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.

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.

Finding My Identity

Hey guys! It’s been a minute since I have had time to sit down to write! The holidays were crazy busy around here! As I’m sure your’s were as well! But here we are, now in January, the month that always seems to drag on for at least two months!

If you hadn’t heard, I recently did a podcast interview with Cultish. I am so very grateful and humbled to have had the opportunity to represent women from around the globe who have escaped legalistic, oppressive religions. If you haven’t had a chance to listen, please do, the guys at Cultish are incredible! I applaud them for giving a voice to so many. I have been touched by the many positive messages I have recieved and am excited to see where God continues to take me on my journey!

Something that has been on my mind the last week or so, is my identity. What does that look like for me, a woman and a Christ follower?

The UPC has rather recently coined a term to describe their identity, “Apostolic”. They say this means they are like the Apostles. They use this word to describe their outward standards (especially the women’s) and even have started selling clothing with words like #Apostolic and Apostolic Identity printed on them. They seem to be very proud of this term and like to advertise it a lot. I’m not going to lie, it bothers me.

When I was growing up, there was great question as to what I should call my religion. This was before the Apostolic Identity term came around. If you know anything about the UPC, you understand why. If I were to simply say I was a Christian, people may get me confused with every other mainstream denomination who called themselves that. If I said Pentecostal, people may think I was a (gasp) Trinitairan. Thus the dilemma. Belonging to a United Pentecostal Church, we had more revelation than other organizations, so we needed something to set us apart as the highest order of Christians. This is why I think they are now running with the Apostolic identity idea. They needed something to say they are different than other Christians. And this is my problem.

I recently had someone say to me that by speaking out against the UPCI, I was speaking out against them personally because their identity is the United Pentecostal Church. This made my heart hurt. You are not an organization, you are a person, a child of the most high God.

So where does this leave me? Someone who has not only left the “Apostolic” identity, but is actively speaking out against their ideals.

Let’s break it down a little bit.

According to Collins English dictionary, the definition of Apostolic is this:

Apostolic means belonging or relating to the early followers of Jesus Christ and to their teaching.

Okay, so that seems noble enough. If you are Apostolic, you are following the followers of Jesus.

But, is that the best we can do? While clearly Jesus’s earliest followers had great insight, I mean, we use the books they wrote everyday as a guide, they were just men. Men whom Jesus hand picked to follow him and spread the Gospel, but in the end, they were just like us. They sinned, gave into fleshly desires, and woke up everyday having to reconsencrate their lives to God.

What if we all just went directly to the source and became Christ followers? In Acts 11 it records that even the disciples were called Christians.

The definition of Christian is this:

Christian: of, relating to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings

So, why wouldn’t I want my identity to be directly tied to Christ? Why would I want to be identified as a follower of the followers of Jesus, when I can follow him myself? The New Testament tells me, we no longer need a high priest to be an intermediary, we can now go directly to the source.

I am in no way belittling the teachings of the apostles, but Ephesians 2 says it beautifully:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,

Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. Yes, the apostles and prophets help build up the church, but just as we are, they were nothing without Christ.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians hits the nail on the head as well. We are rooted and built up in Christ, why wouldn’t we want to identify ourselves with him?

My conclusion is this: I am a Christian. I am a free woman following the teachings of the One who gave his life for me. And furthermore, as a Christ follower, I don’t have to live in the bondage of man made laws or traditions, my burden is now easy, and my yoke is light. This was God’s plan for me from the beginning of time, and I am humbled and grateful my identity lies in Him and Him alone.

The Simplicity Of The Gospel

I will begin this blog by stating the following:

I don’t pretend to have all of the theological answers of the world just free roaming around in my brain.

Not even close.

I will say, that I am actively searching for them.

I didn’t go to theology school. In fact, as has been blatantly pointed out to me recently, I didn’t further my education much past high school in any aspects. A past decision that still haunts me to this day.

That being said, I am thankful for my upbringing studying God’s word and the new found desire in the last few years to search the scriptures for myself and to “rightly divide the word” as to “work out my own soul’s salvation.”

I am mulling over the idea today about the “Gospel”. My son mentioned to his father and I something very profound for a twelve year old this morning. (At least, as his mom I feel it was pretty astute.)

He said, “you know what I realized at church today? My youth pastor (Shout out to good youth leaders!) was talking to us about the Gospel and how it literally translates from the original Greek to mean ‘good news’. It makes me sad that there are people who choose to make it into a checklist of things we have to do, and they miss out on the good news of Jesus.”

(Cue exploding mama heart)

Let’s think about that simple statement for a moment. Granted, my child is being raised in a home where we openly talk about our past religious experiences and we are actively sharing our story. But, even his twelve year old boy brain is clicking on the matter! Thank God!

The church organization we came out from under touted the phrase, “the whole gospel to the whole world”. Somehow they managed to make the Gospel something so secretive and complex, that only their organization was favored enough to get the key to unlock the mystery. They morphed the Gospel into something that required putting random pieces of the Bible together like a puzzle from an Indiana Jones or National Treasure movie.

The Gospel is simple and it’s beauty and depth is in it’s simplicity. The Bible says God uses the simple things to confuse the wise. He does this so no man can boast. Salvation isn’t quest to solve a jigsaw puzzle, salvation is the good news of Jesus. That is all!

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul reminds the believers in Corinth not to stray from the message of the resurrection that he has preached to them. Christ died, He was buried, and He rose. And in that simplicity, our good news resides!

My entire childhood and part of adulthood, I always thought of those who stood fast in their faith in Jesus alone as their eternal salvation as foolish. As if they weren’t the select chosen such as myself, who was elite enough to understand the actual way to Jesus was though our own righteousness.

How foolish was I?

The Gospel means good news! Furthermore, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus truly something you want to just brush over, thinking you have a “revelation” of something more complex? It is pretty amazing to think that God sent his Son to die on a cross, and in His doing so, I am relinquished of my faults! Why would we ever want to cloud over that miracle with our own perversions?

Paul actually says about those that do so, “let them be accursed”. Yikes!

I am convicted for all of the times in my life I judged others or thought of myself holy enough to aid in the assistance of my salvation. Thankfully, the Bible says our sins are as far as the east is from the west, and God is a good, forgiving Father.

I think He gets it. We are made in His image after all. He made us to question and think about things. He is big enough to handle our doubts.

I remember saying to my husband so often, when we first realized this truth, “it can’t be this easy”! But it is! Jesus provided the way to salvation for us, it’s that simple!

The good news is Jesus my friend, and that is the entire Gospel!

Check out my book on Amazon if you haven’t already! (Seriously, if you haven’t what are you waiting for?) 😉

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_ZsmYDb8QHRHM9

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

God’s Cloak of Righteousness

As I enjoy the holiday off of work with my family, sitting in my cushy recliner, wearing the most comfortable clothing in my closet I am in awe of God and his leading hand in my life.

In case you didn’t know already, I recently wrote a book! (That was a little bit of sarcasm because if you are reading this, you probably already knew that info!) I have been so encouraged by the countless messages from complete strangers about how the book has blessed them in some way. I knew there would be some backlash by those who don’t understand my point of view, and there has been, but that is okay! The number of positives in the last 17 days has definitely far outweighed the negatives!

In the 17 days since Free has been released, it has consistantly remained in the top 100 in it’s Amazon category, currently has numerous positive reviews, and sold well over 100 copies in just two weeks! I am in awe, and cannot wait to see where God is going to take this little book!

Obviously, in the whirlwind of releasing the book, my brain has been continuously flooded with emotions and thoughts. One, in particular, has stuck with me the last few days. It’s a story many of you know, I have known about it for years, but until this last week, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Adam and Eve.

When God gave them the directive to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of course, as humans, they did it anyway. There is much debate about whose fault it was, but it really doesn’t matter, the fact is, they disobeyed, causing God to have to implement a plan to redeem mankind from then on out.

After their sin, their eyes were opened to the fact they were naked and vulnerable. They made themselves loincloths of fig leaves in order to try and cover their nakedness. The Bible says, when God came looking for them however, even with their handmade loincloths, they still felt naked before God. Because there was sin involved, consequences had to take place, but as any loving father would do for his children, after handing out their punishment, God made them suitable cloaks of skins and wrapped them around his children for them to feel covered and loved.

The realization hit me, yet another example of God in his infinite grace and mercy, covering us with his love.

Nothing Adam and Eve could have done, worn, or said would have made them feel covered, only God can make us feel this way. Our righteousness is as filthy rags the Bible says, which sounds depressing, but is actually so wonderful when you let go of trying to do things in order to make God happy or love you even more and depend on Jesus completely for your righteousness!

We don’t have to impress God, Jesus did that for us on the cross! That is all we need! When we acknowledge the selfless act of sacrifice Jesus made for us for our covering we are complete in him! We are no longer naked and vulnerable, but clothed in His righteousness!

Others can have their fig leaves, I will take God’s cloaks of skin anyday!

In case you haven’t already, check out my book 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_vOvBDbT80WN5N

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