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”.

Proverbs 31 Woman

I have been a bit absent from my blog the last few weeks. As many of you know, I am in the very beginning stages of writing a book, and that has consumed much of my scarce spare time. But yay! Finally doing it! I am so excited!

While in the process of writing, I have been doing some deep reflection and reminiscing of my life and the key people in it. I realized I have neglected to show my gratitude sufficiently for many people, but one person in particular never ceases to amaze me, and deserves recognition and admiration beyond anything they have ever received or I could even begin to give them.

My mom.

Her strength and grace throughout all of the 36 years I have known her are second to none. I have seen this woman pour out every last dollar, bit of energy, and drop of her heart to God and her family. She has had difficult roads to travel and her faith never wavered. I have seen people fail her, but she still managed to show them such love, I don’t know how she did it.

I have witnessed my mother pull us out of poverty with nothing. Her work ethic is unbelievable, and when she puts her heart to accomplish something, everyone better stand out of her way.

I have watched as people tried to tear her down, whisper behind her back, or talk about her family, and every time she responds in the most Christ like way humanly possible. It is awe inspiring.

As a child I was proud of my mom. Happy to wear the clothes she made me by hand, and learning from her as I sat outside her bedroom door listening to her pray for me.

Even now, as an adult, I am so proud of the changes she is making to better herself and the amazing example of new beginnings she is achieving right before my eyes. She has this incredible ability to thrive where she is planted and grow despite the circumstances.

She instilled in me a love for Jesus and a desire to serve others with compassion. Anything good in me, I learned from her.

Words cannot begin to do justice for the admiration I have for the best mom in the world. I am thankful everyday for this wonderful blessing I get to call mom.

This Is What Healing Looks Like.

Heads bowed as we sit in a circle as a family. Tears streaming down everyone’s faces as we each take turns pouring our hurts out to our Heavenly Father.

I would be a fool to think my children have any less battle scars than I do. Even though they are young, and were so young when we left, they each carry their own baggage, and the weight sometimes seems unbearable. Somedays, I can see it all over their faces as they learn to navigate through the land mines of past relationships.

But, as we sit in a circle as a family and expose our hurts to each other, we are strengthened. I learned that while my son is currently struggling with a past friendship, he has recently officially given his life to Christ, and is working toward having a closer relationship with God. Just listening to him describe his own personal revelation of Jesus and God’s grace made my heart swell.

My daughter who is more beautiful than she knows, and recently experienced a blatant snub from someone in her past life has matured so much in her prayer life. As she spoke with God, I can feel the burden in her heart toward those we left behind. Even if some of those people no longer look at her the same, she is still concerned for their well being.

My wonderful husband, who is my rock, still reeling in pain at times from the passing of his father, praying over his children with grace and compassion, leading our family through change both good and bad.

This is healing. The tears, the laughter, the pain and the growth.

Healing looks like my daughter’s smile, and her tears. Healing looks like my son’s compassion and his anger. Healing is both my triggers and my blessings.

Healing is all of these things wrapped up in prayer and given to God.

This is what healing looks like.

I Am Not Enough

This week is officially labeled “Holy Week”, so obviously I have been doing some reflecting on the significance of what that means. Honestly, it is something I never quite appreciated in my past life, and I am repentive for that oversight because as someone who is a believer that is a huge miss!

Being raised in a legalistic religious system I always put emphasis on my actions in response to my salvation. I felt like the more I did, the harder I worked, the holier I made myself I could earn God’s love and grace. By having this attitude, things felt like more of a to do list than a response of gratefulness. I read my Bible in order to please God. I made sure my skirt was at my knees in order to make Jesus happy with me. I attended every church service and ensured all of my talents were being used as often as possible. I tithed at least ten percent of my income to be sure God wouldn’t curse my other ninety percent. I did all of these things and more in order to prove myself holy enough to deserve God’s grace and gift of salvation. And therein lies the problem.

Salvation is a gift.

Our righteousness is as filthy rags the Bible says. So, while all these things are well and good, by working so hard in an effort to make God notice us, we are forgetting one major piece of the equation. The cross.

How arrogant and prideful of me to even begin to think anything I could do could make him love me even more than he already did over 2000 years ago! Our Heavenly Father, sent his one and only Son to earth, specifically to suffer the most gruesome death for me. Jesus suffered and died before I was even thought of and my sins were washed away by his blood before I even committed them! Who am I to assume anything I can do with my human limitations even comes close to the sacrifice Jesus already has made for me! I don’t have to try and please God myself! Jesus already did that for me on the cross! And in doing so, made my salvation a free gift!

You wouldn’t charge your children for their birthday presents! You wouldn’t make them labor for them! Why? Because they are gifts you want to give to them simply because you love them so!

I know I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of love God has for me, so I certainly don’t want to offend him by my actions implying His gift of love wasn’t quite enough; His Son’s death wasn’t enough for me, so I think I need to do even more to add to His sacrifice! What more could I do?! How could I ever possibly contribute anything to such a great and selfless feat?

I can’t.

I want to live an overcoming life, so I want my actions to assist in drawing closer to God. But by understanding the implications the cross has on my life, I do things in response to His love and mercy, not in order to please him, but because I am thankful and want to be more like the One who loves the world so much.

Happy Holy Week!

Little Man

I write when something inspires me, good or bad. Writing helps me get my feelings in coherent order. I haven’t had anything too spectacular happen in the last few weeks, until just now. My children inspire me, and I didn’t realize just how much until today.

My daughter told me about something she did to help out a fellow student who was hurting, and it made my heart swell. I am thankful she is turning out to be a compassionate human to her peers! She is such an old soul for her sixteen short years, and she makes me proud in every way.

But the thing that touched my heart strings the most tonight was my son; my child, who has struggled with anxiety and depression more than what seems fair for someone who has only been alive for twelve years.

I knew there was something going on with him when he was only three years old. He would have temper tantrums that were uncontrollable and last for hours. He would bang his head on the floor, kick the walls, break toys, hit, kick and bite me and anyone else in close proximity. Then after wearing himself out he would cry himself to sleep. It was heart wrenching and exhausting.

Reluctantly, on advice from a preschool teacher, after having him prayed for several times, we sought help from a mental health professional. After five years of therapist, psychologist, and pediatrician visits, it was determined little man had level one autism with anxiety and ADHD. The doctor explained to us, that while his spectrum level was very low, almost undetectable, he would be more prone to severe depression and bipolar disorder as he got older.

Before we got his new medication leveled out, some wonderful people found him a dog, and that has been a very effective tool for bedtime. But sometimes, his feelings are still so overwhelming even snuggling with the dog isn’t enough. Those nights, like tonight, it breaks my heart when he comes out of his room saying he feels sad and doesn’t know why.

I knew he was feeling a bit down earlier this evening when he came into the kitchen and told me he felt like crying for no reason. But he gave me a hug and asked if I needed help with any housework. Then after bedtime prayers and being tucked in he came into the living room teary eyed, apologized for still being awake and said he is just still so sad.

Even though he is as big as I am now, I gathered him in my arms and we talked about how Jesus made him for a special reason, and one day he would know just what to do with his big, sensitive heart. We talked about his empathy for others and all the wonderful things he could do with his passion, then he fell asleep. As I tucked him back into bed the second time tonight, he said, “I love you mommy, please rest well.”

Even after him feeling overwhelmingly sad, he still wanted to be sure I slept okay. I know God has big things planned for that kid and I have to believe some day, all of this will be used for God’s glory.