What Happens When Your Church Becomes Your Idol?

When I started publishing a blog I knew there would be backlash. When my book came out, I had no doubt there would be backlash. I knew what the response would be from many people, at least, I thought I knew.

I fully expected mud to be thrown at me personally, and I expected to step on people’s toes and be on the receiving end of a comment or two made out of raw emotion. As much as I knew that would pain me, most people, including myself, take their religious beliefs very personally, as they should, so I get it. It is a touchy subject.

And, yet, after carefully weighing and accepting my potential consequences I still chose to proceed.

That being said, I can only speak to what I know, and having spent twenty-five years in the United Pentecostal Church, that is what I know.

But, the thing that has surprised me about this the most, is the responses from many people that are comprised of veiled threats to my family, claims that I am blasphemous against God, and that speaking against the church would most certainly land me in the innermost circles of hell itself. Such comments have zero scripture that can be used to back them or at least, scripture used in context, and are simply scare tactics.

Wow. Didn’t see that coming.

In an online support group I am in, someone made a very real comment. And it made sense to me. The reason so (very) many people tend to spew out these vague, haphazard responses to my published material was simply this:

The church has become their God.

Yikes, that stings a little. And I can’t say I have never been in their shoes, I would be a hypocrite to stand here and say that at one time my responses wouldn’t be the exact same. In fact, I really don’t even blame them for this oversight.

This is really a problem that spans across all denominations, but like I said, I can only speak to what I know.

Several years before I left the UPC, a friend of mine posted a paper that she had written for her college class about the organization, and how she thought it was a cult. My stomach dropped when I read this and I quickly without even giving her opinion a second thought, unfollowed her.

Why did I respond like that? Why was I so quick to be offended by someone else’s opinion of the United Pentecostal Church? She wasn’t saying God wasn’t real, she wasn’t even writing negatively about any one person, she was writing about an organization.

Everyone knows the Ten Commandments. What is the very first one?

You shall have no other gods before me”.

It was written in stone, plain as day, yet for some reason that seemed to be the one Isreal struggled with the most.

How do we know when we are putting idols ahead of God? And what happens when we do?

I think a telltale sign is when someone says something critical of whatever is dearest to your heart, it becomes obvious where your allegiance lies.

In the UPC, you are taught that anytime the church doors are open you are to be there. Rain, snow, vacation, sick doesn’t matter you should be at church. You are taught that your pastor has the authority to give you additional rules that aren’t clearly scribed in the Bible, and you are to comply. Your money is top priority, and it is widely believed that your finances will be cursed if you don’t give enough to your church (other charities don’t count). You go to conferences and hoop and holler when the main man in charge of it all dances a jig across the stage.

Your entire life is wrapped up in the church.

Is it possible, with so much focus being placed on the outward appearance of having God around, we fail to invite him at all into our day to day lives?

There is verse after verse in the Bible scorning those who have forgotten the main reason while they are caught up in being busy for the main reason. (Think Mary and Martha.)

My childhood pastor preached a message once that stuck with me, “You gotta keep the main thing, the main thing”!

Meaning, if Jesus isn’t the main thing, what is?

I am completely preaching to myself here as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy. And it’s easy while we are in the thick of the business to lose perspective. I get it.

But, do you put more effort into attending a building and working like a bee than you do worshiping God and entering into the beauty of his holiness? Do you put more emphasis on what your pastor says than what the Bible says? What would happen if you found the pastor’s words to be false? Or if you felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit leading you away from your congregation? What would you do?

The Bible tells us to test the spirits to see if they are of Christ.

Test your own spirit. Are you as much or more offended by someone critiquing your church organization or your pastor than you would be of them criticizing God himself?

If you feel a little twinge by reading that, maybe your church is your idol.

Here’s the thing, like I have already stated, I can only speak to what I know, and what I know is a whole lot of people have compared me speaking out against the UPC to if I were spitting on Christ himself. And to be honest, if I weren’t already a believer, those comments would probably turn me away from Christ altogether.

I have said it before, and I will probably say it again: the UPC is NOT in fact God. And speaking out against the man made doctrines of a man made organization (which has been around for less time than my grandparents) while using scripture to back my statements is most certainly NOT blasphemous.

I challenge you, search your heart, test your spirit. Be honest with yourself. If you find that someone saying something negative about your religious organization ruffles your feathers to the point you are dooming their soul to hell, maybe, just maybe that organization is your idol and you have forgotten all about the main thing.

10 Things I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago

In doing what I do, I have had the opportunity to hear many people’s stories about their current church situation. Some are considering leaving, some are in the process of leaving, and others have already left but are learning to deal with the aftermath of that life changing decision.

Let me just say, I feel beyond blessed and honored that so many people have felt safe to reach out and trust me enough to disclose their personal situations. And I say a prayer for each and every one of them.

Myself personally, I feel like a hot mess 97.9% of the time, so I feel very ill equipped to give any sort of life advice. Leaving a church that has been your life and for some even their livelihood is a decision that cannot and should not be taken lightly.

So, I decided to put into words somethings that I wish I would have known at the beginning of my journey. Maybe it will be helpful for someone else.

1. Give yourself time! I cannot stress this enough. You are not going to sort through, let alone heal from years of indoctrination and spiritual abuse overnight. Be patient. Things will get better I promise!

2. You do not, under any circumstance, owe anyone an explanation of your decision. This is between you and God only.

3. You will not be able to convince anyone of anything if they are not ready to hear it. I know when I left, I wanted so badly just to stand in a crowded church with a megaphone shouting, “you don’t have to live this way!” But that would accomplish nothing. If your spouse is not making the journey with you, of course that adds a level of complication. Maybe, try to explain to the point they chose to listen, then do your best to trust God for the rest.

4. Ladies, the outward change is difficult I’m not going to lie. If you are like I was, I had no idea how to shop for clothes! It was so overwhelming looking at the different cuts and sizes of jeans! Give yourself grace. Wear whatever you’re comfortable in, and know that your style will evolve over the next few seasons. You are no doubt going to have a bad haircut or two. Your makeup is probably not going to look like a runway model. Eyeliner is difficult! But I promise, if you just keep practicing, it gets better!

5. Community. Super important! If you don’t know anyone personally who has made the same journey, find some online support groups. It will be easy to seclude yourself during this time, but try not to. If you need pointed in the right direction, let me know I can hook you up!

6. Realize you are not alone! This kind of goes with the last one, but when we left our UPC church I felt like I had lost everyone. I felt so very alone. But know there are others who have walked this path, and while you may feel lonely now, with time you will make connections. It is amazing how many people have ties to toxic churches.

7. Research and learn to recognize the signs of toxic relationships and the proper terms to describe them. I healed so much by recognizing that what happened to me has a name.

8. Don’t be surprised if people from your past life reach out to you. It will probably shock you how many people are actually questioning.

9. Don’t feel like you have to jump feet first into a new church right away. It’s okay to take a break for a while. No where in the Bible does it say a prerequisite to heaven is attending a church building three times a week. If you do find such a verse, please let me know!

10. Lastly, and this is very important! Know that people of “the world” don’t care a bit about seeing your upper arms or legs. This is a myth that the UPC is really good at drilling into people’s heads. Especially the women! Like I already said, wear what you’re comfortable in, but for you, not anyone else. Forget the notion that as you walk down the street in a tank top and shorts on a ninety degree day every man you pass is drooling over your shoulder blades and “lusting”. Of course there are creepers in the world, I am not negating that fact, but there are far more normal people who are used to seeing that kind of dress and don’t think twice about it. I could go on forever about the hyper-sexualization in the UPC, but I won’t. Just know when you feel a weird twinge the first time you show any skin that has never seen the light of day before, most likely it is not conviction. It is simply a remnant of your past and it goes away with time with no detriment to you. You are NOT backsliding!

I hope this blog will come in handy to someone at some point. And if you ever find yourself needing additional support, as always feel free to reach out!

One more thing, we are coming up on the one year anniversary of “Free”! I can’t even believe the response that little book has received! Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for updates about that!

God bless you on your journey to freedom!

The Repercussions of Modesty Culture Gone Wrong

I am currently sitting outside on my back deck enjoying the beautiful evening listening to the birds. They sound so carefree, and they should be! The Bible makes it clear God Himself takes care of them. Oh to be a sparrow, and by nature fully trust in God for our every need. Why do I worry, really?

I saw something this week that has stuck with me. Little girls trying to play outside in long skirts.

It seems that this small observation would be completely harmless. But the realization of the matter is, it is incredibly harmful.

I could see myself in those little girls, I could see my daughter. Fast forward to four years after we left the UPCI (Emancipation Day is in my calendar this week!) and I am still picking up the pieces of myself that I lost as a child. I am still watching my own daughter navigate through the remnants of her past in the organization.

You see, these little girls have no voice. They have no identity. They have no choice. As I was, they are being taught from birth that the very God that watches so closely over the sparrows is so harsh towards them that he cares about every stitch of clothing they are wearing. They are being taught that by wearing certain articles of clothing it would make men sin by lusting over them. They are learning to be ashamed of their bodies as God designed them and learning to hide their curves at all costs. They are losing little bits of themselves every single day.

I am heartbroken, even now. These little girls are why I can’t stay silent. Years of these teachings create seemingly irreparable consequences. Small blows to their self-esteem build up and cause incredible damage to a woman’s psyche.

I know. I’ve been there. I am still there. Not as I was before, but definitely still there.

Building self-esteem takes time. After having your identity ripped from you your entire life, it takes lots of time to figure yourself out.

I have written about modesty from a Biblical perspective recently, https://findingmyfreedomdoingmylife.com/2020/02/07/the-oxymoron-of-modesty/, however, my burden this week has been the long term effects.

Being told what you can and cannot wear every single day, having ingrained in your brain only certain types of women wear those clothes, being constantly hyper aware of every male around you takes a toll.

Most women, by the time they are adults, have adapted a certain style, perfected a makeup routine, accumulated the perfect jewelry collection to match their outfits. Have taken a dance class or played a sport. Not me. Not the girls I was observing.

We get to struggle as adults to figure us out. We get to have fitting room meltdowns, wear awkward clothing as we try to navigate the world of women’s jeans, watch countless makeup tutorials on YouTube only to get overwhelmed in an Ulta and walk out with nothing. We are the women who are ashamed of our bodies, incapable of taking a compliment, and mistrust every man ever.

We are the collateral damage of a church organization ran by man-made rules.

We are the repercussions of the men who always have to be in charge of the women.

We are the victims of modesty culture gone wrong.

But, guess what? I now have a voice! I am now capable of standing on my own two feet, making my own decisions, and speaking out against this damaging mindset!

And I intend to.

As long as there are little girls trying to run around in a long skirt, I will speak up.

I will be their voice.

I owe it to the little girl I once was.

She deserves it.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Hello friends!

If you have kept up with my blog posts over the last few weeks, you probably feel I may be slightly bipolar. I am not, I promise. But while we are on the subject, let’s talk about mental health for a bit, shall we?

Specifically, mental health in a conservative religious setting.

Yikes, what a trainwreck that can be!

For those of you who have read my book, or have been following my blog for a while, you probably are already aware of the mental health challenges my son faced early on in his life. Watching my child go through depression and anxiety at such a young age, drastically changed my viewpoints about mental health.

You see, I was raised in a home where you just “prayed through” if you were feeling sad, angry, scared, anxious, lonely or even ill. Whatever the issue was, I was always taught it was a me problem. Something I needed to fix by prayer and inner strength alone. Relying on medication was strictly taboo.

This wasn’t an exclusive idea to my home either. I just recently heard a story of a young lady who was dealing with suicidal thoughts. It was assumed by her church that she was just making up stories about her mental state. Tragically, no one pointed her in the direction of a mental health professional, they just pointed her to the altar to pray more.

When I was diagnosed as being diabetic at the age of fourteen, I felt like I had failed in some way. I felt less than and inferior to those who were healthy because I had to rely on insulin to keep me safe. (Turns out insulin could have killed me, but that is another story for another time). I thought if I could somehow pray hard enough or say the right words, or have enough faith I wouldn’t have to take medication anymore. It wasn’t until not that long ago I overcame those feelings.

So, imagine, if I felt insecure because I had to take medicine for a disease you can see in bloodwork, how I felt at first when my son started taking medication for his anxiety. I felt like an absolute failure as a parent. But it was abundantly clear to me, a child that young suffering those things was not because he didn’t have enough faith, or because of anything he did or didn’t do. He was a child. It was clearly biological.

Now, you would think having gone through that situation personally, I would give myself more grace.

But, the past stigma is strong.

I started taking anxiety medication right before I wrote my book. Working alongside therapy, the right dosage of medication helped me tremendously. I overcame panic attacks, difficultly sleeping, heart palpitations and other physical symptoms I was having.

I graduated therapy and weaned myself off of my medication. It was never meant to be a lifetime fix for me, just something to help me through overcoming my past.

But then this week happened. Without going into details, it has been a week of absolute hell for me. Once again, my body started responding to stress physically, in undeniable ways I cannot ignore.

Which brings me around again to my point, why do I feel so guilty about seeking help?

Because I had one messed up childhood.

Isn’t it amazing things that happened to us years ago, pop up with fresh feelings when the present circumstances are just right? I know so many 30 and 40 somethings that struggle to make sense of and heal from their childhood. Childhood was decades ago, why does it have such a stronghold on us?

For me, my home situation coupled with my church situation created mass craters of trauma that got buried beneath feelings of insecurity, pridefulness and just life in general. I navigate life unaware of their presence until I suddenly have an event that creates a sinkhole. And then I feel buried alive.

But I refuse to let my past hold me back. I refuse to allow the stigma of mental health make me feel ashamed because my body needs medication to help me cope.

No, this does not mean I don’t believe in prayer. This does not mean I don’t think God will come to us in our time of need. But what I do believe is, God has given us the ability to medicate.

The Bible itself tells us God gave us wine to help us cope with stress and ailments.

Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
Proverbs 31:6 ESV

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)
1 Timothy 5:23 ESV

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Psalm 104:14‭-‬15 ESV

Am I saying to become an alcoholic, no. But I feel I have to clarify for those who are looking for an argument.

But here is my point:

None of these verses say, only pray about your struggles. They imply that God gave us a tool that will help us control the neurons in our brains. Just as alcohol, medications can help us safely process our emotions by somewhat altering the chemicals in our brains. It is up to us to take advantage of this God given opportunity. He even gives us permission multiple times in his word.

I suppose I will forever carry reminents of my past with me. Betrayal is a strong force to overcome. But I am okay in saying I will be using the help of a therapist and medication to guide me through the landmines.

I would be foolish not to.

Finding Friendship

After my last blog post, those of you who read it were probably left questioning my sanity. Today is another day, however, and and my emotional well being has improved. Part of my healing process has been learning to allow myself to feel. Admitting to and experiencing the highs and the lows has proven to be a slight challenge for me, but I am doing better at it! It feels good not to feel like a walking zombie all of the time!

Something beautiful happened to me this week and I wanted to share. But first, a little background.

Not to pat myself on the back at all, trust me I have many flaws, but I am a giver and a fixer by nature. Acts of service is my primary love language, so I tend to show my affection in the same way. It’s just my personality. Drives my husband crazy at times because he has other strengths and sometimes he feels like I commit to and give too much. He is probably right. But, however, right or wrong, this is my way of showing love, and also feeling loved.

As most everyone knows, and many of you can relate, when we left our UPC church nearly four years ago, we lost many people whom we considered friends. The system makes keeping relationships with those inside the church nearly impossible. I’m not saying it cannot ever be done. I have one dear friend left from my past life who’s friendship is still strong. However, it stung quite a bit when she recently said, talking about some topics is now “off limits”. So while we are still close, I would be a fool to consider our friendship unscathed.

There were very lonely times for me in the first two years out. I am a woman, I like to be able to text a friend when I find a cute pair of shoes on sale, or if have a bad day. Those types of relationships were nonexistent during that time. I discovered fairly quickly those whom I had considered close as family, were friends with me simply out of convenience. We were not friends because we had shared interests, or got along so well. We were in a friendship for the simple reasons, we attended the same church, we were at the same practices, rallies, and conventions. We were merely in the same places at the same time. Convenience. When it came right down to it, when we were forced to make any sort of effort, the relationship wasn’t deep enough to bother. From my point of view, I felt like I tried, but at some point, it is just too exhausting to carry on a one sided relationship and so I allowed them all to fizzle out. Looking back now, those relationships all seem very superficial and conditional.

Ouch.

Are there friendships that exist without these faux pas?

There are many factors that come into play when talking about this side of leaving a toxic church, I’m not going to go into all of them now, but long story short, I found myself lonely and friendless.

But, it does get better. We don’t stay in valleys forever! Working through many of my hurts and hangups has allowed my heart to heal enough to begin putting myself in vulnerable positions in order for friendships to flourish. I wrote a blog about this very thing in December of 2018, https://findingmyfreedomdoingmylife.wordpress.com/2018/12/11/love/

When I wrote this, nearly a year and a half ago, I was in the beginning stages of forming true relationships with people. It makes my heart happy to see the growth in myself!

Now about the something beautiful I was going to tell you about!

While video chatting (because that’s the new norm these days) with a couple of amazing women the other day, one of my sweet friends began opening up about how her family is going through some financial struggles during this time. The economy is a mess right now, I know many people are having similar issues. After having great prayer and a small boohooing session, we ended the chat with “I love you’s” all the way around. It was what my soul truly needed that day.

The next day, I was at the grocery store and my friend came to mind, I picked up a gift card and slipped it into her mailbox anonymously. I just wanted to bless her and her family with what I could.

The following day, we were all chatting once again, talking about the economy and the stimulus checks that were scheduled to be issued. I mentioned how I was waiting impatiently for mine because my unemployment benefits had yet to be paid out. Our checking account was running dangerously low.

It wasn’t two minutes later and the sweet friend whom I had given the gift card to messaged me that she had sent me some cash to carry us through until we got our check!

I looked in my account and it was the same amount as the gift card I had anonymously given to her! This amazing friend had unknowingly, passed her much needed blessing onto me without even any questioning or hesitation!

I was speechless and began bawling on the spot. I knew she needed the money, yet, she was willing to share her blessing with me, with zero terms or conditions! Who does that?!

Like I said before, act of service is my love language. Many times I think acts of service and gifts go hand in hand. It wasn’t so much that she gave me something, it’s that she gave without me asking and without expectations of me doing something for her in return!

Is this real life?

I have been chewing this over in my mind for the last few days. It’s not that this dear lady and I have a long standing friendship. We have only known each other for a couple of years, a drop in the bucket compared to many other people I know. But the quality of friendship far surpasses the quantity of years of the friendship.

Does this mean everyone I am friends with has to start giving me money? Clearly, not. I am not trying to sound superficial. But the thoughtfulness and selflessness of her act touched my soul in a deep way.

Philippians 2:3 says this:

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself

Her blessing to me far surpassed the monetary gift, it was the motivation behind it. There truly are genuine people in the world, and there is hope to have authentic, unconditional relationships.

My sweet friend proved that.

The Oxymoron of “Modesty”

I am having a difficult time deciding how to begin this blog, so, I am just going to throw it out there and begin.

Yes, that is a picture of me in my beach attire. I thought it was fitting for the theme of the blog. Plus, it is a flashback to warmer days on the beach, there is currently snow on the ground outside my window.

This is a touchy subject, and I’m sure it will offend someone, but then again, someone somewhere will always be offended right?

Modesty.

I told you this would be a tricky one. Before I dive into the details, let me explain why.

I recently happened upon a Facebook post from someone I do not know personally bragging about their “modest” beach apparel. In this post, they specifically stated they didn’t mind people looking at them in such clothes.

Herein lies the problem.

For those of us who grew up in the UPC, or other such organizations, women’s modesty was taught as clothing rules: skirts or dresses only, to be worn below the knees, past the elbows and above the collarbone. The UPC tacks on a few additional rules just for fun, such as no makeup or jewelry, The verses used to support such beliefs are Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Timothy 2:9, and 1 Peter 3:3.

Now, this blog is not to debate the pants and skirts argument that stems from Deuteronomy 22:5. To be honest, I am tired of that entire conversation, as it is such a ridiculous debate since we are no longer under the Old Testament law, and said verse clearly does not apply to us. Not to mention, people wore robes in Biblical times, there were no pants and skirts back then so this argument all the way around is moot.

The point of this blog is the definition of “modest” in the Bible. The UPC as a whole seems to miss the boat entirely as to what this word actually means. And honestly, it’s a little frustrating to watch. The main verse they use to promote their doctrine of modesty is 1 Timothy 2:9-10:

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

I included the KJV here, as this is the version I grew up with and most often have heard cited by UPC ministers.

In the UPC, women are praised for how “modest” they are with their clothing, after all, modest is hottest right? But what truly is modest? As I already mentioned, their version of modesty is a skirt or dress that stays within certain guidelines. It doesn’t seem to matter to them the cost of their modest clothing, the elaborate styles of their hair, or the brand name of their church high heels or purses. They also don’t seem to mind, and actually take pride in the way dressing as such brings attention to them in public.

Let’s take a closer look from the “world’s” viewpoint.

In today’s society, women wear pants, people wear swimsuits to the beach, and beehive hairdos are not exactly seen on a daily basis. Keeping those facts in mind, let’s be honest with ourselves, dressing in UPC style attire makes you stand out like a sore thumb. It makes you look like a religious zealot and makes you pretty much unapproachable to the average person. Is this the version of modest Paul was going for?

Let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 in the NLT to help break it down:

And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.

“Not draw attention to themselves”, right there that seems to blow the UPC version of modesty right out the window. But to be fair, let’s continue researching.

Personally, when researching a particular subject or verse, I like to go back to the original Greek text and use an interlinear Bible app to compare. Here is the verse laid out as it is directly translated from Paul’s original writing:

Likewise also women in apparel respectable with modesty and self control should adorn themselves not with braided hair or gold or pearls or clothing costly.

This doesn’t say anything about standing out from the “world” or looking different. In fact, if we look at 1 Peter 3:3,4 these verses seem to go together in theme:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They put their trust in God and accepted the authority of their husbands.

Modesty according to the Bible has absolutely nothing to do with how long your skirt is, what you are wearing to the beach, or how plain your face looks without makeup, but everything to do with your attitude and how you should behave in moderation in every aspect of your life. I certainly don’t see how writing a long post about how you wear a “modest swim skirt” to the beach for people to stare at you lines up with the Biblical definition. In fact, it pretty much goes against what Paul was trying to convey. Even if you go back to the King James Version of 1 Timothy 2:9 it includes the word “shamefacedness”. What does this word mean exactly?

The definition for shamefacedness is this:

Showing shame, bashful, modest, or shy.

Sigh… I suppose the entire point I am getting at is this: is modesty sticking out in public and being proud and bragging about it? Or is it more along the lines of not standing out in a crowd and being approachable to those who may be looking for a shoulder to lean on?

Even Jesus himself got frustrated with the religious folks of his day with their long phylacteries that they prided themselves in. Here are Jesus’s own words regarding this practice:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12 ESV

I could go on all day about this subject, this is definitely a trigger for me, but I will end on this note, research.

Research for yourself the definitions, Biblical context, and today’s application for words thrown around in religious societies. Had I never looked through an Interlinear Bible app or challenged ideas like the definition of modesty I would still be in the same boat as the poor woman who posted pridefully about people looking at her in her swim attire.

Do I judge her clothing choices? No. Do I care if she wears a skirt to the beach? Not even a little bit. But I do take issue with the misuse of Bible verses and the idea that others who chose not to stick out in public are being “immodest”.

Those ideas are what I am speaking out against.

Life’s About To Get Good

This week has been a chaotic plethora of emotional highs and lows.

I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say, there was one day I had to bring a peace offering of food to my coworkers to make up for my crappy attitude. My mouth sometimes doesn’t have a mute button, although I am actively working on finding one.

I recognize biology plays a huge role in my mood swings. I know a lot of women can relate. But this last week I have been proactively working on a piece of me that hasn’t seen daylight in many, many years and the demons in my own soul, I feel, have tried to shut it down.

Feelings. The lows and the highs.

My therapist made a very valid observation a couple of weeks ago, and it stuck with me. As a way to cope with trauma, (personal and spiritual related) my brain has turned off my ability to feel.

As I am writing this, I am trying hard to come up with a way to explain what it feels like in my head, and it is hard to get out in coherent way.

Basically, I choose not to get excited, mainly about good things because of the fear of being let down. I don’t trust anyone (at all) because let’s face it, people let you down all the time and it hurts. I don’t want to feel the hurt, so I just don’t allow myself to feel love.

I explained it to my husband in this manner: every time I pull up to a stop light, I look around and envision the position and angle each car around me could potentially hit me. It’s like my brain is constantly in overdrive, plotting the worst way things could go south, just so it doesn’t take me by surprise if and when it does. I am always cautious to get excited about trips, because what if something unexpected comes up and I don’t get to go. I don’t get too attached to people, because what if they leave. You get the idea. It is exhausting. Not to mention, kind of depressing never to live in the moment and just be. I am over it.

I have described the feeling of oppression I had while in the UPC in my book and in my blog, and that was crushing. I felt suffocated and that is the one thing I did feel. Like someone was sitting on my chest at all times. Of course, I was happy when I got married, and when my children were born, but even in those moments I never allowed myself to really be present and feel the happiness all the way to my soul. For as far back as I can remember, I have always felt like a stranger looking out of my eyes. Like, watching the world go on around me, but trapped in my own head too much to be able to participate in it, but wanting to.

While we were on our cruise last month, we were watching people sing karaoke. A sweet elderly couple got up and danced to nearly every song, no matter how terrible the person singing sounded, no matter if they were the only couple on the dance floor, they didn’t care, they were enjoying themselves and each other’s company. I was enjoying watching them but also feeling a little envious of their ability to be in the moment and just be. I approached them afterward and asked them what their secret was, they looked so happy. She told me they had been married for 50 years and their secret was to enjoy each other’s company and just have fun together. While that is excellent marriage advice, I couldn’t wrap my head around how to do that. In my head, I am still a soul longing to break free from the chaos in my brain and live unfettered in the moment. I thought about dancing, or singing karaoke that night, but I simply could not break myself free and just live in that particular moment.

While I no longer feel the soul crushing oppression from living a life of legalism, I have not yet gained the ability to let go of the apprehension so deep seeded in myself and allow myself to trust and be free to just be me.

Yes, I feel like I have healed from most of my church past as far as how others treated me. Yes, I have come to depend on God’s grace to cover my flaws, and so many other things I have overcome in the last few years, but allowing myself to enjoy the feelings of happiness, true joy, and trust, those are things I am still searching for answers on how to feel them in the moment.

When all else fails, one should always look to a Shania Twain song for life wisdom and advice. That was sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell, but seriously, she released an album last year (the concert was awesome, but that’s another story) and the first single released from it spoke to me. I have been singing it practically non-stop the past week because the lyrics are my anthem at this stage in my healing process.

It took me so long to be strong
But I’m alive, and I hold on
To what I can feel, it hurts to heal
Oh, when love lies
Life’s about joy, life’s about pain
It’s all about forgiving and the will to walk away
I’m ready to be loved, and love the way I should
Life’s about, life’s about to get good

I have gotten stronger, I have forgiven, I have walked away from somethings, now, I am ready to love the way I should and feel love the way I should.

Life’s about to get good!

The Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purpose of “Free”

Transparent blog post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I describe this situation in my book like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love is a commonly misunderstood concept.

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

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

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

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

Happy reading friends!

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

IT’S HERE!

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

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

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

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

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

Check it out and let me know what you think!

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