Sunday, April 26, 2009

Struggling - the avenue of growth

Right now, I’m struggling in a couple of different areas of my life. In one of these areas, the emotional struggle is intense so I’ve had to isolate myself from some things in order to protect my thoughts and my emotions. Hopefully, as I go a bit further on this journey, this situation won’t be as painful and I won’t feel the need to protect myself. I’ll be able to trust God to do that.

For years. I’ve avoided struggles as much as possible since struggling leads to pain and to all sorts of hurtful emotions and I don't like to hurt. Over the years in the institutional church, I developed an institutional mindset and I began to think that as a follower of Christ, I wasn't supposed to struggle anymore. I begin to equate struggling with immaturity or a lack of spiritual commitment.

However, Jesus said that in this world we would have troubles so troubles are a way of life for everyone. While we’re in this world, we’ll have problems and we’ll struggle but Jesus said we can take heart so, even in the middle of our struggles, we can be encouraged. For me, it sometimes helps just knowing that I’m not alone. Knowing that others have had similar struggles and have gotten through them somehow encourages me that I can get through them too.

Struggles are not a sign of immaturity or a lack of commitment. They're a normal part of life and, here I’m going to say something that may shock some of you . . . if you never struggle, you’ll never grow.

Life begins with a struggle as a baby struggles to leave the safety of its mother’s womb and then struggles to take its first breath. The struggle begins then and continues throughout its life.

My one month old grandson was recently diagnosed with RSV. This is a highly contagious viral infection that in children that young can be deadly. When I asked my son if the doctor had prescribed any medication, the answer was, “no.” Since the cause is a virus, the only treatment is continual monitoring. So, this tiny little baby had to struggle through this illness in order to regain his health. Fortunately, the resources in his little body were sufficient and he’s now fully recovered.

A number of years ago, my son, the baby’s father, made a profound statement. He said that when we’re too quick to run to the doctor or to take medicine, we don’t give our immune system a chance to work. That simple little statement has stayed with me over the years. It’s only as our immune system struggles to heal us of colds and minor injuries that it will be strengthened for the tougher battles which are ahead.

I believe that’s true for all of the struggles of life. We tend to want the quick fix. We want somebody to run in there and make it all better. We pray and ask God to deliver us right now but chances are his deliverance will happen only as we struggle and walk through the circumstances. I’ve heard it said that God won’t necessarily deliver from the our circumstances but he will deliver us through them. I believe that’s often true and I’m beginning to see it more and more in my life as he walks with me through my circumstances.

The surprise for me is that I no longer look at struggles as I used to. I’m not saying that I look forward to them but I now accept them for what they are and I look to see where God is in the middle of them so that I can join him in what he's doing. That has made all of the difference in the world for me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dealing with questions


I just read a post on Wayne Jacobsen's blog entitled, Questions, Questions, Questions. In it, he discussed how we have a tendency to let our questions hold us back from moving forward in this life of grace. We feel like we have to have all of our ducks in a row and we have to have all of our questions answered before we're willing to move forward.

This life of grace is meant to be lived and not dissected. I believe we need to move forward with what understanding we do have and as we do, God will enlighten us further. We'll never in this world and maybe never throughout all eternity understand the fullness of God's love and grace but the only way to grow in understanding is to live it.

Grace is a heart thing. While we can understand aspects of it intellectually, we'll never experience the fullness of it until we decide to live it even when we don't understand it. We have to be willing to trust that God loves us and will not allow us to drift away.

I've come to believe that my heart knows and understands his love even if my head doesn't. I'm seeking to re-connect with my heart so that living in Father's affection becomes a natural way of life for me. I'm a cautious person by nature. I like to think things through. I normally don't just go out and act without a lot of thought. That's okay but there has to come a time in my life when I make a decision that I'm moving forward even when my head is screaming a loud, "NO!!!"

Once I've connected with my heart, it's time to move forward. This is a lesson that I've been slow to learn so I really appreciate Wayne's encouragement. The comments to the post were also good and I would suggest reading them too.

I want to move forward into the wonderful things God's got planned for me. While I can't trust myself to fully understand, I can trust him to keep me from falling just as he said he would do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thoughts for the day after the Virtual Book Tour

I want to thank Margaret Jones for stopping by on her virtual book tour and sharing part of her journey with us here yesterday. Margaret is truly an amazing woman whose heart is to see others set free.

Even if you didn’t get a chance to post a question or comment yesterday, it’s still not too late. I’m sure she will still be available to respond. I appreciate all of you who stopped by. I know some stopped here but didn't post a comment and that’s alright.

Spiritual abuse is painful to discuss but if believers don’t speak out, nothing will change. Hopefully, we’ve all become more aware of the abuse that takes place and are more knowledgeable as to how to help those who have been victimized.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Not of My Making" Virtual Book Tour blog

Haunted by the Ghosts of Spiritual Abuse

First I want to thank Aida for allowing me to visit and post to her blog. I pray that I am worthy and will not disappoint her and her readers.

I think it is fitting that this tour should start the day after Easter. Seven years ago I was forced out of my church during the latter part of Lent. Full recovery from my wounds took six years. It was a long, painful struggle and now, the day after Easter, this post is a kind of resurrection or rebirth for me. I have found my voice.

Still, there are small things that trigger sadness, grief and fear. Writing this post has been one of those small things. Last week I read through some of Aida’s more recent posts but what caught my eye was the quote from Isaiah 43: 18 -19. “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past.” My stomach churned. Was I dwelling on the past refusing to move on? I have been accused of that by my former church mates and a couple of reviewers. But then I turn to my favorite quote from Elie Wiesel’s Night:

And yet, there has been a change in our behavior. First of all, we express ourselves. I force myself to share the secret that consumes me. I try to make the ghosts within me speak. Does that mean that the wound has healed over? It still burns. I cannot speak of it. But I can speak – that’s the change …

By telling my story I am moving on. I also know from psychological research into memory, that I cannot will myself to forget without it having negative consequences for my mental health. For years I repressed the memory of the sexual assault by my Uncle Frank who I adored. Not able to bear the pain of his betrayal and being too young to understand what had happened to me, I repressed the memory. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even write about it in my journal. In the end I paid a price for keeping this secret. I became depressed, anxious and suicidal.

I was fortunate to get competent professional help and overcame my depression. I married, had children and earn my doctorate. Part of my recovery involved returning to church. I chose Unitarian Universalism because I believed members to be more tolerant than in other denominations. Things went well for a number of years until in 1993 I shared my qualms about calling a lesbian as our minister. I was shunned and blacklisted making it difficult for me to become a full participating member of other congregations near my home. This struggle eventually culminated in my being forced out of a Lutheran Church when they condemned my husband and me for ending the placement of our 16 year old Sudanese foster son. Members of my church refused to believe he had stolen a camera and was physically threatening. They encouraged and even condoned our foster son’s leaving our house when he was grounded. For the full story I encourage you to read, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches.

I am certain that God does not expect or want us to forget abuse and other evil things. Instead we are to speak out against them and seek ways to prevent further abuse. So what are the former things Isaiah is referring to? I asked my priest, Fr. Lance at All Saints Anglican. He told me that this passage refers to the covenant between God and the Jews and is also a Messianic prophecy about John the Baptist and Jesus and the New Covenant. God makes all things new and the past is “forgotten” as we accept God.

So this passage isn’t commanding me and others like me to forget the abuse and not speak of it. God wants us to stop worshipping idols and follow his commandments. For a period of my life I wasn’t doing that. I left Christianity and replaced faith with science, rational thought and humanism. I denied man’s sinfulness and need for God’s saving grace. My move back to Christianity was slow and gradual and is one of the reasons I was forced out of a Unitarian Universalist church. Now I think God was trying to speak to me but I was slow to get it.

At first I thought the problem was a specific congregation, next I thought it was a denomination, finally I realized the problem is in all faiths, all congregations. People sin. Part of that is a tendency to bully and ostracized people who don’t agree with us or who we perceive are not like us. If we believe that since we are true Christians we are above all, we leave ourselves open to sin. Just as democracy requires eternal vigilance, so must we be mindful of our tendency to vie for status and power at the expense of others. I hope you will read Not of My Making and after having done so will consider what you can do to discourage bullying in your schools, churches and workplaces. The book is available at http://www.pluckpress.com/ or Amazon.com.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post. I am available today, April 13th, to take your comments and questions. May God’s peace be with you.

Margaret W. Jones, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

“Not of My Making” review

Well, I finally finished reading Margaret Jones’ book, “Not of My Making.” I’ve been wanting to write a review but haven’t been sure how to put my thoughts on paper. Today, I read a review that Margaret posted on her Facebook and, after I read it, I decided to post a link to that review because the reviewer expressed my thoughts perfectly.

Given the circumstances as Margaret describes them, I’m not sure I would have reacted as she did nor would I have come to the conclusions she did. Of course, I never suffered the severe traumas that she did as a child and, if I had, maybe my perspective would have been more like hers. From what she has stated in her book, it does seem that there was a certain amount of breach of trust but I wonder if it wasn’t due more to carelessness than to actual spiritual abuse.

I recently spoke with her and enjoyed the conversation. I do believe that she has attempted to be fair to all involved in spite of her feelings. I look forward to her visit on Monday and perhaps her sharing will answer some of these questions.

To read this review, follow this link.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Giving - Darin Hufford quotes

I recently listened to Darin Hufford’s series on giving. When I first saw the topic, I wasn’t very excited. I’ve heard enough sermons on giving to make me decide that I don’t want to hear any more. Anyway, I decided to give Darin a chance and see what he had to say. I’m glad I did because he has great insight and instead of producing shame and guilt, in my opinion, what he said produced greater freedom and joy.

Some of the great points he brought out were:

“Anything given or done under any other motivation than love is not true giving.”

“If you have your eyes on receiving, you do not have the heart of God yet.”

“It doesn’t take great faith to give. It takes great love . . . It’s extremely Old Testament to unite faith with giving. When you unite faith with giving, you kill it.”

“You are supposed to now get the joy out of giving and let others receive.”

“If you’re giving for the sake of giving, you’re under the law and there’s no power in that.”

As with everything Darin teaches, I found this series opened my heart to understand more of God's nature and His heart regarding giving.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Virtual Book Tour

I recently received a very interesting email. It was sent to me by Dr. Margaret W. Jones, a psychologist and author, who has just written and published a book entitled “Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches.”

Margaret was arranging a virtual book tour and wanted to include my blog as one of her stops. A virtual book tour as she described it is “when an author visits websites, blogs and forums, instead of bookstores, cafes and universities that a real brick-and-mortar book tour would include. During each stop of the virtual book tour, an author ‘visits’ a different website, blog or forum. At each stop the author may: be interviewed, post an original article or essay (guest post), have their book reviewed, answer questions from the blog’s readers or any combination of the above.”

Thinking this might be a good experience as well as another way of promoting awareness of spiritual abuse, I agreed. As it turned out, Forgetting the Former Things will be the first stop on Margaret’s tour and her visit will occur on Monday, April 13. I’m excited about this so mark your calendars and join us here on that date. She has agreed to write a guest post and will be available for comments and questions.

She has sent me a copy of her book which I'm now in the process of reading. She has a raw style of writing that is keeping me captivated. She’s very open and honest as to what she experienced as well as her emotional reactions. The book describes her experience of sexual abuse as a child and the spiritual abuse she received while a member of a religious organization. Attempting to present a fair picture of the events of spiritual abuse, she had asked those involved in the abuse to share from their perspective. They all refused.

I haven’t spoken to her yet but I hope to in a day or so but I believe what she experienced is more common than we care to admit. I’ve seen the gossiping, the scapegoating, the shunning and the betrayal she describes while I was involved in an abusive church. My experiences were not as heart wrenching as hers but I know these things happen.

I hope to write more about her book after I’ve finished reading it. If you would like to know more about Margaret and her book, check out her website at http://www.notofmymaking.com/.
I hope you’ll stop by here on April 13 and hear her share her story in her own words. Feel free to post any comments or questions you may have for her.

I’m looking forward to her visit. Maybe we can all grow in understanding how devastating this type of abuse is to the victims and to their families.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recover Your Good Heart book study

A group of us have been doing an online study of Jim Robbins’ book, "Recover Your Good Heart." Sunday nights, we meet on Yahoo Messenger for the discussion and Joel from Grace Roots is our facilitator.

I don’t particularly care for group chats so, when Joel first mentioned doing this study, I decided I didn’t want to participate. However, when Ron of Through the narrow gate asked me if I was going to participate, I decided to give it a try. I really was only doing it in order to encourage him and to support Joel. I really didn’t expect to enjoy the study but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.

Each week there’s a different cast of characters and believe me, some of them are characters. Joel does an excellent job of keeping this wild group moving forward with the occasional assistance of Dave Lesniak who in his calmer moments (brief though they are at times) is able to ask the right question to get the group back on track.

It’s been a lot of fun with a lot of joking and relationship building. The book is excellent and we’re all enjoying the exchanging of thoughts and ideas about our good heart.

Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he said he would build his church. Although it’s online and most of us have never met face to face, I believe real community is being built through this study and the church is being strengthened.

If you want to catch a glimpse of the church in action, it’s not too late. Our last meeting in this study will be this Sunday. Joel (now there’s a guy who deserves a medal for valor) will be starting a new study soon. Plans haven’t been firmed up yet so check his blog at Grace Roots for dates and times.

And thank you, Jim, for being the guinea pig and allowing us to use your book for our first study.

If you haven’t read “Recover Your Good Heart,” I highly recommend it. There’s also a companion workbook. For ordering information, follow this link.