Writing Challenge Day 4 – I was “All In”

Writing Challenge Day 4 – I was “All In”

My previous posts in this “Writing Challenge” were whipped out to simply get it done.  I really didn’t have a subject or idea of any kind.  They were off the top of my head blabber.  Yet today I was hit by something and want to speak about it.  It’s the assumptions I hear about people like myself who have left Christianity and our level of involvement or how hard we tried.

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I’ll give a brief history of my upbringing and what brought me to where I am today.  Born a pastor’s daughter in Dallas, Texas.  My father was what I like to call “run of the mill Christian” but leaned Baptist, and later preached for that denomination.  Fundamentalist, legalistic, pro-life (99.9% of the reason to vote for someone), full of hell and damnation and waiting expectantly for the Rapture.  My beliefs were based on what I was taught and spanked into me.  Most everything revolved around fear. Fear of getting in trouble, fear of angering God and most importantly the fear of burning in hell for eternity.  I floated in and out of being a hard core believer and doing whatever I wanted.  Yet even when I was “backslidden” I knew what I was doing and assumed I’d straighten out soon and then have a juicy testimony.

My parents divorced when I was 15 years old and the church was down right evil in the way they handled it.  It wasn’t all their fault as my father was on a door to door mission to rip my mother apart and make sure everyone believed the divorce was entirely her fault and he was a blameless victim.  I chose to live with my mother and paid dearly for that decision.  So still in and out of church, bitter and heartbroken by how the “loving Christian family of God” treated us, yet still believing this was my only hope. It was a painful and isolating position to be in.

Once I had a child I figured I had to pull my shit together and “raise in up” in the church so he’d accept Jesus and not be burned in hell.  My husband and I went to a few churches where we attempted to fit in and play the game but were always the outcasts.  I knew way too much bible for anyone to bullshit me and I was ready to fight about it.

With all my fighting and anger, I was still desperate to be on the other side.  I begged, pleaded and screamed at God to give me the “peace that passes all understanding” and nothing happened. I did every alter call, read every book (and corresponding workbook), prayed every prayer, fasted, tithed, asked others to pray over me, had demons cast out of me and annointed my doors and window frames in oil. I even flew to Houston for a “Forgiveness Conference” that ended up being roughly 10 people at a table in a small church.

Yet I felt nothing.  My prayers weren’t answered.  I was alone.

My final stop before finally checking out was at The Crossing Church, which I’ve detailed on another blog for 5 years.  When I started going I said this was it, I was going all in and if it didn’t work then I’m done.  I had no idea how prophetic these words were at the time.

The point, which I’ve taken way too long to get to, is that I was fully “all in”.  If there is a deity, then s/he doesn’t want me.  But I beg of you, don’t dismiss my efforts, my pain, my suffering and my journey by saying I didn’t do enough.  Over 40 years of spinning my wheels and now I have the joy of being out.

 

Writing Challenge Day 1 – Survival

Writing Challenge Day 1 – Survival

“The hard season will split you through. do not worry. you will bleed water. do not worry. this is grief. your face will fall out and down your skin and there will be scorching. but do not worry. keep speaking the years from their hiding places. keep coughing up smoke from all the deaths you have died. keep the rage tender. because the soft season will come. it will come. loud. ready. gulping. both hands in your chest. up all night. up all of the nights. to drink all damage into love.”

~ Nayyirah Waheed, salt.

This is day 1 for me of a 31 day writing challenge.  I should also mention that the challenge officially started 7 days ago, so I’m behind and I will complete it late. Though in my hyper scheduled life I’m early for everything, in the larger life picture I do things later than others.  Please don’t call it being a “late bloomer”, dear fuck, I’m not blooming at all.  I’m surviving.  Survival takes time, energy and more tenacity than would be needed for those who flow smoothly through the seasons of life.

Finding the perfect subject matter and things to say generally leaves me immobile and not writing.  So as was suggested from a blogging friend (with a huge following and much more skill than I): just write for 10 minutes.  So I will warn you this will be straight stream of consciousness and in all likelihood will bunny trail off into the wildness.

I’m sick of surviving.  Life is rarely happy, and certainly not easy, when you are surviving.  Yet survival is the protection my mind devised to keep me sane when the walls of my life collapsed time and time again.  I held on while wanting to die.  I pressed forward with no plan, no dreams and no hope.  I didn’t want to live but could never quite put killing myself as a priority over staying alive.

Survival involves a lot of fear.  Most decisions are fear based.  Even in the moments you try to “live in the moment” and give yourself some joy, the fear will overtake it all saying “You’ll be sorry.  Don’t hope.  Don’t expect too much.  Being happy now will only make tomorrow worse.”

It is interesting now that I’ve left Christianity, and really God too, that I’m actually much calmer about the future than I was when supposedly God had my back and my future was to hang out in heaven with Jesus.  I never felt the peace that passes all understanding.  Not once.  Not with all the begging, pleading and screams of my heart.  Nothing.  Knowing it all rests on me now is an easier place to live.

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The last paragraph

The last paragraph

Since leaving the church in 2011, and fully accepting my Agnosticism in 2015 (give or take), I’ve left Christianity.  Yet even while being out I find I still go on what I call “Christianity kicks”.  I start seeking it out again looking for anything redeemable.  Searching to see if perhaps I missed a key point.  Oh lets just say it; I’m looking for acceptance from a deity, if one exists, who has spent my entire lifetime ignoring me.   Having celebrated Easter yesterday (ham – yes, church – no), I suppose all the “He is Risen!” posts trigger my indoctrination to kick into high gear for a bit.

Now when I say I get on a kick, I do not mean reading the bible.  I’m not sure I own one anymore.  No, I read stories and experiences in hopes that maybe Jesus simply hasn’t gotten around to me yet, and in these people’s journeys I might find something new.  There are many Christian blogs around where people delve into some deep and heartbreaking shit.  There are people expressing doubt and searching.  There are some that walk dangerously close to the edge of not believing.

So close.  Eight, nine, ten paragraphs worthy of Job screaming out to the heavens.  “Why have you forsaken me?”  “Where are you?”  “Help!”  They justifiably sob about loss and hopelessness.  They swear, fight and flip off the universe.

Until the last paragraph.

In that last paragraph everything gets quickly wrapped up in a sparkling Jesus bow.  I wish I could say they give enough of their story that you are able to understand what occurred that their God suddenly made everything OK; or is about to make everything OK, as they pray, believe, have faith, lean in, etc… Nope.  Pain, suffering, shit, torment, heartache….yeah, Jesus!  I follow along hanging on their every word, believing I’ve found someone that gets it, yet the ending is always the same.

So was it that simple?  God/Jesus made the wrongs right?  The Holy Spirit wrapped its loving arms around them?  Enough faith and belief reconciled the atrocities done to them?  I do have many theories as to what occurs here and I won’t share them as they aren’t kind or helpful.  And really, I’m not trying to take away people’s faith, even if I consider it an illusion.  The truth is that last paragraph feels like an emotional slap.  “Works for me and it sucks to be you!”

So what’s my last paragraph?  My answer to just about everything: I don’t know. Head in my hands, a deep sigh and back to it.

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The Unredeemed

The Unredeemed

Searching for God has been my side hobby my entire life.  Even growing up as a pastor’s daughter, will hell and damnation shoved down my throat on a daily basis, I never felt God’s presence.  Prayed the “Sinner’s prayer” at age 6, though I didn’t understand what awful crime I could have committed with less than a decade alive; diligently memorized my Bible Memory Association verses (and spanked if I missed any); and got baptized with two ex-hookers and my brother in the swimming pool of one of the wealthy in the church at age 8.  Yet I felt nothing.

From then on out the search was on.  Crying to youth pastors; attending Christian concerts and trying to suppress how much I hated the music; visiting one church after another in hopes of finding something I could hold onto; endless studies, workbooks and prayers, all in hopes of feeling what everyone else felt.  I felt nothing.

One of my many escapades led me to a church in Houston who was having a “Forgiveness Conference”.  I’d somehow became friends with the pastor’s wife who was advertising it on Facebook.  As always, this was my answer!  So I booked a ticket from Minnesota to Texas, because clearly this was the sign from God I’d been looking for, and flew down without knowing a soul.  Well the “conference” was about 10 people from this small church and one crazy ass lady who decided to crash the party.  In Christian circles they love looking for signs from God, so for me to have the balls to fly thousands of miles to be there, they felt surely that God was going to move in big ways.  I cried a lot, as I always did at these events, and overshared to the point of making people uncomfortable.  Talking about being raped, and staying with the guy because your Christian upbringing said you should, makes the church ladies squirm quite a bit.

A song was sung by a group called Selah called, “Unredeemed” and the lyrics are as follows:

The cruelest word, the coldest heart
The deepest wound, the endless dark
The lonely ache, the burning tears
The bitter nights, the wasted years

Life breaks and falls apart
But we know these are

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered
Is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

For every choice that led to shame
And all the love that never came
For every vow that someone broke
And every life that gave up hope

We live in the shadow of the fall
But the cross says these are all

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But when anything that’s shattered
Is laid before the Lord
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

Oh, He will wipe every tear
Will not be, be unredeemed

Places where grace is soon to be so amazing
It may be unfulfilled, it may be unrestored
But you never know the miracle the Father has in store
Just watch and see, it will not be
Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed

“Just watch and see, it will not be unredeemed.”  I banked on this for a few more years before it all crumbled.  No reconciliation with my father (now dead), no righting the wrongs, no peace that passes all understanding, no redemption.

I used to believe that if I saw my favorite color, hot pink, in a sunrise that it meant God had not left me.  Sure I made this up, but it’s certainly no different than all the other odd ways people chose to believe.  Seeing a hot pink sunrise now is bittersweet; I find joy when I see that color yet there is pain as I know it’s only the earth’s atmosphere and not a special message to me…the unredeemed.

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You don’t get that.

You don’t get that.

“You don’t get that.”  Four words that haunt me.  I was first told this sentence by a friend who was describing an episode of Celebrity Sober House with Dr. Drew (stop judging me – I fucking love that show); she described a therapy moment where a patient was sobbing over all the things he wanted in his father.  He wailed for a caring, loving, present and understanding father, and was met with the blunt statement “You don’t get that.”  It stopped him cold, and me as well.  My first thoughts were that this was such a horrible and hurtful thing to say yet so painfully true.

I’ve read other blog posts about this episode which took this to mean “Suck it up.  Stop whining.”  That wasn’t exactly my take as I do feel whining, or rather weeping out the pain of your soul, is cathartic and necessary.  Processing pain is never a one-time event.  It seeps out slowly and sometimes in ways you aren’t fully cognizant of without a lot of self-awareness.  I’ve processed the pain of my relationship with my father, well my mother too, for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes I delve into their selfishness and abandonment, and at other times I go a different direction and mourn what never was.  I’ve forced myself to forgive them repeatedly; yet when you see the same behavior that caused the pain, it all comes back up.

Dr. Drew is certainly right in that “I don’t get that.” in so many ways.  I wasn’t blessed with parents who were invested in their children.  (Side note: I will need to do a post some time about how much I hate the word “blessed”.  So triggering.)  My brother and I have remarked many times that it would have been a lot easier to stomach if one of them had been an alcoholic, a drug addict or mentally insane, because then there would have been logical reasons for their behavior.

I do acknowledge I hold onto things a bit tighter than would be healthy.  Acceptance truly is the key.  Yet sometimes the trauma of one event, overlaps and collides with something completely different, and this is where it gets tricky.  For instance this past September I found I was panicking and triggered over a rape 20+ years before. I’d been stable and OK with what happened for a long time.  Forgiven myself for actions that were never my fault.  I could speak about it like the weather.  So why was this shit coming back to haunt me now?

It’s believed in yoga theory that your muscles, in particular the muscles in your hips, hold your emotions, pain and trauma.  It’s not uncommon for someone practicing yoga to have emotions well up, even tears, while doing hip opening postures.  Amazing work is being done by Bessell van der Kolk, who wrote “The Body Keeps the Score”, “he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust.”  Interesting.

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So perhaps, those of us that are still triggered, can’t let go, can’t walk away, may be dealing with our brain’s trauma wiring, and we’re not so rigid and unforgiving after all?

I was ridiculed and criticized while in the church for continuing to be hurt from my past . They gave SO many reasons why this was happening and all were apparently my fault.  “You’re not accepting the price Jesus paid on the cross….you’re not trusting God…you’re not praying enough…you’re bitter (OK, I agree with that one)…you’ve got a demon (personal favorite).”  I walked to the front of so many churches with my forgiveness list, nailing my anger to a cross (literally), throwing my written thoughts in a fire, telling others, repenting of “my part” (though most of that was fucked up) and crying, crying, crying.  Nothing worked.

I avoided this post for a few weeks as I didn’t have a cute little conclusion.  Lets just say I’m working on it.

 

Back to the grave

“These aren’t about me!  This isn’t me!  These were the things my father said about my mother!”  Therapy is hard work; weeks, months and years can go by without a breakthrough.  It’s still beneficial for slogging through the days of your life, but we all want that light bulb moment.  This was mine.

I’ve been in some form of therapy on and off for years, decades really.  Crying about a father that didn’t want me, facing the traumas and horrors of my teen years and accepting that I did the best I could with what little I was given.  There was emotional release, for a moment, but it was truly the same words being repeated year after year without getting to the other side.

I should disclose that in addition to my psychological therapist; I now have friends who know me well enough, and love me enough, to give just as much guidance and support.  These therapist friends are a Facebook group of people I met through the page Stuff Christian Culture Likes (SCCL).  I found the page accidentally while searching Jonathan Acuff’s – Stuff Christians Like.  Stuff Christians Like was cute but tame; I got some laughs but didn’t really feel understood.  Finding SCCL blew open my world, as I found my people.  People being honest about their doubts, their fears and the atrocities committed by the church.  Through random chance (divine intervention?) I was put into a group of 20 people who have stood beside me in some of the worst times of my recent years.  I believe their presence in my life, along with my therapist, allowed this mind blowing moment.

My therapy homework assignment was to write statements I felt about myself in a specific area.  I did my list 10 minutes before leaving for the appointment as it was too painful to see the statements and hold the emotions for a sustained period of time.  As I read the list I saw my father’s face and was rushed back to a dinner we had shortly after my parent’s divorce.  He went into graphic details of the ways she’d betrayed him, ruined him and broken him.  Healthy boundaries didn’t exist as I had to listen to his tirade about my mother.  He ended is saying, “I have a hard time looking at you because you look so much like your mother.”  I was 16.

As I exclaimed, “These aren’t about me!  This isn’t me!  These were the things my father said about my mother!” I felt my body tingle.  My face became flushed and I started struggling to breathe.  My therapist called me to mindfulness and brought me back to the room, as my memories were swirling and starting to swallow me up.  I said, “I’m going back to the grave with this list.  I need ridiculous dramatic moments to push me along.”  I added, “I’ll do it Saturday, February 13th, the day before Valentine’s day, I want this off of me before then.  I also like that it’s on the 13th.  I was raped on the 13th.  I want that day – that number back.”

It wasn’t as cold on this day back at the grave site.  Not nearly as tumultuous to drive there either; I knew my route and was focused.  Still couldn’t find his damn headstone but I now had a place that I’d designated for my release moments.  I read the list allowed, half crying – half screaming, much angrier than the previous time.  As I ripped the list up and gave his statements about my mother back to him, I stomped and growled.  Felt a bit like a toddler, or someone losing their mind, but it felt right and good.

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I then drove to my step-mother’s and brought back the key to their house. I’ve held onto it with thoughts of breaking in when my step-mother isn’t there. I didn’t want to take anything. I wanted to snoop. And I wanted to see if my father wrote anything…about me…that’s nice. I kept the key in my purse so I’d be prepared for my moment.  It had to go.  Now in my family when there is an issue we typically write letters back and forth, raging with venom as to why we are right and deserve an apology.  I did nothing this time.  My silence was the statement.  I wrote her name on an envelope, put the keys and a post it saying what they were, and didn’t even sign it.  Be gone.

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The blogs I’ve read recently tend to end with a bible verse or some statement about how “God did ___”.  I don’t have that.  I was told for years in church that God would reconcile my father and I and make everything new and better.  I was disowned two years before he died, and though I did see him before his death, God didn’t do shit.  As always.

There isn’t a nice way to wrap this up as the journey continues.