The Days Before My Day With Jesus

The Days Before My Day With Jesus

Although I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at 4 years old, I was 41 when I gave him my heart.  I was just home from an amazing, power-packed healing long weekend with the church I love so much in Ohio. It was another transformational time for me. A year earlier I had received tremendous instantaneous healing the first night of their then annual “Family Reunion” weekend. I had continued to receive prayer at different points the intervening year, concluding with a “sit-down” session a few days before the weekend at the start of August.

A year of massive change in my life.

I had received prayer ministry in January of that year that had just rocked my world and instantly relieved me of many wrong things and thoughts.  It was beyond profound. However, I had learned that I needed to replace the behaviors and thoughts and habits and I had been spending a tremendous amount of time in scripture and teaching since that January. I didn’t know how much healing I still needed in my ongoing behaviors and actions. Things had gotten rockier emotionally in the summer and I requested additional prayer ministry.

The second sit down session was rather different. There were some different ministers and it didn’t seem as easy or quick and looking back I can see that it took some time for things to flush out from that session. I had grown up being taught to expect miracles, expect healing, expect all these things, but the reality was that I had rarely experienced an undeniable healing as a result of prayer – yes, it did feel like stomach aches and head aches got better, but even that was so so, not always seeing or feeling a result.

May 2014 my pastor friend could tell I was changed just by my social media!

Over the years I had come to rely on medication and doctors as the answer to my growing physical troubles. I relate very much to the woman in Mark 5:26 who “had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” Shortly after I began to withhold “part” of my heart, I had also began to grow sicker and sicker and begun to use different medications that led to more and more and more medications, til I was on more than twenty different medications with more than thirty different daily doses and a slew of additional “as needed” medications. I had big bags of medication that I only allowed a few people to see because I didn’t want their judgement and censure.

July Selfie

I had thought I would get this prayer ministry and it would resolve my pesky troubles like a day at the spa. However, that time it stirred up a lot before relief was found. As a matter of fact, the first full day of the long weekend, I had a number of troubling emotions and sensations rise up in me. It’s difficult even to explain it now, but suffice to say the Friday of this long weekend that I was anticipating with excitement as a fun, enriching time with friends and the word, did not feel good at all.

Selfie after wearing a hair net and selling pizza’s in June.

I was so confronted and challenged that at the end of the day session  I went to my friends where I was sleeping and hid in my guest room sobbing my eyes out. I pretended to be asleep for dinner because I could not stop crying and I didn’t want to freak my friend’s husband out by my bizarre behavior. My friend had only started attending that church a few months earlier and I thought I must look and seem crazy if I came to the dinner table bawling my eyes out. I actually did fall asleep for a bit and was able to sneak out later to grab some left over pizza and try to understand what was happening.

I wanted desperately to pack my bags and go home. I couldn’t bear the thought of

Reunited with wonderful people who I lost touch with for 25 years!

returning the next day. Amazingly, I wasn’t the only one feeling that struggle. The senior Pastor shared later that another woman had actually been driving home, when she turned her car around.  She had reached out to the pastors who had worked with her to help her stay the weekend. I think there was so much light and life there at that church that day that was confronting error and darkness.

Now, I can look back at different stages of my journey and recovery the last many years

With my friend the weekend that led to my best decision.

and see that there were “breakdowns” before there were breakthroughs. I can see now that there were churches and programs and weekends where I was angry and challenged and not happy and joyous because there was a true, godly cleansing occurring that was painful to the carnal flesh and sin that I had in my mind and life.

After a Food Pantry Saturday morning workout in August 2014.

But there I was that Friday wanting to run away, run home, turn tail, and make for the hills. And I felt so strongly God telling me that as painful as that day had been was how beautiful the following day would be. I could SENSE it so DEEPLY, but it felt impossible to be true. But I did cling to that and with difficulty went back the following day. And God was right. Of course. It was an incredible, wonderful, amazing day full of so many memories I still hold to dearly.

And when I came home from that weekend, I was pondering the healing and beauty that Jesus had brought to my heart and my life. I was lying in my bed in wonder and awe at what he had done INSIDE me most of all.  I was remembering this song where the singer offers his song as a gift to Jesus and I was thinking that I didn’t have a song. I wondered what I could give him as a thanks. And I thought, I’ll give him my heart. And in my mind’s eye, I placed my heart on the alter to Jesus. And I have never been the same since.

Unfamiliar Terrain

Unfamiliar Terrain

Growing up going to elementary school during the Cold War, I was intrigued by stories of life in the Soviet Union. I longed for children in the USSR to be free from the tyranny and lies that held them bondage as I understood things in my child’s mind. I now feel as though I spent so much of my life in bondage while a Christian because I was deceived in believing I had a superior understanding of Christ and the scripture. I held myself completely apart from all things mainstream Christian. When I look back at how the Lord began to work in my situation to get some Christian teachings to me that were outside of our group, it is as astounding a feat to me as when people used to smuggle bibles and cassette teachings into the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

I still mostly feel like a kid in a candy store. I wonder to myself sometimes – How long has all this been going on that I haven’t been aware of? The first several years, I felt so completely foreign in churches, struggling to understand their language and I felt like everyone knew things I didn’t. I was excited to explore new church communities, yet I also felt strange and awkward in all these church cultures.

I grew up in small home churches. Not because we couldn’t afford a

Celebrating a holiday meal with my home fellowship.

building, but because we believed that was the direction God took the first century church, more for intimacy and closeness than economical straits of the early church. When I left the group I grew up in, I was 39 years old and I went to a church that came out of the same group and had a similar structure. The couple who coordinated the home church I began attending in the autumn of 2012 also visited a large, local mega-church. As we grew closer, I began to visit there with them sometimes. Our usual meeting night was Thursday, so Sunday was open for church services.

My first visit there I encountered the mass produced communion cups or “wafer and juice set.” In our living room churches, there was a good loaf of maybe sourdough and I hoped they didn’t tear off too large a chunk for me to dry chew and swallow before the wine/juice.  Sometimes there were mini plastic shots with grape juice, and other times a beautiful, heavy goblet, that coordinators carried with a linen napkin and an incredible skill to wipe the lip where we sipped, turn, offer the wine, wipe, turn. It was a thing a beauty I tell you the way some of them worked the wine, the napkin and the turn. Drinking from the same glass maybe also tested our faith in the healing powers of communion!!

I remember sweet Denny showing me how to work the tabs on the communion cups to get both the wafer and juice seal off. Man, the first time I tasted one of those crazy little wafers was bizarre! I still am not entirely convinced they aren’t actually some Styrofoam derivative!! That family loved me so well, with such a pure love of God that had been missing from my life for many years. Their love healed me in so many ways that I still can’t understand, and I was so against mainstream churches that I needed their example to give me “permission” to explore this other world.

At the end of the service that church would offer prayer based on the topic of the teaching. For example if they were teaching about trust, they might say something like, “Those of you who feel you are being called to step out in greater trust, please come down so we can pray for you.” That’s a really huge generalization of something they might say, but I can’t remember a better example right now. I just remember that the invitation for prayer that first service I attended seemed to be a call that went into the innermost parts of my soul and I wanted so desperately to go for that prayer, but we were in the balcony and I felt so awkward for my friends to see me go for this prayer. I knew it was crazy to feel so self-conscious, but I still did.

I was super happy that the next time we attended we sat on the ground floor so that I could actually access the prayer without too much awkwardness. Later the husband commented on me going for prayer. I don’t know that he actually called me brave for going down for prayer,  but if it wasn’t that word, it was an idea similar to that. I was thinking, gosh, he doesn’t know how desperately I wanted it the time before. I even wondered if there was something a little wrong with me that every invitation for prayer, whatever the perimeters for the invitation, that it felt like such a burning need in my life. But looking back, I did have a huge amount of need.

Still, this journey has also felt lonely and difficult many times. Several years into my new life, I wept bitterly when I came to a point of feeling like not only had I left the church I grew up in, but then I kept going.  I kept going further out into more and more terrain and I felt ruined to ever go back to anything resembling the teachings or culture of my upbringing. At that point a couple years ago, I thought of the Spanish conquistador Cortes who famously burned his boats so that his men did not have the option to turn back. I felt like I had twice burned my boats and there was no way back if I should ever want it. And I felt angry at God. I told him he had ruined me for going back to familiar terrain.

I realize now that’s not entirely or necessarily true. It’s too soon to know where my future will lead, and at least now I can relax enough to know not everyone else is in on a secret that I don’t know. I also realize now that eventually even Cortes returned home, so maybe there is a way back somewhere down the road should I want to take it.

When I speak to people in my job with thick accents obviously from other lands, I wonder, why did they leave? Why have they come so far from their point of origin to here? I feel particularly fascinated by it in the past months. I want to know their stories, I want to know why they have traded the familiar for the unfamiliar. I know there are many reasons for people to transplant. And I know when the wanderlust struck me I was so bored and so tired of where I was and so hungry to be anywhere but there.

But then there are seasons, and while I don’t want to go back, I’m not entirely ready to make any huge leaps forward. Granted, there’s still so much to explore in the new terrain of my life. I’ve accepted that I am a seeker and that God has a purpose and a place in his plan for seekers even when we’ve found Jesus.  Being a seeker has led me to visit and explore many different Christian cultures and find the beauty of God in all of them. I don’t believe everyone is called to do that, and sometimes I do tire of the varying cultures, but I embrace the Jesus I see in all these places from the extremely charismatic to the cathedral atmosphere of “High Church.” I find the beauty of our Lord in all these places and I feel his smile in the wonder of it all.

The Walk Home

The Walk Home

Walking to the bus stop after my first Cyber Monday working in a national retail call center, I was musing on my journey with the Lord the last several years. I was thinking about how much harder it has been than I expected, yet, also more beautiful and illuminating. I was thinking how recently I’ve been hesitant to offer any new things to the Lord because I’m frightened. The last many years have brought me farther than I could have ever imagined in a relatively short amount of time.

It has  involved a  more pain and loss than I ever anticipated and right now I do feel like I don’t want the pain of too much more change for a bit yet. I don’t want to stop and settle, but this walking out journey has left me looking and feeling far more foolish than I ever expected or wanted.

It’s dark in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the end of November past eight o’clock at night. Some friends say they don’t want me walking in the dark and the cold. I smile and enjoy the love. But we both know this is simply part of my life right now. I ride the bus and I walk in the dark, in the cold, in the day, in the heat. It’s all okay. It isn’t what I want, but it is where I am and I’m walking it out. Literally.

As I’m walking up the side street to the bus stop I’m bothered that there is a tow truck with a vehicle loaded on the normally empty street that I use. I feel irritated at the jumble of voices from the customer and the tow truck driver. It’s an indication of the fatigue I’m feeling from the events of the last several days and the increase in calls at work.  As I’m almost to the bus stop I’m thinking about how the last few years have helped me relate to a lot of people in the bible I previously judged or simply couldn’t relate to.

For example, I always loved reading about Elijah but never could understand how he seemed to collapse in I Kings 19 after this huge victory over the false prophets. For three and a half years he walked out the word he had given for there to be no rain in the land, then there is this epic show down in I Kings 18 where he completely annihilates the prophets of Baal. But then, in chapter 19 he’s asking God to let him die. I never got it til I went through several years of feeling like I was fighting for my survival, for my freedom, for my life in many ways and when things actually started to come together more, started to calm down more I was breaking down. I was exhausted from years of pushing and praying for my most basic sustenance and my friends struggled to understand how I had exhibited faith through the adversity, then when I  got a permanent job I was a bawling, sobbing mess. And while I haven’t gone head to head with hundreds upon hundreds of false prophets in hand to hand combat, I do glimpse a taste of understanding of Elijah’s fatigue.  Now, I can look at Elijah and say, Ahh-ha. Okay, I get it some.

I am relieved to get to the bus stop, but almost as soon as I sit down, I realize I’m too late. It’s 8:26 p.m. and I remember that the bus hits this stop earlier than that. Sure enough, as I’m putting it together, I see the bus lumbering up the road across the street from me, the side where there are no stops and I accept that I’ve missed it without the anger or frustration that I often feel at missing the bus.

There will be another bus in approximately thirty minutes, but I realize, tonight, I don’t want to sit here and wait for the bus. I turn to my left and look up ahead to the road that leads home. I contemplate walking under the overpass without lights under it. I weight the cost. I gauge my peace abut  walking that stretch of darkness.

Tonight it seems as if the headlights of the cars are lighting up the unlit parts. Even though I know that’s not actually true, it feels like a harbinger of peace and safety to walk under the overpass.

Yes, tonight I’d rather walk home, than sit and wait. I feel an eagerness set in as I make my decision, but even as I stand, my knee feels not right, wobbly, and hurting and lacking strength. I pause for a millisecond. No.  I decide my knee will loosen up, strengthen up as I walk. I choose to move rather than sit and rest.

I begin putting my earbuds in as I cross a small side street. Suddenly headlights are upon me from out of nowhere it seems as a crossover SUV is swinging speedily towards me. In what later seems like an odd instinctual move, I put my right arm out as if I am going to single-handedly stop a several thousand pound vehicle from hitting me.  Just as fast as it happened, it’s over and we’re clear of each other and I don’t know how exactly. I wonder if they were as startled as me. I wonder if an angel spun the car around me. As I get up on the curb a surge of adrenaline pours into my system. But not too big a surge. I’m often praying nonstop on my journeys crossing streets and on this side street with less lights and less traffic I was paying less attention, so now, I come to myself and determine this is simply a reminder to pray my way home on the not-so-mean streets of northeast Albuquerque.

I resume putting my earbuds in and finding the music app on my phone, but I’m hearing voices somewhere on the night air and I can’t determine where they’re coming from, but I stop trying to discern as I cannot see anyone or anything around me under the checkered light of the streetlamps. I put the second earbud in and trudge forward. In the mixture of streetlights and night darkness I begin to see figures moving toward me. Several figures walking together coming my way. Who are they? Are they safe? Are they not safe? Do they have evil intentions in mind? How many of them are there?  I begin praying silently as I so often do.  “In the name of Jesus, get away from me, get away in the name of Jesus.”

I’m not saying it’s an elegant prayer or a spiritually mature prayer. It’s where I am when I’m just trying to get to or from work, to or from the grocery store and I am tired of being hassled by panhandlers.  It’s a prayer I’ve prayed when bums try to solicit me at bus stops. Or people I suspect to be panhandlers are headed my way and I don’t feel like going through the routine again. It starts with some question, but they don’t really want the answer to whatever they ask you, they just want to get you engaged in conversation so they can ask you for money, or a bus pass, or a cigarette. I’ve been around them too much. I’ve seen them forget that they asked me for a dollar to buy a bus pass and five minutes later offer to sell me a bus pass. I’ve seen them with their arms full of snacks  I can’t afford from the gas station and I admit to becoming somewhat hardened toward them.  Albuquerque has a lot of homeless people panhandling at every intersection, at every median at some intersections. And on occasion I have even given the odd dollar or what not.

“In the name of Jesus get away from me.” It’s also been a surprisingly effective prayer. I can’t tell you the number of people I have watched make a wide berth around me, cross the street or even turn around. Not all the time, but enough that I feel comfort and safety even in this seemingly fearful sounding prayer.

As we get closer I realize this is a family of sorts. There is a young child pushing an empty stroller and either a young mother or older sibling carrying a baby. Okay, not so much a gang of thugs.  Still, I’m tired and apprehensive and untrusting, so even as we are passing by each other, in my head, I’m still saying, “Stay away from me in the name of Jesus.” Hey, who knows what craziness a group of young-somethings might do…

I’m almost to the crosswalk to go under the overpass when I see that there are three orange barrels set at an angle across the sidewalk with tape strung between them. A clear indication to not proceed on the sidewalk. It will be no issue to get around the barrels, but now I am seriously questioning my decision to walk home. First the wonky knee, then the SUV almost hit me, then, well, okay, that really did seem like a family on their way and not some villainous gang of ne’er-do-wells….but …. now …. barrels blocking the sidewalk? Have I made a wrong decision, Lord? Did I get it wrong?

I felt somewhat proud of myself for opting to walk home, facing the fright of  crosswalks and the dark parts under the bridge, particularly when I feel so very weary. It’s been such a crazy day that began with someone attempting to hack my PayPal account. Was I wrong? Did I misunderstand? Maybe I’m just being reckless and foolish and calling it confidence and godliness when it’s not.

I turn to go back to the bus stop and I’m overcome with an overwhelming sensation of DEFEAT and DESPAIR. No, I cannot bear the thought of going BACK.  I turn to go forward. Again, I’m confronted by the barrels blocking my way and I don’t know what to do. I am literally standing on the side of the road afraid to go forward, too defeated to go back. My emotions and senses have no clear peaceable answer for me. I turn again to go back and begin to literally sob at the defeat I feel. I stop. Okay Lord, I don’t want to move in disobedience and say it’s you, but I’d rather move forward AFRAID than sit in despair. It’s not the first time the sidewalk has been closed and in other scenarios I knew I had to press on regardless.

So, I move forward walking and talking to the Lord, praying and feeling my joints stiff and awkward and unwieldy and a certain level of pain in every step, but what else is there to do? Each crosswalk, each street I have to cross, I say to God, If you don’t help me, I’ll never make it. If you don’t force the drivers to see me and stop them, I’ll never survive the walk home. But so much of the past few years this has been the learning. The learning that I can never survive this life if God is not fighting for me. So much the learning has been that in myself I am utterly weak and incapable, but that when in my weakness, I turn to Jesus, I discover his strength and his enabling power in grace to make me sufficient when I am so completely not sufficient.

And so much of the time, there is pain in every step of the way it seems. There is so much more fright and suspicion and concern than I wish I felt. I wish I could walk across the street without praying and feel confident that a car might not swing out of nowhere to bear down on me. I don’t mean that I live in fear, but I mean I feel more fear than I wish I did. But the thing I learn is that as I bear forward in pain and discomfort and fright and not feeling the peace and pleasantness that I want to feel, overall in the journey, I DO have MORE strength, I DO have MORE PEACE. I experience more strength and more peace than I have EVER known in my life, but I daily face more discomfort and weakness than I ever knew. I think that’s what is called a paradox. Or a dichotomy. Something.

I don’t think that the weakness wasn’t there before. I don’t think I would allow God to take me to the places that exposed the reality of my weakness.  I  think I refused to face its reality. I couldn’t bear to accept the vastness of my need for God in everything.

I come to my final crosswalk before I reach home. It seems ironically fitting that a turning car waits for me to cross and behind it is the bus I would have caught had I stayed. This bus is delayed because I am crossing the street. And I feel a bit better that I have gained a little bit of time in getting to my destination versus waiting, but I know truly tonight’s journey home wasn’t about time gained or lost in waiting for the bus or not.

No, I know tonight the journey home was all about the time spent with God. It was all about the relationship. It was all about holding his hand and trusting him to save me, where I have never been strong enough to save myself. It was all about knowing that knowing him doesn’t automatically erase the pain and the fright, the trouble and the struggle, but that knowing him makes it more than bearable, that even in the hard places there is beauty found in his presence, in his companionship. Knowing that sometimes the path seems blocked, the way seems uncertain and fraught with peril, but all those things don’t mean God isn’t still in the thick of it all with me.

Knowing that as much as I want to avoid pain, I will still seek his presence in pain, over sitting without him in despair. So, I do hope that the next parts of the journey have less pain, but even if they don’t, I feel confident, that I won’t stop even in weariness to rest when I should be going forward.

Pictures of the Heart by Jenne Brown

Pictures of the Heart by Jenne Brown

The greatest view

I ever knew

Was a thousand different places

A thousand different times.

Snapshots of awe frozen in my mind.

 

When the beauty of land and sky

Would touch the heart of my carnal eye.

The emotions stirred within my soul

Are harbored now for my heart to extol.

 

There was a dawn I once knew

As I stood wrapped in a blanket,

Barefoot in the dew.

A dawn I met and made my friend,

For I stayed from start to end.

 

And once when it was late,

I ran  outside

When the storms had brewed at eventide,

There I encountered the sky,

When it was ten million miles high.

 

Layered in shades of light and dark,

Cruel and gentle, soft and stark;

Sheets of black and billows of rose.

So that I stumbled to a halt as my heart froze.

 

Humbled by the portrayal I beheld,

And the emotions I felt.

Wind tugged and pulled, but I refused to go,

Until dark and cold signaled the end of the show.

 

So many moments caught in my mind,

So many places, so many times.

Portraits of time

Held captive in my mind.

On canvas or picture I have no reminder of my favorite view,

For the pictures in my heart hold far more true.

 

by Jenne Brown

Divided Christianity – Divided Family

Divided Christianity – Divided Family

I don’t believe that Christ is divided, I believe God is the originator of family, but sadly, many people, many Christians struggle with difficult family relationships. I returned from a week long trip to Ohio two weeks ago. I hadn’t been back to Ohio in almost two years and I felt a lot of anxiety as I anticipated the trip. I was excited to see my current church family in Ohio, but I had a lot of trepidation around seeing my biological family, and still a fair amount of anger around seeing my dad again.

I thought I was more settled about the state of relationships with my family til I had to prepare to see them again. There’s a great lack of communication, difference of beliefs, and in general a lack of connection among my family and I. It isn’t what I want, but that is how it is at this time.

My father and I had only exchanged a handful of texts and a few brief phone conversations in the intervening two years since my Christmas 2015 visit. The youngest of my brothers, still two years my senior, but the youngest of the boys, was getting married. That brother, Joel, doesn’t, um, “do” telephone or social media. I hadn’t had any communication with him since I left Ohio 2 1/2 years before. When I would text Joel for his birthday I would discover his phone number had changed.

The first year that happened, my dad provided Joel’s new number, but after texting a birthday greeting without response, the next year when I texted him happy birthday, I received responses from a stranger asking who I was and saying it was not his birthday – well I don’t actually know if it was a “him.” Joel’s number had changed again. When I recounted this to Joel in person the night before his wedding, he was genuinely sorry and about to offer his new number. I told him not to bother. I had already determined that from now on I will get his wife’s information and pass greetings to Joel this way. I’ve accepted this is who Joel is. I’m thankful for his wife who at least does some social media and phone interaction. I also recognize that Joel is much more introverted. In his presence, he is kind, calm and easy to be with, but getting to be in his presence can be difficult to facilitate as it’s hard to connect with him to make those arrangements.

Communication with the rest of my family isn’t much better. I had seen my middle brother Carter and his family at the Christmas holidays two years before, and sometimes there were brief group text chats with my father, and two oldest brothers. I would text Carter happy birthday and at least now he usually responded with a “Thanks,” but that wasn’t guaranteed, and I didn’t receive any similar text on my birthday.

My eldest brother Matthias and I have the most communication. We text sometimes and occasionally speak on the phone. He’s on Instagram and likes all my She Rises Up quotes. I wonder a lot if he reads the text beneath and what he thinks of what I’m doing. I wonder if he ever actually goes to the link in bio and comes to this site. I don’t think that he does, and mostly, thinking he doesn’t helps give me more freedom to do what I’m doing.

I grew up with my family involved with a home church ministry. I grew up knowing we were called a cult by a lot of people, and my maternal grandmother thought we were off our rockers and probably going to hell for our strange beliefs, and lack of traditional church culture. My family laughs about an exchange between her and Carter where grandma was quizzing him on the ten commandments or some other aspect of Christianity. I don’t remember the entire exchange now, but at the end of it, grandma, frustrated and agitated at her failure to get an upper hand with my brother Carter, exasperated – “Well you ‘Way people’ may know a lot about the bible, but you sure don’t know anything about religion!!”

It was an insult from her, but it was a compliment to us. We prided ourselves, and I do mean prided ourselves on our “lack of religion,” and our knowledge of the bible. The deeply shocking thing to me in the years since I left that group is how very religious it actually was, but I didn’t see it while I was in it. At different points over the years I watched various groups of people break off from the main ministry and form other groups.

Additionally, different individual people would leave over the years. It was a thing and there was a way we would talk about it, without ever really going into depth on it.

“So and so left.”

“Oh.”

Hurt and shock, then resignation. They had gone on, but we remained, we would not be similarly deceived and misled. I had a lot of friends who left and I had to begin to set aside the judgement because I really loved these people. The biggest shift in how I viewed people who left began when my brother Joel left.

He was in Colorado living with a bunch of believers after doing a year of missionary outreach in Nebraska. They had lived in Nebraska several years, then the whole group mainly that had done the program in Nebraska moved to Denver together. It was the late nineties, before everyone had cell phones, and my parents and I received some calls from the leadership in the Denver area to tell us Joel had moved out without telling anyone. He left and didn’t say where he was going. He hadn’t told us anything either and it was two weeks before we heard from him. It was a very upsetting time and devastating in many ways.

At that time the leader of the ministry was a very outspoken, critical man who shunned everyone who didn’t “stand” with us. For years he advocated that we cut off all communication with anyone who was no longer part of our church. He talked about how people who left our church were misled and deceived, and that outside of the spiritual protection offered by the ministry, people would in essence be consumed by devil spirits and likely die. Yes, it was pretty crazy. But this type of thinking and behavior was practiced before this leader and after this leader. But this leader was especially vocal in his anger against any opposition. So, at the time that Joel left, that was the voice of our church – disown and discredit anyone who didn’t stand 100% with us.

But when it came to my brother, something in me broke.  I couldn’t, I wouldn’t disown and disavow him. This was the kid I walked to school with at that terrible neighborhood elementary where the kids were super evil and unkind. Only he had shared the experience of being bullied and the ugliness of facing those kids day in and day out. This was the brother who went to the church teen summer camps with me. The two oldest boys had their own shared experiences together, and Joel and I had a lot of shared experiences since we were two years apart.

Now I’m so thankful for that experience with Joel leaving our church, because up until that point I had essentially excommunicated from my heart and interactions anyone who left our group. The ministry I grew up in did encourage many times completely separating yourself from your friends and family to follow Christ. They would say we have no friends when it comes to the Word. Another friend who was in that group with me and has also since left shared with me that what that taught her was that we have no friends. And sadly, that was how it was on a much deeper level than I realized til I left the group.

I do understand that in life, as a Christian, as a human, it may absolutely be necessary to separate ourselves from people we love, but who are not healthy for us and for where our lives are going. However, I feel those decisions and determinations are something that each individual has to work out with God and be led to do. God is pro-family! I realize that stepping back from family at different points is seen in many places in the bible. I definitely do know we have to separate ourselves from people who will keep us from God and from being emotionally healthy. Even Jesus Christ had points where he had to step back from his family.

But to have a church dictating who we can and cannot, or who we should or should not associate with based on the individual’s affiliation to the church, I do not think is wise.  But I feel there was a lot of that type of control in that group. Again, I didn’t see it til I left. And anyone who said otherwise while I was involved, I thought that person was deceived and misled.

Ironically, obeying God when he told me to go to another church has led to me becoming very separated from my family. The Christian family I grew up with doesn’t want to know what I am doing or why I am doing it. I have left the family church and gone to mainstream Christianity. Mainstream Christianity is the very place so many in the church I grew up in felt they had escaped from. So I left my “family” church to go to, in many ways, the enemy.

Only one nephew has actually asked me why I left. But I remember when I was in the group, looking at people who left. I remember talking with a long time friend who had also grown up in that ministry and we were talking about people who had left. I remember she said to me that I was a “lifer.” I remember how proud and satisfied I felt that she saw me that way. I also remember that we were both in terribly broken romantic relationships, and we were both doing cocaine and drinking. I look at us from the viewpoint of today, we were sitting there, feeling safe and satisfied that we weren’t being lured out of our “true” church, but completely blind to the problems in our life that had escalated into dysfunctional husbands and boyfriend and substance abuse.

I was only around my family for two days on this recent visit, and mostly the conversation didn’t get too in-depth. I seriously feel like Carter’s wife, Desiree, is afraid of me at times, afraid of who I’ve become. Afraid that I’ll infect her with whatever got to me. I’m just six months older than her, just a year ahead of her in school, and I was one of the teen leaders who was on stage a lot at the youth events. I was very on fire and excited about God and our church, so I can imagine that I no longer feel very “safe” to her.

She taught from the main stage of the church last month. I asked her about the experience. And I was happy for her, but reminded of how very much I’ve changed and how different I’ve become. I love them all dearly. Too much I think sometimes. Life is much more of a process than I usually want it to be and I believe this blog is part of the process of me making sense of so many of these things.

I’ve tried at different points the last few years to share with my family about my excitement, about my journey, but it hasn’t really been received. Even when I tried to share the awe of a time where I received instantaneous, miraculous healing, I was completely dismissed. In so many ways I feel like a brand-new Christian, and I want so much to share my joy and excitement with my family. But it hasn’t worked out. And then my heart hurts. So, I pray for all of us. I do believe we are all saved and I believe in eternity we will have accord and unity. But I pray that we can also experience more of it here in this life on this earth.