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!

The Tattoo

I get asked a lot if there is a story behind my tattoo. It is something close to my heart, so I thought I would explain. It is a little piece of my journey and has a huge emotional connection for me!

First, I must admit, I have always secretly wanted a tattoo! However, growing up thinking a little mascara would send you straight to hell, I obviously never got up the nerve to get one until I was 34 years old! Now that I do have one, I can see where people say they are addicting! I am constantly trying to come up with another meaningful, cutsie saying or picture for my ankle. If anyone has any suggestions I’m all ears!

While studying out the teachings of my previous church, I started to realize how much like the Jewish-Christian churches of the New Testament they are. Meaning, Paul wrote his letters contained in the New Testament specifically to to certain congregations. (Corinthians to the church in Corinth, Ephesians to the church in Ephesus and so on) Some of these churches were made up primarily of people who had previously been important scholars and dignitaries of their traditional Jewish culture. They were Jews that were turned Christian after hearing about Jesus. Some of these new converts were trying to pass on their Jewish laws and traditions to the new Gentile Christians.

Paul spends much time in his letters addressing these people. As he had been one of them in his pre-Christ life, he could relate to them on a very specific level and he does so throughout much of the New Testament. The book of Galatians is a prime example.

The more I tried to understand the rules and traditions set before me by my church organization, the more I realized just how much Paul would have disapproved of my church’s teachings.

I have heard many persuasive arguments both for and against the law of the Old Testament, but the truth of the matter is, Christ died so we could be free from the law.

Does this mean we can sin without consequence? Of course not. But upholding man made traditions doesn’t mean you aren’t sinning and by not following the same traditions it doesn’t mean you are.

In the United Pentecostal Church, someone’s holiness is judged by their outward appearance. Their clothing choices and their hairstyles are recognized as “holiness standards” when in all reality, nothing about us humans is holy or righteous but Jesus and His Spirit that lives in us. The Bible says our own righteousness is like filthy rags. Dressing a certain way and following other man made rules will not make God like us any more or less. Looking back now I realize how futile that endeavor really is.

While all of these revelations were hitting me, a specific verse kept popping up over and over, Galatians 2:21. I think this verse says it so eloquently and without further need of explanation:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Or, if you mesh different Bible versions together (Jen 1:1) it can read even more plainly:

I do not reject the grace of God, for if righteousness were obtained through the law, then Christ died for no reason.

Let that sink in for a moment. If there were anything we could do, say or wear that could help make us righteous at all, then Christ died for no reason! Wow! How incredibly arrogant and misguided of me to think for a second there was anything I could do myself that would even come close to the effect Jesus’s sacrifice has on my salvation!

So, one day when I was driving home from work pondering on this revelation I decided to permanently remind myself of the burden that had been lifted off my shoulders. I had that scripture reference placed in a spot I could look at it often and remember how amazing God is and how much He loves me and that I no longer have to carry the burden of my own righteousness!

The leaf under the scripture is a replica of the first necklace my husband got to buy me! Sixteen years after we got married, he finally was able to buy me a piece of jewelry other than my wedding rings! It was a beautiful gold leaf necklace with the quote enclosed “turning over a new leaf”. It was perfect!

So now everytime I look at my wrist I remember how God revealed that scripture to me and helped us turn over a new leaf and begin life again! Or begin life in general! I am so free and happy now that I am not constantly carrying the unnecessary burden of righteousness it is life changing!

(Insert happy dance!)

Small Victories=Big Expectations

Guys! The holidays are over! It is now 2019, I just had to change my age in my bio, and I’m not going to lie, I feel old!

I am typing this, as I sit at a tire and lube shop waiting for my child’s tire to be replaced. Of course, after a crazy day at work and us still recouping holiday money, she runs over a piece of metal and demolished her brand new tire. Thankfully, she was near my office and pulled in without incident, but this is my life. Literally always something!

I mentioned in my bio before I even began writing this blog, that my life is crazy, and chaotic. This statement could not be more true in the last month or two.

My husband and I have been endeavoring to finish a room in our basement. This has been an adventure! Though I must say, I am so very proud of us, we haven’t fought at all! We usually do not work well together. Sometimes, I tend to be a little high strung. Maybe…

Today, I came to the realization, with how busy life has been recently, I haven’t had the time to get stuck in my own head and think any deep thoughts. Thank God! While I am physically exhausted, I must say, this is a welcomed brain break. I had been functioning so long with my emotional tank on empty, and honestly I didn’t think it was possible for my brain to relax. Maybe healing is finally on it’s way?

I tried to see a therapist a few weeks ago. It just seemed too awkward and I found it difficult to explain the exact issues I was experiencing. I mean really, if you haven’t experienced church hurt yourself and the complex anxiety that comes along with it, how can you give advice to someone as to how to deal with it? I haven’t decided just yet if I am going to continue to pursue that route. I am worried after life goes back to somewhat of a routine, the kids going back to school and finishing our renovation project, my mind will once again begin it’s torment. So I may, who knows.

She did say something, however, that stuck with me. She wanted me to come up with ten positive words to describe myself. Immediately that became a trigger for me and I started to feel emotional. There is absolutely no way I could come up with ten attributes about myself I actually like or am proud of. Something so silly, why on earth can’t I do that? It dawned on me how low my self-esteem clearly is. Which again, why?

Random thoughts on this issue: maybe because I’ve been engrained it is prideful to be confident in yourself. In the UPC, pride was referenced a lot to address women and their clothing choices or their restrictions on makeup and nail polish. So in other words, anything that makes you feel pretty is sin. Maybe it’s because in that religion you never feel as if you can measure up to the high expectations that you are expected to achieve, so you frequently feel like a failure. Maybe it is because I have always had to maintain an image of “Pentecostal perfection” on the outside even though I was hurting on the inside, which seems to cause a disconnect between your actual soul and outward appearance. Maybe I should go see that therapist again huh?

Other than this one minor emotional setback, I feel like I am finally headed toward a good place! (Is a happy dance too premature?) I am encouraged by my entire family’s progress toward spiritual freedom and can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us!

Bring it on 2019!

Love.

I have been in serious reflection mode the past few weeks. It is Christmas time after all, and a lot of emphasis of the people around me has been on the topic of “love”. Which I am completely okay with! If everyone truly loved their neighbor as themself how could hate survive?

Now, I have by no means mastered this concept. In fact, in all reality, I am still steamy over an argument I had with a neighbor about a parking space a few weeks ago! Instead of driving by her house and saying a blessing, other choice words tend to come to the top of my head. I am working on it.

I have discovered during my self reflection, the concept of love goes two ways. Of course, there is the phrase “it takes two to tango”, but think about that for a moment. Without someone being on the receiving end of your love, there would be no purpose of love to begin with. This is my hang up.

I have to think Jesus knew this would be a problem for some when he set the example of washing his disciples’ feet. How awkward must it have been for them to let their Messiah touch their nasty, dusty feet. But Jesus loved them and was demonstrating the very ideology of a servant king.

I think a lot of us have the serving and loving part ingrained in us. Which, as I said, is super important! However, how hard it is to be the one on the receiving end of someone’s kind gesture of love!

I have struggled deeply with letting go and allowing myself to open up and be vulnerable to people. I have been hurt so severely in my lifetime by friends and family alike, that trust is nearly emotionally impossible for me. How easy it is for me to be on the giving end of the love where if I expect nothing in return, there is zero chance of getting hurt. But oh man, flip the table and it sends me running! I have no problem giving until there is nothing left to be given to others. But to have the same dished out to me by someone else and it feels like my heart is exposed and I am just waiting for them to trample on it.

Recently, we have been undergoing a rather high priority home improvement project. My husband and I are not by any means handy people. Yet, this project has to get done. I was explaining to some friends what we were doing and they volunteered to assist us right away. Immediately, alarm bells went off in my head and I quickly dismissed the idea. But after I left, I gave it some thought. The idea of opening up and admitting the fact I needed help was hard enough. Anyone who knows me knows how OCD I am about everything, and I would just rather do things myself most of the time, but this project is a little out of my pay grade. But the thing that was my biggest hang up was opening up to accept friendship from these people, who let’s be honest, in the whole scheme of things, I have only known for a short time. How do I know they have my best interest at heart? How do I know that if I allow myself to get close to them, the second the friendship gets hard they won’t bail on me? How do I know that if we start to become the kind of friends who sends their husbands to rescue my home project they won’t hold it over my head, or skip town the second I can’t repay them for their kindness?

Truth is, I don’t. I don’t have any idea where the next chapter will go with any one! But I do know one thing, living with a guarded heart gets lonely sometimes, and I refuse to live my life void of friendships.

So, my friends are coming to the plate to bail me out, and I am going to try my hardest to be a gracious receiver of their gesture love. As silly as this sounds, it will be a challenge for me.

But I am thankful for love, both the kind that is given and the kind that receives the gift. And I am grateful for the opportunity to open my heart and take a chance on friendship.

Triggers Are A Thing.

Completely transparent, open and honest blog today. This probably will solidify any thoughts anyone may have about my current level of crazy.

Triggers are a thing. I had no idea.

I have heard it said, read about it at times how certain words or things can “trigger” someone’s anxiety and to be honest, I had always sort of dismissed it. Now, I get it, and it seems so silly that it happens to me.

I have been blessed beyond measure in my lifetime so far. I haven’t experienced any obvious trauma like so many other people. My problems seem so trivial compared to some. And I am thankful.

To be completely honest, the fact that I am seemingly so hung up on getting past the church hurt is frustrating to me. There are some days I feel like I am conquering, but then it seems, more often then not, I feel overwhelming waves of anger, anxiety or hurt all over again. I get upset with myself for allowing these feelings to creep in.

The level of betrayal is mind boggling. Not only did the church you invested your life in deceive you, many of the people who were supposed to be your “church family” leave you high and dry. You feel foolish and taken advantage of. But, I am two and a half years out, why do I still struggle with this?

Prime example: a few days ago my husband and I were watching a documentary about the Jonestown massacre. Horrendous act of pure evil. But did you know, Jim Jones got his start in a Pentecostal church? The documentary showed clips of an Apostolic church service like what I grew up in and I lost it. No, I am not comparing the Jonestown massacre to leaving the United Pentecostal Church, or saying that Jim Jones was Pentecostal in any way. He was clearly a sociopath. However, simply the images of that church service were triggering for me. I couldn’t sleep, I felt panicked all over, and I bawled like a baby. It was definitely a uncontrollable physical response I can’t explain.

Another example: someone having a completely normal conversation with me and they drop the word “truth”. That’s the worst. In the church, that word was used all the time. As in, we have the “truth” and all the other churches are just a waste of time and will send you straight to hell. Now, just hearing the word “truth” makes me weak in the knees and my stomach turn. It is an involuntary physical response. It is so crazy!

If someone had come to me and told me these things while I was still in the UPC, I would have thought they were feeling conviction and God was telling them they were wrong for leaving. That view seems so small to me now, but it still echoes in the back of my mind. When we left, someone said to me they hope I can’t sleep at night and would be completely miserable until I came back. Even though I KNOW better, I still think, did I mess up by leaving? It’s a torturous cycle that I cannot wait to break.

It just goes to prove, spiritual abuse is real and man, does it mess with your head. Even though logically, I have no real doubts about leaving, and I also firmly believe I am where God wants me, somehow these illogical teachings still sneak in without warning. It’s exhausting and I am over it.

I am excited Thanksgiving is this week! Spending days with friends and family will give my mind rest. I have so many blessings to be thankful for, the cross, my family, and the peace of God that passes all understanding just to name a few! Going to try hard to focus on the positive, because even though I have triggers, I am so much happier overall than I have ever been. And for that, I am thankful.

Remembering

I feel a little sentimental today. (Could be hormones, maybe a little).

While texting with a friend about setting our phone’s lockscreen with an encouraging message, (super important to encourage yourself) I began reminiscing about the images I have on my phone. I have two, an encouraging quote for the lock screen and this one for the background.

Most people glancing at this photo will think, “it’s just a happy family on a beach”. Which we were happy, and we were on a beach, but to me, it is so much more. Allow me to explain.

My husband and I view family vacations as something of utmost importance. We are incredibly busy all of the time just doing life, we feel it imperative to stop and take a break as a family, if only just to take a breather for a week or two. This particular photo was taken during our family vacation in June of 2016.

If you look closely, you may catch clues of the bigger picture of what was going on in our lives at that moment. You see, this photo captured a pivotal time in our family. Notice how long my hair was, but still trimmed across the bottom. Notice the attire we are wearing, not modest by UPC standards, but still modest enough if anyone in the church happened to see this picture it could be easily explained away. Notice my husband’s baby looking, beard-free face!

It was during this family vacation we decided to tell our children we were leaving everything and everyone they had ever known. During the fifteen hour drive on the way to Florida, this is the vacation where I shattered the religious views they had always been taught by explaining what God had revealed to their father and I in the last several months. It was pretty much as awful and amazing as it sounds.

To most people, switching churches is not a big deal. To us, we were crossing a line. My husband and I had been raised to believe, if you attend any other church then a oneness apostolic church, you are bound for hell and not walking in “truth”. And if you attend one of these churches after the “truth” had already been “revealed” to you, you are considered a reprobate. We had passed this ideology to our children. We all knew our relationships with both friends and family would drastically change after we were back home and our leaving was made public.

My husband and I cried, my children cried. There were moments of sadness, moments of anger and also moments of extreme excitement of the future. It is difficult to explain all of the emotions we were all experiencing at the same time.

I remember vividly sitting at the pool and on the beach watching my kids play and thinking to myself, church cannot be this easy. Living for God cannot be so easy that there are no “standards” to make sure we looked different on the outside in order to prove to others that we were Christians. Not just Christians, but Apostolic Pentecostal, you know, the highest order of Christians. (Insert eyeroll) I began to realize I had depended solely on my clothing to be witness to my beliefs, not my love for others. Eeek, that stung a little.

Over the next two weeks of vacation, the amount of relief I felt, the burden that was lifted off my shoulders is indescribable. While the move itself and the transition was hard, the freedom and the amount of love and grace I felt from God himself was undeniably present. This decision was not made haphazardly and without much prayer, and if I have ever been led of God at any time in my life, this was it.

This photo is the perfect representation of our transition out of the UPC. And what is sad, funny or just real life is that I didn’t ever post this on social media until a year later. Why? Because at that point in my journey I wasn’t strong enough to handle the silent and potentially not so silent judgement posting this picture would bring.

But you know what? There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. I am still relearning this lesson all the time and every time I look at this picture it is a reminder of how far we all have come.

No longer slaves to condemnation. No longer living our lives to prove to someone else how holy we are. No longer uncertain if we were to die today, God’s grace would surpass any transgressions we had committed since the last time we were able to repent. No longer terrified if I cut my hair God would allow terrible things to happen to my children. God’s grace is sufficient! We are loved by him no matter what we are wearing or how long our hair is! He meets us where we are, and we rise to the occasion because he first loved us!

I don’t know if I could ever change the background of my phone. My kids have changed a lot in the last couple years and my hair is so unhealthy in this picture it should be illegal, but it is our story. Our journey toward spiritual freedom and I want to remember every last second of it.