw emotion. As much as I knew that would pain me, most people, including myself, take their religious beliefs very personally, as they should, so I get it. It is a touchy subject.

And, yet, after carefully weighing and accepting my potential consequences I still chose to proceed.

That being said, I can only speak to what I know, and having spent twenty-five years in the United Pentecostal Church, that is what I know.

But, the thing that has surprised me about this the most, is the responses from many people that are comprised of veiled threats to my family, claims that I am blasphemous against God, and that speaking against the church would most certainly land me in the innermost circles of hell itself. Such comments have zero scripture that can be used to back them or at least, scripture used in context, and are simply scare tactics.

Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

In an online support group I am in, someone made a very real comment. And it made sense to me. The reason so (very) many people tend to spew out these vague, haphazard responses to my published material was simply this:

The church has become their god.

Yikes, that stings a little. And I can’t say I have never been in their shoes, I would be a hypocrite to stand here and say that at one time my responses wouldn’t be the exact same. In fact, I really don’t even blame them for this oversight.

This is really a problem that spans across all denominations, but like I said, I can only speak to what I know.

Several years before I left the UPC, a friend of mine posted a paper that she had written for her college class about the organization, and how she thought it was a cult. My stomach dropped when I read this and I quickly without even giving her opinion a second thought, unfollowed her.

Why did I respond like that? Why was I so quick to be offended by someone else’s opinion of the United Pentecostal Church? She wasn’t saying God wasn’t real, she wasn’t even writing negatively about any one person, she was writing about an organization.

Everyone knows the Ten Commandments. What is the very first one?

You shall have no other gods before me”.

It was written in stone, plain as day, yet for some reason that seemed to be the one Isreal struggled with the most.

How do we know when we are putting idols ahead of God? And what happens when we do?

I think a telltale sign is when someone says something critical of whatever is dearest to your heart, it becomes obvious where your allegiance lies.

In the UPC, you are taught that anytime the church doors are open you are to be there. Rain, snow, vacation, sick doesn’t matter you should be at church. You are taught that your pastor has the authority to give you additional rules that aren’t clearly scribed in the Bible, and you are to comply. Your money is top priority, and it is widely believed that your finances will be cursed if you don’t give enough to your church (other charities don’t count). You go to conferences and hoop and holler when the main man in charge of it all dances a jig across the stage.

Your entire life is wrapped up in the church.

Is it possible, with so much focus being placed on the outward appearance of having God around, we fail to invite him at all into our day to day lives?

There is verse after verse in the Bible scorning those who have forgotten the main reason while they are caught up in being busy for the main reason. (Think Mary and Martha.)

My childhood pastor preached a message once that stuck with me, “You gotta keep the main thing, the main thing”!

Meaning, if Jesus isn’t the main thing, what is?

I am completely preaching to myself here as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy. And it’s easy while we are in the thick of the business to lose perspective. I get it.

But, do you put more effort into attending a building and working like a bee than you do worshiping God and entering into the beauty of his holiness? Do you put more emphasis on what your pastor says than what the Bible says? What would happen if you found the pastor’s words to be false? Or if you felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit leading you away from your congregation? What would you do?

The Bible tells us to test the spirits to see if they are of Christ.

Test your own spirit. Are you as much or more offended by someone critiquing your church organization or your pastor than you would be of them criticizing God himself?

If you feel a little twinge by reading that, maybe your church is your idol.

Here’s the thing, like I have already stated, I can only speak to what I know, and what I know is a whole lot of people have compared me speaking out against the UPC to if I were spitting on Christ himself. And to be honest, if I weren’t already a believer, those comments would probably turn me away from Christ altogether.

I have said it before, and I will probably say it again: the UPC is NOT in fact God. And speaking out against the man made doctrines of a man made organization (which has been around for less time than my grandparents) while using scripture to back my statements is most certainly NOT blasphemous.

I challenge you, search your heart, test your spirit. Be honest with yourself. If you find that someone saying something negative about your religious organization ruffles your feathers to the point you are dooming their soul to hell, maybe, just maybe that organization is your idol and you have forgotten all about the main thing.

10 Things I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago

In doing what I do, I have had the opportunity to hear many people’s stories about their current church situation. Some are considering leaving, some are in the process of leaving, and others have already left but are learning to deal with the aftermath of that life changing decision.

Let me just say, I feel beyond blessed and honored that so many people have felt safe to reach out and trust me enough to disclose their personal situations. And I say a prayer for each and every one of them.

Myself personally, I feel like a hot mess 97.9% of the time, so I feel very ill equipped to give any sort of life advice. Leaving a church that has been your life and for some even their livelihood is a decision that cannot and should not be taken lightly.

So, I decided to put into words somethings that I wish I would have known at the beginning of my journey. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else.

1. Give yourself time! I cannot stress this enough. You are not going to sort through, let alone heal from years of indoctrination and spiritual abuse overnight. Be patient. Things will get better I promise!

2. You do not, under any circumstance, owe anyone an explanation of your decision. This is between you and God only.

3. You will not be able to convince anyone of anything if they are not ready to hear it. I know when I left, I wanted so badly just to stand in a crowded church with a megaphone shouting, “you don’t have to live this way!” But that would accomplish nothing. If your spouse is not making the journey with you, of course that adds a level of complication. Maybe, try to explain to the point they chose to listen, then do your best to trust God for the rest.

4. Ladies, the outward change is difficult I’m not going to lie. If you are like I was, I had no idea how to shop for clothes! It was so overwhelming looking at the different cuts and sizes of jeans! Give yourself grace. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, and know that your style will evolve over the next few seasons. You are no doubt going to have a bad haircut or two. Your makeup is probably not going to look like a runway model. Eyeliner is difficult! But I promise, if you just keep practicing, it gets better!

5. Community. Super important! If you don’t know anyone personally who has made the same journey, find some online support groups. It will be easy to seclude yourself during this time, but try not to. If you need pointed in the right direction, let me know I can hook you up!

6. Realize you are not alone! This kind of goes with the last one, but when we left our UPC church I felt like I had lost everyone. I felt so very alone. But know there are others who have walked this path, and while you may feel lonely now, with time you will make connections. It is amazing how many people have ties to toxic churches.

7. Research and learn to recognize the signs of toxic relationships and the proper terms to describe them. I healed so much by recognizing that what happened to me has a name.

8. Don’t be surprised if people from your past life reach out to you. It will probably shock you how many people are actually questioning.

9. Don’t feel like you have to jump feet first into a new church right away. It’s okay to take a break for a while. No where in the Bible does it say a prerequisite to heaven is attending a church building three times a week. If you do find such a verse, please let me know!

10. Lastly, and this is very important! Know that people of “the world” don’t care a bit about seeing your upper arms or legs. This is a myth that the UPC is really good at drilling into people’s heads. Especially the women! Like I already said, wear what you’re comfortable in, but for you, not anyone else. Forget the notion that as you walk down the street in a tank top and shorts on a ninety degree day every man you pass is drooling over your shoulder blades and “lusting”. Of course there are creepers in the world, I am not negating that fact, but there are far more normal people who are used to seeing that kind of dress and don’t think twice about it. I could go on forever about the hyper-sexualization in the UPC, but I won’t. Just know when you feel a weird twinge the first time you show any skin that has never seen the light of day before, most likely it is not conviction. It is simply a remnant of your past and it goes away with time with no detriment to you. You are NOT backsliding!

I hope this blog will come in handy to someone at some point. And if you ever find yourself needing additional support, as always feel free to reach out!

One more thing, we are coming up on the one year anniversary of “Free”! I can’t even believe the response that little book has received! Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for updates about that!

God bless you on your journey to freedom!