Theme Park Faux Pas (Don’t be That Guy)

I am writing about something completely different than usual today. I always like to write about what inspires me in the moment, and today, I was inspired. Not in an uplifting, spiritual way, more of in a carnal, annoyed kind of way. Stick with me for a minute here, and I think you will understand.

As anyone who knows our family at all, or has followed my blog or read my book is aware, our family likes to take yearly vacations. More specifically, yearly vacations to theme parks. We mainly travel to Disney Resorts and Parks, but we have visited several others as well, and there are somethings that a portion of the general public just don’t seem to understand.

So, as we were walking around such a theme park today, getting the backs of our feet chewed up by a crazy guy pushing a giant double stroller, my daughter and I thought someone needed to gather a list of common theme park etiquette rules. Clearly, some people have missed the common courtesy crash course somewhere along their life path.

This blog is meant to be comical, but at the same time, seriously please tell your friends! You never know who may be doing these atrocious theme park monstrosities it may be someone you love! Help save the magic of theme parks and people’s sanity everywhere!

Let’s start with something simple; turnstiles. If you do not understand how a turnstile works, please for the love of Mickey Mouse just stay home. This adventure is not for you. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people struggle with walking through a turnstile. It really isn’t that difficult people, I promise!

Number two. If you are being directed by a cast member to walk into a room, please fill in all the gaps all by yourself. Don’t be the idiot that stops right on the other side of the door and makes the cast member say, “Keep moving forward people!” Not cool.

Number three. For goodness sake, never, ever, for any reason stop dead in your tracks in the middle of a crowded walkway! There are usually sidewalks for a reason, you can and should stand on them. Causing a 20 person pileup on your way to your favorite attraction because your kid wanted something in the diaper bag in the bottom of the stroller, ruins everyone’s magic. Just don’t, your spawn can wait until you safely exit the traffic lane.

Number four. Stay off your phone while walking. This should not need to be said, at least you would think.

Number five. Let’s get personal with this one. Personal hygiene. Deodorant is your friend. Don’t be the smelly person in the line. Nobody wants to smell your stinky pits, on a hot day, not even your mama.

Number six. Watch your filthy mouth. There are children present and some of us don’t want to have to explain gross or inappropriate things to our kids at Mickey’s or Harry Potter’s house. If my kids learn anything inappropriate, it should be from me.

Number seven. Personal space, it’s a thing. If you are using my child’s shoulder to rest your arm while you are filming a parade, I will purposely ruin your video. Don’t invade our space because you’re too stupid to get to the parade route on time.

Number eight. If your nasty hoodlums spill a milkshake or anything equally gross in a public space, clean it up. Don’t be the reason a cast member has to stop what they are doing just to clean up the mess your kids left. Be a decent human and do your best to wipe it up, and pick up your trash. It’s easy, just don’t be a pig.

And lastly, if the show calls for no flash photography, there’s a reason. Don’t be the selfish person who causes a child to ask their parent why someone wearing all black is standing behind the Flounder puppet. I mean really, that picture from the back row of the dark theater on your iPhone 4, is not going to be frame worthy, so just don’t do it. Just enjoy the moment and live in the present.

I witnessed every single one of these faux pas just today! I realize I am slightly bougie when it comes to theme parks, especially my Disney favs, but come on guys, don’t be that person! I wanted to share the etiquette rules just to be sure no one I know ruins someone’s magic!

Anyone have anything else to add to the list? I’m all ears! (total pun intended)

The Journey

When we first began attending our current church and were ready to come out of our shells and mingle a bit, we were blessed enough to meet a sweet couple who had already been where we were and had not only survived the hurt, they had thrived. This beautiful lady quickly started introducing me to others in the congregation who had also come through the pain of leaving the UPC. For each person she introduced to me she said, “they had the same journey we did.”

At the time, I thought it was a little comical she used the word “journey” to describe leaving a church. It honestly seemed a little dramatic. My mind immediately goes to the Lord of the Rings movies and all of the things they had to experience on their journeys! How can my church experience compare to that on any level? I mean, they had to defeat goblins for goodness sake!

Now I understand. It truly is a journey trying to deconstruct the falsehoods you were taught and get past the feeling of betrayal among other things. It is like climbing a mountain, just to see there are twelve more along your path.

Three years, four months, and sixteen days have gone by since the day I have labeled in my phone as “Emancipation Day”. One year on WordPress, twenty-seven blogs, and one book have been written. One year and one month taking anti-anxiety medication, nine months of therapy, and countless word vomit phone sessions with incredibly patient friends have transpired.

Today, I can finally say, I am over it.

Will my past ever leave me completely? Of course not. The UPC has been twisted into my very roots for life. I can’t say I won’t ever have another trigger, or that it won’t sting a little if and when I find out people have spoken negatively about me. But now, I am equipped to handle it.

I have armed myself with knowledge, surrounded myself with wonderful people, and learned to cast all of my cares on God.

As I am preparing for our upcoming beach vacation, I am reminiscing about my preparations for a similar trip last year. It was such an internal struggle for me just to pack the appropriate clothing for such a trip. This year has been different. I feel confident in my choices and my self esteem is better than it has ever been.

Since we left the United Pentecostal Church, I have had the opportunity to come alongside others as they begin their journey. It is such an inspiration to watch women as they blossom from the feelings of inadequacy to gaining more confidence with every subtle change. The before and after pictures speak for themselves. It is so much more than clothing and “holiness standards”. It is about the journey to find youself and your place in God’s kingdom.

We are children of the King. We are not to live our lives with our heads bowed in oppression. We were designed to live freely, being sure of our salvation.

Am I finished with my journey? I certainly hope not! But looking back over the last few years, I can feel a change in my very soul. I have grown leaps and bounds over the person I used to be. I have learned to create healthy boundaries and speak up for myself. I am deep down happy and content.

I feel like God has made it my life’s mission to help others find who they are in His eyes. I pray this blog site and my book will be a small part of encouraging those who are thinking of starting their journey out or who are currently in the midst of discovering their true status as God’s chosen.

Life really is a journey, one that cannot be experienced alone. Thank you for experiencing the journey with me.

If you haven’t read Free, check it out on Amazon!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_Or1LDbA14FEV1

Not Alone

Sitting on a rock over looking a gorgeous lake at a women’s retreat I begrudgingly accepted an invite to, I am recapping this morning’s events thus far.

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to getting away from the usual hustle and bustle this weekend, but it was more the usual social anxiety putting a damper on my promised relaxing weekend away.

As usual, the awkwardness of having to open up to people I barely know is uncomfortable to say the least.

Not to mention, I am used to the ladies retreats of my past where you are constantly with a group of people and expected to show up, dress up, sit through several long services and shop till you drop for two and half days straight. There was very little quality time with you and God, and even less time to connect to the people around you with no pretenses in place.

I suppose that was a little of what I was expecting.

I feel like I came expecting the worst.

And let’s be honest, waking up to a room of chatty Cathys this morning at 6 am was not exactly my cup of tea, but something did occur to me today.

While the panic attacks, triggers, and loneliness I have experienced in the last 3 and a half years have come as a surprise to me, I realized today, I am not alone in the struggle. No pretenses here, just a group of real women, who like myself, face monsters from their past and struggle with the feeling of not being good enough.

There is something to be said about the realization you are not alone in your crazy. There is something reassuring and almost peaceful to acknowledge the fact we all have our own portion of insecurities and issues. There is a calm that occurs from the depths of your soul when you look around the room and are honest with yourself and those around you in saying you don’t feel like enough.

And we aren’t enough, not by ourselves. But with the redeeming power of the cross on our side, we are a force to be reckoned with.

I wish I could be an open, outgoing person who loves to meet new people and takes on a weekend away with 150 women who are practically strangers head on with no insecurities. I am not that person. Maybe some day, but right now, that is not me.

But for right now, I am content. Content to sit by myself for a while inhaling the magnificence of my surroundings. Just me and God. Because with Him, I am enough.

God’s Cloak of Righteousness

As I enjoy the holiday off of work with my family, sitting in my cushy recliner, wearing the most comfortable clothing in my closet I am in awe of God and his leading hand in my life.

In case you didn’t know already, I recently wrote a book! (That was a little bit of sarcasm because if you are reading this, you probably already knew that info!) I have been so encouraged by the countless messages from complete strangers about how the book has blessed them in some way. I knew there would be some backlash by those who don’t understand my point of view, and there has been, but that is okay! The number of positives in the last 17 days has definitely far outweighed the negatives!

In the 17 days since Free has been released, it has consistantly remained in the top 100 in it’s Amazon category, currently has numerous positive reviews, and sold well over 100 copies in just two weeks! I am in awe, and cannot wait to see where God is going to take this little book!

Obviously, in the whirlwind of releasing the book, my brain has been continuously flooded with emotions and thoughts. One, in particular, has stuck with me the last few days. It’s a story many of you know, I have known about it for years, but until this last week, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Adam and Eve.

When God gave them the directive to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of course, as humans, they did it anyway. There is much debate about whose fault it was, but it really doesn’t matter, the fact is, they disobeyed, causing God to have to implement a plan to redeem mankind from then on out.

After their sin, their eyes were opened to the fact they were naked and vulnerable. They made themselves loincloths of fig leaves in order to try and cover their nakedness. The Bible says, when God came looking for them however, even with their handmade loincloths, they still felt naked before God. Because there was sin involved, consequences had to take place, but as any loving father would do for his children, after handing out their punishment, God made them suitable cloaks of skins and wrapped them around his children for them to feel covered and loved.

The realization hit me, yet another example of God in his infinite grace and mercy, covering us with his love.

Nothing Adam and Eve could have done, worn, or said would have made them feel covered, only God can make us feel this way. Our righteousness is as filthy rags the Bible says, which sounds depressing, but is actually so wonderful when you let go of trying to do things in order to make God happy or love you even more and depend on Jesus completely for your righteousness!

We don’t have to impress God, Jesus did that for us on the cross! That is all we need! When we acknowledge the selfless act of sacrifice Jesus made for us for our covering we are complete in him! We are no longer naked and vulnerable, but clothed in His righteousness!

Others can have their fig leaves, I will take God’s cloaks of skin anyday!

In case you haven’t already, check out my book on Amazon!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_vOvBDbT80WN5N

The Purpose of “Free”

Transparent blog post.

I wanted to write a blog about my new book, “Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking out of the United Pentecostal Church”, but I am a terrible self promoter and wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. What do I say after laying all of my crazy out there for everyone to see? What more could be said then what I already divulged in the book?

Then, I read one of the reviews posted on Amazon and it hit me. Yes, I am aware Rachel Hollis recommends to NEVER read your reviews! But, hey, curiosity gets the best of me some times!

I thought this reviewer made a good point. They said:

I loved how Jennifer was honest in her portrayal of her journey. It took guts to speak her truth, but through it she is relatable to those who have walked a similar journey. I suspect that most of her audience will be people who have left or are considering leaving similar churches, but I actually think it would be especially beneficial for those committed to those churches. I would hope it would help them to see what it feels like from our perspective instead of the “betrayal” they feel from us when we leave.

It is true, this book will mostly resonate with people who leave a religious organization, but it would be amazing if those who are in said organization would be willing to read it with an open mind.

Not for the reason of trying to persuade you to leave, especially if you are happy there, but for the sheer reason as for you to understand the other side. Think of it as research.

When I was fully immersed in the world of the United Pentecostal Church, I would be very defensive and feel personally betrayed by those who had left. So, I understand completely where these feelings come from. But, now, being on the receiving end of the behaviors and comments from those who are still “in church” my heartbeat is to educate on how this common reaction is scarring to those who are trying to build a new life for themselves.

I fully realize your position as “the church” to say those whom have left for any reason are bound for hell. I also realize it is taught profusely by your church to tell those people how you feel.

I describe this situation in my book like this:

“Imagine if you were to watch your best friend cliff dive off the side of the Grand Canyon without any ropes. That would be the feeling our friends would have toward us.”

Truth is, we already know. Those who have left, chances are, have already been indoctrinated with the church’s beliefs and have weighed out both the pros and cons of leaving. We already know you disapprove. Most people know before leaving how they will be viewed by their peers and made the move despite knowing what was going to happen to them.

Here is the bottom line, we don’t need your judgement. We don’t need your criticism, your passive aggressive Facebook posts, your straight up rude comments. We need your love and support and recognition that we are still your friend.

We already know your religious beliefs and have come to the conclusion those are not ours. And I recognize that is scary for those who remain, to think someone you loved at one point is going to hell for eternity, but do you not respect us enough to realize we have already weighed the balances and considered our options with much thought and prayer?

What about the condemning comments and terms thrown around such as “backslider” or “lost” make you feel like those are going to encourage any one to come back to your church? All words like that do is make the divide even greater.

Of course, the opposing side to my book has already made arguments saying I am bashing the church, or whatever they want to think I am doing, but the hardcore truth of the matter is, this is my story, and the story of so many others. When does it end?

As I have already said, it is never my intention to bash a church, and I don’t feel like that is ever portrayed in the book. (If one were to actually read it).

My purpose is to educate and encourage both sides. That’s it.

Love is a commonly misunderstood concept.

Many times people feel that if someone doesn’t agree with everything they do, especially when it comes to things such as politics or religion it is their duty as someone who loves you to set you straight. They feel, if they are still kind and supportive of you as a person, that will make it appear to you they agree with your stance on whatever subject they disagree with.

That is not the case at all. Like I already said, those on the other side already know how you feel. They don’t need you to constantly remind them of your differences. We already know you don’t support our decision. We aren’t asking for you to agree with it or even change your beliefs. We simply want respect and love.

I hope and pray those on both “sides” will read this book and come to the realization there are no sides! Everyone in the human race desires love and respect, and we should be able to deliver these attributes despite our differences.

I hope this clears up any confusion as to what this book’s purpose is. I would love to hear your feedback.

Happy reading friends!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_0sxzDbB998CR7

IT’S HERE!

I am so thrilled to announce my book is now available on Amazon!

This book has been my heartbeat for three years now and I can’t believe it is finally here!

My passion is sharing my story in order to help others realize how much God loves them! I am excited to say, within 24 hours of announcing the book, Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking out of the United Pentecostal Church it has already made it to number one new release in it’s category!

I feel like God is going to guide many people to their first steps of spiritual freedom by this book encouraging them to do their own research.

A more detailed blog on this subject will probably follow later, but I did want to let everyone know it is now available through Amazon!

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Free: From Legalism to Grace Breaking Out of the United Pentecostal Church https://www.amazon.com/dp/1087259134/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_.lPyDbD8HHG2A

Everyone Has a Story

It’s getting late, I should be drifting off to sleep about now. Jereme sure didn’t have any problems falling asleep, as his arm keeps drifting closer and closer to my head. But here I am, wide awake listening to him snore. I am lying here thinking about all the other ex-UPCers in my life.

Everyone has a story. All of them.

Through many different outlets I have been blessed to meet several other people who have left the UPC, all in various stages of their personal journeys. And something I have noticed is, they all have baggage. They all have, in some way, been effected by the fear tactics, gaslighting, or just plain doctrine of the organization. Effected in such ways it has stuck with them and has created a scar of some sort. It never seems to go away.

Some have remained Christians, some have abandoned God altogether. But for each life, there is a story about how they came to their current beliefs. All similar in beginnings, yet different in ways that have shaped us to our inner core.

It’s almost like an exclusive club. Unless you’ve been in it, you just don’t get it. But for those of us who have lived it, we automatically have an invisible heart connection and our conversations reflect that fact every single time.

It is awe inspiring for me to sit and listen to those who have similar experiences as mine. I have learned from them. No matter where they have ended up after breaking out, it is refreshing to hear their story.

I was at an event this week where there happened to be many of us ex-ers gathered in the same place. I looked around and felt encouraged. Do we have all the answers? Absolutely not. And I don’t think anyone pretends to, but we are doing our best and are clearly happy.

Connections like these have helped me on my journey so much. No one leaves the UPC unscathed. But those of us who left, had the courage and the strength to leave, and that is huge. I looked around and couldn’t help but smile. Even if they are struggling with battle wounds, these beautiful people are picking up the pieces and starting a life of freedom.

I have to think this scene makes God happy as well. He didn’t create us to live a life of misery. He doesn’t want us to be chained to a legalistic religion! If that were the case, He never would’ve sent Jesus to die. Christ died so we could be free from the law, why would anyone want to throw that amazing gift aside?

I grieve daily for those who I left behind, still living in bondage. My heart bleeds for them. It is a burden I carry. I don’t think that part will ever go away. But I find solace in the stories of others who have traveled the same road. Perhaps together we can make a difference.

Free.

As I was driving down the highway today pondering over my life, (something I tend to do in a semi-quiet car) I began thinking about the word “free” and how the meaning has changed for me over the course of the last few years.

I used to sing a song at church with the following lyrics:

“No more shackles, no more chains, no more bondage, I am free!”

In my mind, I was the “free” one. Living a life being a part of God’s “chosen few”.

In my soul, I foolishly thought being “free” meant loathing myself. Crying silently in the shower because I was unhappy with the person I saw in the mirror. Not that looks are everything, but when you feel ugly on the outside every second of every day, you are miserable and tend to have a terrible body image.

I played it off like I was a martyr. My suffering was for the greater cause, my appearance made God happy, and for that reason I forced myself to appear whole on the outside. At least, I thought that is how I appeared to others.

One day a relative looked me point blank on the eye and asked if I was happy. To be completely honest, this person was not part of God’s special “chosen” so I was completely offended. How in the world could they ask me such a question? Clearly, I was living an “overcoming life” when they were left out in the world!

But that comment stuck with me.

I slowly began to be honest with myself and realize I was not happy, or free. In fact, I was completely miserable. Living under the bondage of religious legalism.

Once I began to really dive into God’s word, I found He really couldn’t care less about our outward appearance, He really does only look at the heart, and my saint level did not go up or down at all based on what my clothes looked like.

In fact, the Bible says our own righteousness is as filthy rags, and Jesus himself was not happy with the spiritual leaders of his day because they were too worried about how long the fringes of their robes were.

Now, every day for the last three years of my life I wake up feeling free! Actually free! I can breathe and be secure in the fact nothing I wear on the outside will make the God who sent his own Son to earth to die for me love me any less. I can be the person he made me to be and let that uniqueness shine through in my appearance. When you have a positive body image, your whole outlook changes.

The thought I am His child and he loves me unconditionally takes away my bondage and I am truly free in Jesus!

Now I truly can sing:

“No more shackles, no more chains, no more bondage, I am free”!

Book Status!

Short blog tonight guys because I have been busy working on my other project all day!

My book manuscript is in the final stages of editing y’all! I have been researching all day about publishing options and think I have a plan lined up!

Book cover ideas are flowing and I am so excited to see the final piece! It will still be a little while before we publish, but things are definitely moving in the right direction and I could not be more encouraged!

I have received so many positive vibes and support, I have no doubt God’s hand will be in this project in the same way his hand was there guiding us when we transitioned out of the UPC!

I simply cannot wait to share my journey with you all! Thank you for your prayers and support as we enter into the next phase of this endeavor!

You all rock!

MY Past and MY Future Belong To ME.

As I was out to dinner with friends this week something occured to me. This thought has crossed my mind before, however this particular evening, it really seemed to be obvious to not only me, but probably also to the incredibly patient friends who are nice enough to hang out with me.

As we were discussing our crazy lives with kids, husbands, in-laws and work, my stories seemed to all be centered around my past church experiences.

I felt bad.

Why is it I always revert back to this? I am positive people around me get sick of hearing about the ways the UPC has affected my life. I am tired of hearing about it myself. Yet, for some reason, it’s all I’ve got. I realize the church was a huge part of my life for many, many years, so it makes logical sense my life stories would revolve around my experiences and people within the church. But I so badly want it to not be that way. I childishly want my life story to be “normal”. I’m sure many people would love to be able to change their past, but I honestly didn’t realize how different mine is from most until a well meaning friend made the statement, “Wow, we were raised nothing alike!” And it’s true.

While she has amazing stories about dating, college, dances, sports etc. I have nothing of the sort. Being out of the church the length of time I have been now, I realize my upbringing without a TV, school dances, and excessive church attendance seems almost archaic to most “normal” people. I would absolutely love to get to the place of personal acceptance of my past and have it legitimately not bother me. I would love for the betrayal of an organization I clung to for my very salvation not affect me in ways I myself cannot even comprehend.

Personal confession time, I unintentionally missed a dose or two of my anxiety medication this week, and I can tell. I have been thinking of trying to go off of it, hoping my therapy sessions have kick started the seemingly never ending healing process, but my waking up from a dead sleep having a panic attack because I was dreaming about people who were apart of my past life, just proves my body is still trying to cope. I shed tears at work today, for reasons that normally would roll right off my shoulders while the medication in is my system. I am clearly still having uncontrollable physical responses from my experiences, and I am sick of it.

I am sick of every aspect of my life, at work, out with friends, and sleep itself being linked to spiritual abuse. I look around at others in my life who have left the UPC just as I have and they seem to be leaps and bounds ahead of my personal journey. I get discouraged thinking there is something wrong with me. Why is it they have overcome the hurt and I am still struggling? I feel weak and frail.

When does it end? Does it ever end? Can you ever completely get over the wounds and the triggers from trauma? My experiences seem so trivial to many other’s and the fact the very core of my body is affected is disheartening. I feel so happy most days, that’s the confusing part. I am free, I don’t feel the oppression any longer like I did for my entire adult life. But for some reason I just can’t quite stop the UPC from creeping into my life stories, and I hate it. That organization robbed me from my childhood, controlled my appearance, my relationships, my parenting choices and so, so much more for over twenty-five years, I will die trying to keep it from stealing my very being. I refuse to live my life in the grips of it’s seemingly unending consequences.

I just started EMDR therapy. Something that is supposed to be helpful in PTSD situations, I am hopeful by it’s track record that it will be beneficial for me. We shall see.

The God who is bigger than man made religion loves me, and I am his child. I will spend the rest of my life trying to live up to this reality. Because in the end, God’s approval and love is all that matters, and that fact is what is the “truth”.