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.

The “Truth” Can Hurt

So, the last blog caught some attention. And I’m not going to lie, I am glad.

I know there were some who were severely offended by what I had to say, and that’s okay. I probably would have been too if I had read it while I was still a United Pentecostal.

But let’s be real and honest for a minute. There is no denying someone’s experiences. And while this writing may seem rather cold, blunt, and or offensive it is my truth. As it is the same for so, so many other people.

I have diagnosed PTSD from a church experience. I have panic attacks, anxiety, and restlessness. My children carry scars and reminders, which makes me feel guilty for bringing them up in that environment for as long as I did. My daughter missed out on gymnastics, dance, cheer, sports, basically anything involving physical activity, team building and fun for a child. From this, I feel like it has changed her permanently. I carry this burden as a parent. There are many other specifics I could bring up, but I don’t have the heart to go there right now. Maybe one day…

These are my truths, the harsh reality of many years of living in bondage.

You can say the UPC has the right to believe whatever they want. And that is accurate. Of course they do! You can brush me off as a bitter, rebellious, troublemaker. And that’s okay too. You have the right to think that way. And to be completely transparent, I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t even be angry at you a little bit. What I am hurt and upset about is the bigger picture. The organization in general. It’s nothing personal. Of course, as already stated, you can put your trust in whatever you want! Support and fund whatever you choose, which is why our country is so great! But I challenge you, if you belong to any organization, research the hey out of it before investing your life and your family’s lives!

Did you know the United Pentecostal Church has amended books of early founders to support their current doctrine and republished them?

Were you aware the UPC was founded upon two significantly different viewpoints of salvation, and ministers were allowed to preach salvation upon belief until as late as the 1990’s?

Has it ever been taught to you that “standards” weren’t even a thing in the early movement?

Did you know the Oneness Apostolic religion that morphed into the UPC was founded with racism being a chief component?

These are some of the reasons why the betrayal and hurt is real. These reasons and more are why there are many people in therapy and support groups to help themselves heal after leaving this church.

So, I suppose I am just asking, before you automatically go on the defense, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Educate yourself and reevaluate.

Jesus has been very real to me the last few years, and since leaving I have felt his loving kindness in my life more than I ever have. I am so thankful for the opportunity to start over, I just wish I had done it sooner. But, I have to think God knows, and his timing is perfect.

Personal growth is imperative and for years I was stagnant, now it feels like I am marching forward in strides. I know that old days of crying in the shower are behind me, and I can’t wait to see where God is taking me in the future.

I am sorry if my blogs offend you. But believe me when I say, it’s nothing personal.

An Open Letter To My Former Religion

Dear United Pentecostal Church members and leaders,

I am one of your poster children for a model UPC home. My parents were at your churches every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, Friday youth service, and Monday prayer meeting. I attended every camp, convention, and conference for a total of 25 years of my life. I Bible quizzed, memorized thousands of Bible verses, was baptized in Jesus name, sang on the praise team, cleaned the church, taught Sunday School, was married in one of your churches to my husband who grew up in a similar UPC home. I had two babies in your church, my children were baptized by your ministers, went to every camp, convention, and Bible quiz tournament possible. Your church organization consumed my entire upbringing and life until I was 33 years old. All of my friends and family were there for lifetimes and longer. It was literally all I knew.

And then a light went off in my head. God gave me a revelation of grace and I left your organization.

While in the process of leaving, I tried to do everything right. I was terrified to lose every relationship I ever had. And terrified for good reason. I knew I was always taught, if not directly, indirectly my UPC friends and family would rather see me sitting on a bar stool than attend another denominational church. I went out of my way to reach out and try to make peace with everyone I knew I was going to hurt by leaving, but they no longer looked at me as a friend, but a soul to be saved. Years of history and friendships of people who were supposed to be closer to me than family were lost as I tried in desperation and loneliness to create a new life in a new church alone.

I say all of this to get to the point: “backsliders” don’t come back to your churches for good reasons. And I don’t mean coming back to attend as a member, (although this applies in that situation as well) but coming back to your building in general for fundraisers, weddings, showers, birthday parties, things of this nature.

And I’m going to clue you in as to why.

Number one: we no longer agree with your hyper aggressive oppression. Which is ultimately why most people leave to begin with.

And,

Number two: and this is a big one, your attitude of arrogance and hatefulness toward those who have left your organization and moved on to another church denomination.

You can say it isn’t there, but it is alive and well. Trickling down from leadership all the way to the children. Just ask my kids, they will tell you how their “friends” responded to our leaving.

On top of ministry calling and telling my close friend I would be a bad influence on her if she continued to be my friend (happened multiple times) I have been told things personally such as:

I made someone nauseous.

I am going to hell and taking my kids with me.

They hope I never sleep again.

I am being rebellious and need to come home.

These are just the few that come to the top of my head. But, (after much prayer) I can’t blame these people for saying such things. It is what they have been taught by their leaders to say.

Recently, it was brought to my attention a post made on Facebook by an Apostolic Pentecostal minister. In this post, while describing us people who have left “the truth” he calls us “rotten”, “disgusting”, and “monsters”. He then misrepresents several Bible verses and ends by saying we will pay a “terrible price”.

Let me ask you this: In my shoes, would you feel comfortable visiting a church where this is the common attitude of the leaders? A place where they think you are literally a monster?

IF in fact you have the “truth”, and people attending your churches are the only ones going to heaven, why on earth would it seem to be a good idea to treat others in this manner?

When my extended family left after dedicating their lives for years to the benefit of your organization, they were treated to the same behaviors my husband and I were. To this day no one has even contacted some of them to let them know they are missed. People whom they saw week after week, year after year, decade after decade just dropped them like a hot potato. It hurts and it takes years to get over the scars it creates.

All of the love bombing in the world wouldn’t make me come near one of your church services again. And the only reason I can walk through a United Pentecostal Church door for non-services is by the grace of God Himself. The unwavering, faithful love of Jesus Christ and the healing power of the Holy Spirit has been washing my wounds from your so-called churches and allowing me to heal in His time.

When a church creates these types of scars to it’s most faithful members, is it really truth bearing or is it truth stunting? Jesus himself is the the way, the truth and the life, and to imply that a man made religious organization is the “truth” is heresy at its finest.

I sincerely hope that your organization tunes an ear and listens to the thousands of people who have left your churches. People who you consider “monsters” that now according to your own teachings face an eternity in hell, and see why they are never coming back. Instead of blaming those who have left, maybe the problem lies from within.

Sincerely,

A “rotten, disgusting, truth-hating monster”

Paradigm Shift

It occurred to me the other day something has shifted in my subconscious about life and being a better person. I no longer try to be better in order to measure up to a preset standard. I am trying to pursue being a better person because I desire to be one. The difference is subtle, but definitely there. Let me explain.

I know I have touched on this before, but coming out of a legalistic church environment, much focus was placed on the commandments and laws the church taught were Biblical. You follow these rules to the letter in order to make sure God is pleased with you and you measure up in order to be holy. When the ways of legalism are challenged to leadership in this environment, one of the arguments supporting their ideology is this: “What about the ten commandments? Do you just throw those out because they are Old Testament law? Of course not, so if they apply to you, everything else applies as well.” This is exhausting. But you live by this concept day after day. Trudging along trying to prove you are worthy enough for God to love you. Always checking things off a checklist and measuring yourself against others around you who are considered perfection and falling short every single time. The fear of hell and disappointing others holds you captive and demands you to continue keeping on in order to be a better person.

This is how I used to think self improvement was done. Thank God I was wrong!

The paradigm has shifted in my mind. And it wasn’t immediate, it has taken a while, but it is definitely there.

I read a verse this morning that brought this very topic to mind. Romans 13:9-10. It reads like this:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

There it is. The subtle but massive heart change. When our hearts are full of genuine love for others, everything else lines up! Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. When we strive to sincerely love God and love all the humans he created, that in itself makes us better! How did I miss this for so long??

Instead of praying and striving to keep all the laws, I have been praying that God gives me a love for him and his creation. And the difference is life changing!

Of course loving your neighbor is challenging! Clearly no one sees exactly eye to eye on every topic, so sometimes putting aside our differences and biases can be hard. But the Bible doesn’t give us any room for excuses or prejudice. Love. That’s all it says.

Seeking after a genuine love for others has opened my eyes to areas in my life I need to work on. And instead of it being a chore that needs to be done in order to be perfect, it is something that I am finding is a challenge, but a doable one that brings me joy! I find I am happier, lighter and have a fresh view of the people around me. This perspective challenges me to change and to be the change around me. Of course I fall short of this every day, but instead of it being a burden I have to bear, it feels more like a life goal that I enjoy pursing.

We don’t have to worry about living the law to the letter when we have love in our hearts! When we love, everything else automatically falls into place. Ahhhhhh! What an amazing revelation!