"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things,
and the God of peace will be with you."
-Philippians 4:9

Thursday, June 18, 2009

**Aside** Knights and Ladies (back to the healing story soon)

Recently my hubby and I went shopping for clothes together. It's been a LONG time since I got new things and I've lost 20 lbs and several inches in the last months (hooray for a more active lifestyle!!). One of his faves is a simple, straightline sundress with a pretty floral print. Today was the first time I'd worn it. He enjoyed seeing me in it this morning, left for work, and the kids and I ran out for some errands.

The following conversation ensued after I ran into the front office of our RV complex, leaving the oldest in charge of the littles outside:

Me: Okay, y'all, onward to the next stop.
5-yr-old son: Mommy, did any of the boys in there kiss you because you look so beautiful?
Me (trying hard not to laugh): No, sweetheart. Nobody kissed me.
5-yr-old: I think some of the boys wanted to kiss you. Did they?
Me: No, honey. Mommy won't let anybody but Daddy kiss me.
5-yr-old: Good. 'Cuz if they did, I'd punch 'em. Then I'd tie them up and step on them.
7-yr-old: Yeah. We'd all get 'em. Like Indiana Jones! I'd get the whip and...
3-yr-old *girl*: NOBODY gets to kiss you but Daddy and us and Grammy and PopPop and Grandma and Grandpa...and Blackie (that's our dog)...
13-yr-old: {rolling eyes and shaking head whole time}

So, I guess that's a vote for "Mom looks good in the sundress"! Who'd'a'thunk a compliment from a Kindergartener could mean so much?? Left me smiling all day. As did the knowledge that I have a whole band of gallant knights (and one feisty princess) ready to come to my rescue if anyone ever dares to impugne my honor! lol

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Road to Healing, Part III

So what now?...

What indeed. Have you ever read Pilgrim's Progress? or Hinds' Feet on High Places? Did you notice that each of the main characters, while on their journey, seemed to be feeling their way along? There were helpers that came and went along the way, there were short-term instructions, there were times that they *knew* they were on the path but couldn't really honestly say they could even see which way they were going and certainly couldn't make sense of WHY their path led this way. (when Pilgrim endured the valley and when the called-out one had Sorrow and Pain for travelling companions) Yet, in neither case, did they ever see the whole way that lay ahead of them. Yeah, it's been a lot like that.

And I've come away with a new perspective on the "Thy Word is a lamp unto my *feet*..." verse. Have you ever noticed what a tiny piece of real estate your feet actually occupy?? I know that the rest of the verse goes on to say " a light unto my path" as well, but the two are together and I wonder if my experience is common: the part of the path that is lit is enough to see the next step. No more, no less. In a way, I've become very thankful for this. I used to see it as a frustration; not knowing the whole game plan has always been a struggle for me. More and more, I see it as God's provision for my safety. He knows I'd try to tamper with the plan; try to come up with a better one. Plus, I *have* to learn to trust Him this way. I either stand still, stamp my little lit up feet (laughing as mental pictures of Tinkerbelle dance in my head...) and demand to see what I want to see, what I understand, until I have all my darkness dispelled, or...I choose to walk in the light that He provides, trusting His goodness and His plan although I have no idea what it is, and actually make some progress towards somewhere.

All that in a long-winded attempt to say: what was next was - and continues to be - a long stretch of trial-and-error, pain, hard climbing, straining to see and hear His voice, a good bit of stamping my feet and throwing a fit, and learning to sacrifice on the altar those things that needed to be left aside in order for me to move forward in what little light I had. And, believe me, when everything you've been doing is called into question, there's a precious small circle of light in which you have confidence.

I was at one of those "square one" points. I knew I couldn't continue to drown under these layers of masks. Those had to come off. (what in the world lay underneath? by this point, even I didn't know...) My marriage needed some serious attention. We were both so lonely and wounded and used to handling certain areas of our lives without each other's help. My kids needed to know that they were loved no matter what Mom and Dad were dealing with. And my relationship with my Savior was, well, strained to say the least. What did I believe? *Did* I believe?
(*gasp* yes, the minister's wife said that. In fact, there was a point at which she stood in the hallway, at the end of her rope, after days of emotional grappling, financial hits, kids disobeying, no sleep for days, and the last straw of a child waking up in the night throwing up *all night* due to the distress caused by how he'd been treated at a new church when she was trying so hard to try again at this trusting-church-people thing and *screamed* at God what a sadistic, cruel, sick sense of humor He had. Praise Him, He's big enough to handle that. And He knew that she didn't really believe that about Him, but *she* needed to hear it before she realized that she didn't really believe it. See...it's all about relationship; do you sometimes need to say things out loud to your spouse before you can dismiss them? And in those times, do you find that the intimacy is sweeter in every area precisely because you could be that gut-level, raw-and-out-there honest with them? Yeah, the Biblical picture of our relationship with Christ is as his *bride*. Just a point that's hit home a lot lately.)

God is so good. He knew that none of this work could be done while I was still trying to keep my mask in place for *anyone*. So, he moved us out of any semblance of a titled ministry position. That had also been a point of growth for Dan and I. We realized, long before we got totally honest about other things, that we could not be the people God had called us to be, do the type of ministry to which we were called (which entails being where hurting people actually are, not demanding that they come to us), as long as we also lived under the responsibilities, expectations, and, yes, power structure and organizational model that comes from holding a church staff position. He led us out of that through a series of steps. Again, just enough light at a time for a baby step in the direction He wanted us to go. First, it was out of a full-time staff position into a non-profit, unpaid youth evangelist position that required a side-job at Disney to pay the bills. Then, it was the non-profit plus a part-time staff position (which, we later learned, was as much to ease that pastor's decision to retire as much as it was provision for our growth - we needed to know *for sure* that we needed to stay off staff; isn't God amazing?!). Next, it was a move to Dan's folks' house (no more funds for rent on this kind of sporadic income...), another job search that wound up back at Disney (*one day* before Dan lost his eligibility to be re-hired without going through all the training again...how God is that?? Oh, and his rehire date was April Fool's Day - read into that what you will; it give us a laugh now, though) and in a job where Dan didn't have to be gone late hours and had guaranteed days off. Can you say step one in learning to put our very own family back on the priority list of mission fields?

During this time,we realized that between sharing a house with in-laws and commuting several hours a day, this was *not* good for our family. Since the good of our own little mission field was now an important focus, that led to the step of seeking living arrangements that would be close to Disney and still fit our seriously slim budget. God gave us an opportunity to house-sit for my parents for a month, giving us the privacy to research some options and come to some decisions without *ahem* "input." We quickly found that neither purchasing nor renting a house were possibilities, apartments required too high a security deposit and were rare in a size that would accomodate us...then, we drove by an RV lot one day. You know it's God when *both* of you get excited about the possibility of cramming a family of 6 into an RV. We found one that fit our bedding requirements *and* fell into a price range that was below what we knew we would receive on our income tax return. We were able to pay cash for our "new home" as well as the lot rent for 6 months. The experiment began...we moved to Kissimmee in our 1982 Holiday Rambler Imperial, 33ft, Class A, dream-home-on-wheels. *grin*

Then, it was a series of trying-to-find-a-church-family-where-we-can-be-part-of-the-body-without-being-pressured-to-run-the-programs...not sure that place exists. It's an area we're still grappling with. We now vehemently disagree that the way we live our faith is by maintaining programs that take place in a given locale ; by being, if you will, "Professional Christians". Jesus, His disciples, and the early believers were fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, carpenters, tent makers... and they continued to be so even as they were "meeting from house to house" and "continuing daily together in the apostles' teaching and prayer" and "preaching the Word." They were out there, using their talents to provide financial support for their families - and their ministries - and ministering with their spiritual giftings "as they were going." I strongly suspect that a fisherman held a sphere of influence in which a doctor would be ineffective, and vice versa. God placed them vocationally in places where they would constantly have opportunity to be salt and light in dark and unsavory places. Sadly, in our experience, vocational church staffers have little opportunity to be salt and light to anyone who is "unreligious" because they're spending all their time in church offices, planning meetings, and church social events. We're hard put to find that the giftings of the spirit (pastor, teacher, etc) were ever meant to be used as vocational titles but rather as *functional* operations as the believers were meeting in one another's homes and working together in the community at large around them. Many of our definitions about "the church" and who we are to be as "followers of Christ" have undergone some modifications - sometimes radical - as we search the Scripture and compare it with how those things are played out in America's religious community. As we begin taking our relationship with our Jesus as our own rather than allowing it be dictated to us by those we deemed "more knowledgeable" than ourselves. Phooey. He said He indwells us; He said that His job was to teach us HIMSELF; He said that if we would seek Him, we'd find Him...that doesn't sound like He only reveals Himself to certain "specially gifted" followers of Him.

So, when we were ( or rather, when HE was) ready to tackle some of the more personal growth points, we were already established in a "secular" job (really don't believe in that label anymore, either; as a living, breathing, walking, talking dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit, *any* job is an extension of my spiritual life, but you understand my meaning), living in a place of our own, had stopped attempting to define our walk with Christ by church attendance/leadership and had begun to seek the Lord for ourselves rather than for where He would lead a church program through us.

That's when things got tough...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Road to Healing, Part II

What's a girl to do? Short answer: NOT what I did.

What did I do? I listened to teaching because it was coming from people of note, people of great education. But I failed to double-check it for myself. These were folks that had thriving ministries, were holders of high offices, had endured much in the ministry to which I believed we were called. So I soaked in every bit of advice, every stricture on my personality, every social lesson in "how to support your man by being the kind of wife every church wants to see in it's staff." And I didn't realize the chains that were growing tighter and tighter. I didn't see the lie I was buying. Because I trusted too much in people and not enough in the Holy Spirit that says that he will teach *me*. That if *I* seek Him in His Word, He will reveal Himself directly to *me.* Not once did I question that what I was soaking in was truth. And I was busily squashing down my inherent penchant for debate, practicing keeping my mouth shut in *every* situation rather than using discernment and prayer, increasingly relinquishing my status as full partner in my marriage and becoming the "submissive wife."
(Does this strike anyone else as disturbingly similar to the "grooming", the learning to hide their true selves, that our political figures go through to make themselves and their message more palatable to a constituency? Hmmmm...just a side thought there.)

Where did it get me? Or better yet, where did it get my husband who was counting on me? Well, it left him alone, too. He saw who I was becoming, that I was adhering to the "rules of staffdom" and assumed that I wanted the kind of pastor-husband who would be all of those stereotypical things, too. You know, the guy who gets up at 3am to do Bible study, who holds lengthy theological teaching sessions with his wife to instruct her in godliness, who gathers the kids around after dinner for solemn prayer and edification. He tried. Bless his heart, I was just like Eve handing the fruit of the tree to Adam. And he loves me so much that he ate the fruit, too. He desired to be what he perceived I wanted and expected of him. Just as much as I desired to be the kind of wife that I believed he needed on his arm to uphold him and bring him "honor in the gates."

The problem? We gave up who we were. He *isn't* that guy. He's the guy who reads Scripture, meditates on it, and is so full of vision, so discerning of the Spirit that he finds application all throughout the day. It pops up in the most mundane conversations (and sometimes in some of the most intimate ones, too). He reads when he finds time to, prays without ceasing, and seeks to honor God with his WHOLE day, not some rigidly prescribed time period of it that becomes less relationship and more obligation. He's hilarious, slightly irreverent, not one to stand on ceremony or tradition, speaks truth boldly irrespective of his audience (truly a gifted prophet), has the most random access mind that makes the most amazing connections between things, is highly creative, believes in doing everything with excellence, loves more than he lets on, is almost scary in how accurate his discernment always turns out to be, and has fun with life. But he was so frustrated and feeling like a failure because he wasn't "the pastor guy" that he thought I wanted. And, to be honest, being a person who enjoys a formulaic approach (tell me how to do it right, and I'll do it!), I *wasn't* satisfied that he wasn't being those things. I became more and more critical of him (even as I became more critical of myself) because I saw how he was falling short of the picture painted by those renowned men and women of faith.

Oh, and let's not leave me out. I'm not that demure wallflower person, either. You criticize my husband, the words of defensive anger have to be bit back, and even then I'm no success at hiding my thoughts in my facial expression. You try controlling my life or my kids and I rebel in a heartbeat (once heard it accurately described as "Mama Bear Syndrome"). I see injustice or untruth and I am loathe to leave it unchallenged. I am passionate, opinionated, active, intelligent, capable, organized, and willing to dirty my hands to accomplish something I believe is worthwhile. I also am an introvert who enjoys people but can't handle the intensity of being socially around them for long periods of time. I need my alone time. Part of that is because I do care so deeply about the folks around me; it's one of the reasons I *do* make a good minister's wife. But those traits didn't fit the ever-ready hostess, smiling, cheerful, Good Housekeeping picture of a pastor's wife that *other pastor's wives* painted, either. *sigh*

So, we bought the lies. We believed that how God had created us was something less than "fearfully and wonderfully." That if we were to take on this position in the church we not only needed the burden of the call and a close relationship with our Savior, but we also needed a personality overhaul. We needed to be something other than we were. Now, I'm not talking about continuing to grow in grace and increasing in the fruits of the Spirit - that's totally a Biblical concept with which I have no dispute; I'm talking about denying that the personality God gave to you was a GIFT and seeking to become a cookie cutter image created by man in order to hold some office. And, sadly, the more we were involved in church positions, the more this was reinforced by those for whom we served. That cookie cutter image is expected more often than not and when it's not met folks can be downright cruel.

What did all of this do in our marriage? Well, he was busily hiding his failings from me, I was busily hiding mine from him, he was trying to "help" me be the happy homemaker he believed I wanted to be (cutting me out of any partnership in his ministry partly to better hide himself and partly to allow me time to be at home - resulting in my feeling rejected), and I was trying to encourage him to be the superspiritual guy I thought he wanted to be (um, ladies, make sure that your hubby WANTS suggestions on how/when/where to fit in family/personal/couple devotional times before you bulldoze your way into leadership there...). We were both growing more resentful of the inability to be ourselves and the endless criticism from others as to where we were falling short (as if we didn't already know...). We both were enduring deep hurts that we couldn't admit; that would be failing to trust God. We both were growing in anger and resentment at these false rules that we couldn't escape; it was our livlihood and we *were* called by God to minister (notice that we were called to minister...not to BE A VOCATIONAL minister; we've learned that it's a vital distinction). We knew for sure that just as we really couldn't admit dissatisfaction to one another, we also couldn't seek counsel. In the staff environment, seeking marriage counselling is the same as broadcasting that you don't meet the qualification of "having your house in order" and results in loss of a job even as you're trying to salvage your marriage. So we both wandered off into our loneliness, hiding it from one another (not really, but we thought so), and kept pulling up our bootstraps each day to face the next failure.

Sounds like "life and life more abundant" to me, no?

No. So what now? You finally wake up and realize you've been buying into a horrifically destructive lie. It's not what God has for your life. How do you get out of it? When you've all but given up on thinking for yourself (there are committees who do that for you and who oppose you when you try it), and you don't know the last time you really felt the rush of the Spirit as you read the Word; when you've been angry and despondent so long that just having enough energy to feed, bathe, and clothe everyone is a good day; when you can't remember the last time you had a truly honest discussion with your spouse, how do you begin the long road back? How do you sort out the truth from the lies? How do you have confidence you'll even be able to do that?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Road to Healing (aka the Path of Pain) part I

Hmmmm...I'm finding it harder to blog these days. Not because nothing interesting is happening; more because I'm so busy actually *living* my life rather than lost in depression and reflection about *how* to live it. The last of the walls have crumbled (Praise God!!) and I'm finally free to live the life God has called me to live.

You'll recall that the beginning of this blog was an accountability thing. A tool to get me to consciously focus on the GOOD that God had brought into my life. Unexpectedly, focusing on that also brought a lot of the ugly to the surface. The more I desired to see the good, the more the hurtful was made apparent. The more I didn't want to focus on my pain, the more God nudged me to DEAL WITH IT, ALREADY! You see, I thought that hiding it, pushing it aside, denying it existed *was* dealing with it. It wasn't. It wasn't even being "spiritually mature" as I had so labeled it. God never asks us to "suck it up and press on". Press on, yes; forget what is behind us, yes. Suck it up, NO!!! Go to your brother before you present your sacrifice. Not let the sun go down on your anger. Bear one another's burdens. Cast your burdens on the Lord. Take His yoke upon you. But He never, ever, ever tells us to suck it up and handle it.

And, so, I find myself in a place of healing. A place where I am finally free to be (and rediscover) who it is that He has created me to be. A place where the direction of this blog changes of necessity. And it occurs to me that many in the church culture may be struggling, drowning, in the same "slough of despond" (yes, I love Pilgrim's Progress) in which I found myself for years. So, perhaps, for a little while, I'll share with you some of how I arrived here. Some of the missteps that happened. So that you may avoid them or at least dig out well before I did.

I've become very guarded over the last several years. Time was when I was very open with pretty well everyone. Very trusting. Naively ready to let you know the core of what I thought, what I believed, who I was. Because I really wanted you to know me. And I really wanted to know you. I was willing to debate my opinion with you because I really thought that my opinion was valid. I had confidence in my intelligence, my talents, my assessment of facts and perceptions of people.

Things happened over time that changed that. Wounds became scars. Confidence in my ability to read others and their intents became blunted. Criticism and ostracism took its toll. And my own lack of understanding why it was happening began to cause me to second-guess myself in many areas. Was I competent? Did I have anything to offer to anyone? Was I a fit wife/mom/homeschooler/minister's spouse? And if I was, why was all this mess happening in my life?

I began to create a protective cocoon around myself into which only a very few people were permitted, and then, never fully. It's a lonely place to be. It's a place where you need help but can't ask for it, knowing that if you do it will lead to more criticism for not being strong enough to do it on your own. Not spiritually mature enough to work it out with the Lord yourself. Not whatever enough to please the accuser. And if you do ask for help, you may be put in a position of negatively affecting your helper's view of another person. But you don't want to cause negativity in anyone else, either, so you paste on a smile, soldier on, and gradually lose who you are under all the layers of facade that protect you.

I lost my ability to see myself as I once had. I began to buy the lies others believed about me: about who I was, what my role was "supposed" to be, what my family "ought to" look like, what my personality/spiritual failings were. I began to live as though their expectations were reality. I stopped being who GOD said I was and began trying to be who "they" wanted me to be. I believed that "fighting back" was pointless and feared its repercussions on my husband's position and respect (which, in itself, was attacked on a regular basis). I resented the circumstances that had put me in this place, was aggravated with myself for allowing myself to be silenced and shoved aside, felt helpless to change anything about it. So I did what all good ministers' wives are taught to do (well, at least those that go to the seminary my husband attended): swallow it (it's called "submission" or "perseverence" or "a quiet spirit" - all terribly solemn and mature and taken out of Biblical context), pretend all was well so as not to affect my husband's position, and quietly fall apart in isolation and depression. But above all, DO NOT ASK FOR HELP FROM ANYONE.

Why not? Because ministers and their families aren't really a part of the body of Christ. They are somehow superspiritual and need no assistance from the rest of the body. God and God alone should be sufficient for them. After all, they've reached the pinnacle of Christianity if they're ordained, right? Their needs and frustrations and failings must not be exposed; if they are, how can the laity ever believe in the spiritual authority of their calling? In short: if you want your husband to keep his job and your family to be supported, by golly, you'd better be perfect. And it helps if you can play piano, too. And dress impeccably (but without vanity or materialism). And have beautiful, groomed, well-mannered children. And host open-houses in a spotlessly-kept domicile. And never lose your temper. And float gracefully through all the criticism leveled at your beloved and his methods. And be *pleased* and *grateful* that committees of people who never got to know you decide every aspect of your life and inform you after the fact: where you will live, what salary you will have to work with (subject to alteration without discussion), what colors may be on your walls, and whether you are spending whatever you have been graciously permitted to earn in a manner of which they approve. And attend all the "right" functions - and enjoy them all. And most importantly, cheerfully and graciously allow - nay, welcome - "churchy" needs to interrupt whatever plans you may have had for family or alone time with your husband; after all, his calling to "the church" (which, by the way, is *not* his calling, but that's another story...) is high and lofty and unassailable and takes precedence over his mere covenant with his wife and responsibility as a father...

I'm not and I don't. God just didn't use that cookie cutter on me. What's a girl to do? Short answer: NOT what I did.