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.
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.
First things first. Vacation was ah-mazing! Lots of Florida sunshine equals a great tan and plenty of pool time! It was relaxing and refreshing to spend time together without the kids. I feel blessed and renewed! And to top it off, my kids survived five days without me! That in itself gives me hope for the future!
Now to get down to the heart of the matter, what’s on my mind this week. Since we left the UPC over two years ago, many people, both in and out of the church, have come to me and opened up about their experiences. Most have a similar story as myself.
Before my fitting room cry sessions, panicked hair appointments and some incredibly overwhelming Sephora visits, (okay, I still get freaked out in Sephora) I was overcome by oppression. Many women who are both in the organization and those who have left have shared with me they have experienced this as well. With so many people having shared already, I find it hard to believe there aren’t more suffering quietly. Feeling like their misery is necessary for God to be pleased with them. It is beyond frustrating for me to think about.
I have had some negative feedback from my first blogs about “bashing” the UPC. Let me be transparent about my purpose and give a little backstory as to clear up any misunderstandings on the subject.
My intent is not to “bash” the “church”, only to make sense of my own feelings. And no, sharing one’s own experiences that just so happen to be about an organization is NOT “bashing God himself” contrary to what seemed to be indirectly stated about not only myself, but anyone who questions the UPC on a public forum. The UPC is indeed NOT God. Whew, there, I said it!
That being said, my beef is NOT with any one person who has been in my life directly. Yes, I have been hurt by several people I knew personally. Gossip always comes around to the person it was intended to be hidden from. However, I am not angry or bitter toward anyone in my past life. I am angry toward the organization of the United Pentecostal Church.
I write because I am angry, hurt, frustrated and probably a little bitter about what this “church” stands for. And yes, I am working on these feelings. The UPC as we know it today is based off of decades of lies and manipulation of men in power. They rule their members with fear. Fear of hell, fear of making their pastor disappointed and fear that they are and never will be good enough to earn God’s grace. These men have managed to squeezed everyone who challenged their power and authority out of the organization. Questions are not allowed or tolerated. The document that all ministers of the organization are required to sign states they cannot speak out or write against any standard of holiness the organization upholds. And why? What is the greater purpose?
The summer before my family left, I attended a UPC Youth Congress. Thousands and thousands of young people were all jammed packed into a professional basketball arena. It was quite the experience. The thing that stands out to me the most, is not any blessing I received from that service, but the thing I remember is the way it was brought about that these youth are the elite. The best of the best. How they were better than their classmates and peers because they had this Apostolic “heritage”.
Now, that message seems harmless, the children of God are in fact a royal priesthood the Bible says. But, the way it was portrayed and the way I had seen it portrayed time and again came across with arrogance and pride. The tragic thing was, we were no better than the Baptists down the street, the Catholics, even the atheists. The thing that sets Christians apart is the knowledge of the cross. The revelation of God’s magnificent grace. Nothing about our “heritage” makes us better than anyone. Humans are all the same. Everyone is undeserving by ourselves and there is not a thing we can do to help save us. Jesus did everything on the cross. He made the way possible, so we don’t have to follow the tedious mandates of the law.
When you leave this organization and your eyes are opened to such deception, it is so hard, at least for me, to not be upset with what these men have created. I love many of the members dearly, it pains me to see them living in such chains. I also realized the way my family was treated, the way my young children were treated when we left is a direct result of the elitism brainwashing those people have been exposed to. So, I don’t fault them directly, they were only responding in the way they have been taught. As has been passed down from their “heritage”. (It kind of pains me to use that word since the UPC has only been in existence since the 1940s, but to each his own).
I met an old friend for coffee today who has a similar religious upbringing as myself. Something he said stayed with me, as I have said it and have heard several others say it as well: “Once you have a revelation of God’s grace, everything changes.” It is so true. You no longer strive to follow rules in order measure up and appease God. You realize because of Calvery you don’t have to work so hard, you already are a child of God. He knows you’re going to screw up, that is already factored into the equation. I found, once I started walking in his grace, it was easy to trust in his love for me, and all of a sudden, the oppression that man placed on me was lifted.
I hope and pray every day that all my friends and family will get to experience this freedom!
Now, I have to stop here and start online shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding! I have a feeling this will be a slight fiasco as I am a little obsessive about such things. I have no idea why… (said with a bit of sarcasm.. maybe)…
Somethings just shouldn’t have to be said. Emotions are running away from me today as I watch as people are judging their fellow humans on social media. I feel like I need to fast Facebook for a while, gain some renewed perspective. I am certain that move will be in the works as I am on vacation next week. However, here is my vice; someone has to speak up, right? Someone has to speak for the broken, cast aside crowd, who for whatever reason, have no voice.
Church hurt is real. I don’t care what organization or religious background you come from, someone has said or done something along the line that has offended you. At some point the place you go to for refuge has failed to provide sanctuary. For some people, the offense was minor and did not create a stumbling block. For others, who have not been so lucky, the offense or offenses were so hurtful they have come to reject religion all together. Some have turned to drugs, alcohol or self-harm for relief, while others have allowed the offenses to make them bitter. Some have sat on the church pew and grown empty inside, while waiting for someone to come along and show they care. Some have gotten past the grief and allowed it to make them better.
Racism is real. Judgement is real. Jealousy and strife are real. Backbiting, gossip and cynicism are very real. Each is sin and each cause very real hurt and consequences for the soul on the receiving end.
The journey to get past the hurt is real as well. Real, just as it is long and sometimes bumpy. Just as it feels as if the wound just starts to heal, and something happens and rips the scab right off again exposing the fresh hurt. If you are watching someone struggle, why would you dish out more of the same hurts that caused the wound to begin with?
But yet you see it, time and time again, the church on the defense. I have heard things like: “Well, no church is perfect.” “If you are offended, you just need to pray through.” “If you were near to the Lord to begin with, something like that wouldn’t offend you”. Somehow, if you are the one who has been hurt, the pain turns into your fault.
These things have been said to me, as well as several people I know. Not only are they unproductive, they are ripping off the scab, not putting salve on the wound. People are entitled to their own feelings and if something is not offensive to you, that doesn’t discount other people’s viewpoints on the subject.
Love is the only way to heal. Whether you claim to be a Christian, or human in general, I fail to see how responding in love ever harmed a situation.
Respect the other person’s viewpoints whether different or the same as your own, and show love in your responses even if you think the other human is being ridiculous in their opinion. You don’t know what hurts they have experienced along their life journey.
I refuse to allow the judgmental, holier-than-thou, off the cuff posts, texts and behavior I have witnessed not only this week, but in the recent past make me judgy of their judginess. I refuse to respond in any way less than love.
My experiences are real. Other’s experiences are real. Do everyone a favor and respond with understanding, love and kindness. Maybe, just maybe we stop the cycle of church hurt in our own little world.
Micah 6:8 What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I decided from the get go this would not be on a specific time schedule. I despise those, just ask my husband. Maybe, it is just because Tuesdays are my scheduled days off and my mind goes all crazy not being at work. Whatever the case, this time around, this blog proceeds the first by exactly seven days. I can assure you, this will probably not be the norm!
I would also like to disclose, as I am writing and editing, I have one child telling me how he made a timeline for a school project that included him kicking Tigger in his manly parts while at Disney ( he was three at the time, still yet, how embarrassing) and the other asking me how to figure out area of a triangle. All the while both of them are harmonizing to “Baby Shark” in between conversations. If my writing seems a tad chaotic, well, this is my life.
First, I would like to say, my swimsuit came in yesterday and I adore it! There were some concerns about the love handle area, but I figure, there is just so much love in my heart nowadays it just overflows and ends up around my waist!
Also, my firstborn turns 16 tomorrow! What?! How did this happen? We have homecoming this weekend, a soccer game, a cross country race, and a hayride! Not to mention the upcoming drivers test, homecoming decorating and float building my kid is involved in! Whew! That was a lot to type. Juggling everything is so crazy! I am incredibly happy my kids’ lives are so full! They have so many opportunities before them, and I want them to take part in as many as they can. Growing up in the UPC, both my husband and I had very limited extra curricular activities available to participate in, I just want my kids to do it all! (Yes, I am one of those parents.)
With all this chaos going on around me, you wouldn’t think I would have the time to even think about church hurts or anything else! I wish that were the case. The thoughts never seem to leave no matter how busy I get. And today, as I was hanging out with the dog, folding a never-ending pile of laundry, it’s no different.
I read a blog earlier today in which the author was wondering if legalistic people and churches were indeed saved. He made some pretty compelling points, and I suppose that may have been what started the ball rolling in my head about the whole church thing. Galatians 5:4-6 says “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
“Severed from Christ”, “fallen away from grace” those are some pretty strongly worded phrases used by Paul towards the Galatians. He goes on to say in verse 14 of the same chapter, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Wow. The law is already fulfilled, wrapped up in Jesus and His words to His followers! I love how Paul quotes Jesus himself here (Matthew 22:39) as he is trying to tell the Galatians not to make things harder than they have to be.
While the thoughts of God and His amazing gift of grace flow through my brain, they are immediately followed by tears and heartache for the many people I know and the thousands more who instead of finding freedom in Jesus, have found themselves “submitting to a yoke of slavery.” (please read Galatians 5:1) Living by man made laws and regulations is terribly oppressing, and not at all what our Heavenly Father intended for his children. Jesus said to take His yoke because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
There are some days when I feel the shadow of oppression coming back to haunt me, and the burden is so heavy I can barely breathe. I am taken back to the memory of daily standing in the shower just crying over the heaviness I felt. Not aware of the source. I am ever so grateful I have found my freedom in Jesus. The love in which He bestowed upon me when He died on the cross makes me want to follow Him. Not in embracing any sort of man made religious laws can I ever find such joy and freedom!
I warned you my thoughts were a bit chaotic today! I suppose that is the purpose of writing. To sort through and untangle the randomness.
Someone mentioned to me this week I am unable to change the world. That may be the case, but I don’t want to change the whole world. I want to change me, and in changing me, if I can help someone else on their journey along the way I have accomplished a notable feat.
People write blogs for all sorts of different reasons, some for business, some for fun. This is something, I think, will be more therapeutic for me than anything! I need an outlet, and I have no idea if zero people will ever read this or 100, but either way is okay! I am going to start for me! I may write a lot, or maybe a little. I have no idea where this will take me, I just know, I need some place to vent my thoughts. I have wanted to blog for a long time, it just feels right now. But, oh my goodness, I have so much to learn, and have NO idea what I am doing! So no judging, things may look ugly for a while until I get the hang of it!
Two things have happened to me this week, (and it’s only Tuesday) to make me decide now is a good time to begin. So I suppose I will start my blog by explaining what happened and why it finally pushed me out of my comfort zone.
First one being, I bought a swimsuit. Not just any swimsuit, but a bikini no less! Now to be honest, it is not a skimpy little g-string or anything like that, it covers all the important parts. I also bought it for a vacation my husband and I will be going on without the kids. However, the fact that I even need to mention the amount of skin it covers and the occasion for which it was purchased brings up the issue at hand. I was raised United Pentecostal. There it is. My issue. To be fair, it’s not the only issue I have, but a big one! I didn’t even realize how much I was blowing this purchase decision out of proportion until my “normal” friend said to me, “why are you freaking out about this so much? It’s just a swimsuit?” Boom. It hit me. Wow, I am messed up!
As I explained to her my hesitation, just saying it out loud made me realize I needed to buy that bikini, for my own sake. As a kid in the UPC, I was never allowed to go swimming in a public pool, let alone EVER wear a swimsuit of any kind. When we went on church float trips, we wore t-shirts and long jean skirts with leggings under them. In canoes. On the river. How we swam like that I will never know.
If you know anything about the UPC, you know they have lots of rules and regulations about what you can and cannot wear. Up until I left the organization when I was 33 years old, I had never felt pretty. I always felt like I looked frumpy and older than my age. I had never felt like my husband should be proud of me, it was severely depressing. But once you leave, you can’t just go to the store and buy whatever you want! Those thoughts about being modest and dressing in a way men won’t have perverted thoughts about you stick in your head. Not to mention, you have NO idea how to buy things such as jeans or shorts! Too many fitting room meltdowns to count! Someone once told me, you have to let your head catch up with your conscience. That could not be more true.
Getting back to the bikini, I have bought swimsuits over the years. I was never really a good (adult) United Pentecostal. I always pushed the limits as far as I could without getting kicked off the platform. (That is a punishment they give out for making mistakes) That being said, the swimsuits I have bought up until this point have been shorts and tanks or tees, I have NEVER in my life contemplated buying a bikini! I was going back and forth between the thoughts of: When will I ever wear this again? What if someone happens to see a picture of me? What if some man looks at me and lusts, did I cause him to stumble?
I came to the conclusion, right or wrong, it is not my job to worry about keeping others minds clean. I am going on vacation with my husband, and I am an adult. I should be able to wear something that will make me look good for him and make me feel good in it! Dang, that feels good to get out! So, I bought the doggone thing and can’t wait to wear it on our trip next month! And you know what? I am excited about it and I am going to rock it!
Second thing, Facebook. I need to get off of there, but I really do like to know what is happening in my friends and family’s lives! It’s the posts in between that get to me. If people could just post happy thoughts and pictures of kids and puppies that would be fantastic. But of course, they can’t, they have to go all political and or spiritual and get their tail feathers ruffled when someone has different theologies and ideas. The people who are supposed to be Christians are the worst. It has taken all the Jesus in me not to word vomit all over people this week.
After leaving the United Pentecostal Church organization over two years ago, I have had my eyes opened to so much hypocrisy, judgement and arrogance I am embarrassed to even say I ever attended one of their churches. Let alone, once wholeheartedly agreed with their philosophies. But my past is something about myself I must learn to embrace, and hopefully one of these days I won’t even think about it any more!
I have not spoken up against the church on a public forum, up until now. However, at this point, I can no longer sit by idly and pretend like I am okay with what I experienced and what others have or are currently experiencing in the organization. I realize this may offend some people, and I realize it is a sensitive subject matter, but I feel God is leading me to share my story and experiences. Even if He isn’t, I feel like doing so may help me heal. Growing up in such an environment created scars, and I am learning every day to find my own way. Sharing my thoughts and some of the silly everyday things I face because of my past, (or because I am kind of legitimately crazy) will be a great reminder of my progress along the way.
Just like the bikini, I need this for me. And that’s okay!