Everything I wrote about coming out of church world was/is a prophetic direct parallel to coming out of my abusive marriage, none more so than this one from 2 years ago this day. I now know at the time of this writing he’d already dove hard and I was walking dead. Today I sing “Fuck This Shit I’m Out” as a beautiful, rowdy benediction. Won’t you stand and join me?
Meet my big-thinker Mini Me, Liberty Grace. I’ve never been so in love with a name…almost as much as the girl. As much as I laud reason and practicality in my expressions of faith, there’s always been a significant vein of mysticism and natural contemplative spirituality winding through me too. I truly consider my daughter’s name to be prophetic. It was while I was pregnant with her that the first rumblings began…a stirring within me that God was up to something new for us, something powerful and free. God was indeed going to fulfill my lifelong yearning to experience Them in fullness and abundance, but there was going to be an extreme price to pay. Was I willing?
THE SPIRIT OF LIBERTY GRACE
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
I’d ached and prayed for this since I was 16, but now…
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When a man has a hijacked sex drive that cannot be satisfied in a loving, monogamous relationship but needs said relationship in order to maintain his image, power and control, what happens when it all falls apart? What happens to the frustration and loathing when it can no longer be meticulously channeled and contained in the shadows? What happens when virility ultimately fails even in the shadow lands? What happens to a man after he has rejected and abandoned everyone good and real in his life who loves and wants him and devotes all affection, attention, and financial resources to buy the “love” of the collection of lost boys and girls he perpetually maintained in his bank of shadow supply?
What happens when the grand game is exposed, when the scales tip and the natural consequences of the true addiction – an insatiable entitlement to admiration and control – finally begin to manifest and he loses his power – his ability to hide in the shadows or find any satisfaction there?
Rage. Testosterone-fueled RAGE focused on destroying what he cannot control that dares fail to satisfy him.
I am in the fight of my life, but of infinite more importance, the lives of my children.
There is too much at stake for EVERYONE for anyone to stay silent on this issue or bury their heads in a pile of false piety and modesty. Sometimes (every 2 minutes on average) I want to scream at the absurdity of our culture and how fucking hard one has to fight, often against their own tribe, to uphold the most basic truths of our shared humanity.
Despite my epic parenting failures, my oldest son has managed to reach adulthood having dodged this bullet out of his own amazing sense of self and purpose. I’m in all out war to ensure my youngest two reach maturity with the capacity to enjoy and experience (if they so choose) all the wonders and joys of sex within mutually loving and consensual relationships, all while coming to terms with the personally devastating reality that I most likely never will.
People – we need to FIGHT for the next generation of men against the reigning, raging dinosaur of misogyny, patriarchy and inherited familial patterns of abuse. We have collectively failed them. We have failed each other. We have failed ourselves. We all bear the responsibility.
Time for a comet to come in and wipe it all out and change the order of things. If I’m destined to go out and lose everything with a bang, at least I’m going out as the comet.
On a personal level, everyone in my life going forward is one or the other, either with me as the comet or the dinosaurs that need to go so that humanity can get a grip and live productively and happily on this planet. Either way, we all go BOOM. But I’m banking on the next generation having a shot at life.
Today I AM Angry
So, so sad and angry. I finally went to therapy for the first time yesterday. It was only an initial consultation. I did all the talking, just trying to put as much of the backstory out there as possible to give her an idea of where I’m coming from and out of and struggling to move into. The one question she did ask me towards the end of the session, “Are you angry with God or feel like He’s abandoned you?” My answer was a swift and resounding, “No…not at all.” Though the dismantling of every single life box where I’d sought security and certainty for myself has undone me in every way, I am convinced it is God Themself who drew me to and through this excruciating process. And the more undone I’ve become, the more connected and at peace I find myself with Whatever God There Is and the more sense Jesus makes.
Conversely, as time and distance start to do their thing (healing/resetting) I’m finding myself feeling safe to release it all. I’ve been holding back for the safety of others; my family, innocent and unaffected friends, but especially those who directly persecuted and murdered me and my family. As much as I hated what was being done to us and as messed up as I was, I knew that to fight back would mean devastation for ALL and would bring entire families down with me. I couldn’t do that. So I absorbed as much as I could. I threw myself on the bomb. A messy solution that disgusted many, but the only one I felt there was.
But I’m not in that place anymore. I fully accepted and took up that cross and died on it. Now I’m being resurrected. The torturous march towards death is now a rambling exploration out in the wilds, teeming with life and possibility. The process of years and years of absorbing and suppressing toxicity and being blown apart beyond recognition is in reverse now. As I flesh back together piece by piece, toxicity and death are released.
Having a safe place/objective person without agenda who will let me tell my story and give me the needed support in making sense of it is vital in recovering significant pieces of myself. A lot of toxicity being released today, the day after. I suspect there will be many more “day-after” releases to come with subsequent sessions.
So today, I AM angry and sad…and it is good and healthy and safe that I AM. It is reality. And Whatever God There Is – IS – by definition, reality.
Heya Cage-Free followers,
You may have heard that I’m packing up and leaving behind what was a particularly tortuous cage for me here in California and relocating to Nashville, TN to be near my family (the suburb of Mt. Juliet to be exact). The hubby is staying behind for at least a year to pick up his previous career as a peace officer before he went into full-time ministry 15 years ago, at a point in life when most his age are retiring. This not-at-all-easy option is our best shot at recovering emotionally (for me) and financially (for our family) from the last 4 years of church planting, nurturing and releasing.
I’m going to be free ranging like I’ve never done before (or felt allowed to do), and while this is indeed an incredibly exciting and healing proposition, I’m dealing with a great deal of stress and anxiety and battling my own cages of insecurity and self-doubt BIG TIME. I’m going to need to get out into the workforce and fast in order for us to maintain 2 households, getting out being the important part.
I worked full time from home as a medical transcriptionist for 13 years until I simply couldn’t hack the 40-hour work week and missing out on time with my kids visiting home from college. It was not at all a practical decision to quit as I was carrying our family’s health insurance, but it was either that or suffer another emotional meltdown from which I feared I might never recover and be useless to everyone anyway.
Then I went part time as an independent contractor for the last year until grinding to an absolute halt about a month ago. This too was outrageously impractical. At-home medical transcription is an introvert’s dream job with which I have a ton of experience and it can go wherever I do. The safe and sane thing would have been to continue on in Nashville without skipping a beat. But that’s the problem right there.
My heart stopped beating altogether in this old life. No part of me has been allowed to remain safe, much less sane. I quite literally…
I was rotting away mind, body, and soul, shut in my room alone at my computer with no real human interaction at work and mostly forced and painful human interaction outside the home in the form of church work for 14 years. That’s a long time to be miserable, but there’s my super power – to be the world’s lamest martyr no one asked for.
I have a tendency (and tenacity) to put up with highly undesirable things that are at least familiar rather than risk failure of the unknown to reach for something self-nurturing and fulfilling.
It’s taken me a lot of self-reflection and self-therapy to determine why I do that to myself, and I think I’ve recognized the root of this dysfunction is the fear of failure, more specifically the rejection and condemnation I fear will be leveled at me should I fail. Thus, I preemptively punish myself before anyone else can. I do this by consistently short selling and denying myself all the wrong things.
I’m intelligent, quick to learn, capable, well educated, and can clean up real nice on the outside when I want to, yet I have the hardest time letting any of these qualities shine. I suppress them mercilessly to appease the insecurity demon who shreaks –
“No one really wants to see you. No one will ever appreciate what you think or feel or bring to the table as yourself. Don’t show yourself or you’ll be rejected. You’ll only be accepted and liked drowning in mediocrity and conformity. Don’t move. Don’t speak. No one wants YOU. No one will ever want you.”
So I’ve consistently settled for what I imagine everyone else wants except for me out of safety lust…yet ended up traumatized and utterly broken anyway. Now I’m spitting mad at myself for the decades spent cowering instead of living and truly thankful for the massive rejection that killed me so that I could finally figure out how to live.
That’s where you, my friends, those who do care to see me and hear me and are invested in my well being, come in. I need you to not allow me to fall back into old familiar patterns of self abuse and dysfunction. I need your encouragement and connection, specifically connections for a job with, in, and through which I can truly live – spiritually, emotionally, and of course, financially.
I’ve got a legit resume ready to go upon request, but here’s my informal wish list and skill set.
What I’m Good At
- Working within structure and protocol, following procedures.
- Meeting deadlines.
- Communicating through writing.
- Filling out forms.
- Checking off lists.
- Being support staff to the dreamers.
- Being able to meet and often exceed expectations.
What I Need
Gah! There’s that demon again, telling me I should not ask for what I need, it’s selfish to do so, and no one cares anyway so why even bother. Then I remember I have absolutely nothing left to lose and everything to gain and he shrinks down to the size of a gnat…and I find great satisfaction in squooshing him.
- Flexibility – I’ll get the work done well and on time, but I work best when trusted and enabled to go at my own pace in my own style, which will always include being available for my kids first and foremost. I’ll have my parents’ help, which is huge, but I’d still ideally love hours that coincide with my kids’ school schedule and freedom to handle the inevitable unforeseen childcare needs. As my Littles quickly become not so little, this will become less and less an issue, but their care must and will come first. Some partial work-from-home options would be the bomb.
- People – So I basically just said I’m happiest when given a task and then left alone to do it, which is totally true. That doesn’t mean I want to BE alone. I like being an independent part of a whole. I like supporting and feeling supported by a team, working toward a goal together as we each are allowed to shine doing what we do best. A bit too Kumbaya? Maybe. But this is my dream list, so yeah, gimme a smallish group of coworkers I can get to know well and we’ll join hands and get to singing…then break and go do our thing.
- Structure – I can survive long periods of instability and take unpredictable events in stride, but I cannot thrive that way long term. If clear expectations and ground rules are set, I’ll be the happiest camper working like gangbusters within the system.
- Money – I need to make some. Full time with benefits would be ideal for the bank accounts. Demon brain turd is back, telling me no one would ever hire me for a full time salaried position. Squooosh.
- A good therapist – Completely serious. Nashville area Peeps, hit me with your recommendations. Still a lot more work to be done to silence demon brain turd and I could use some professional help.
What I Love
This is stuff I’m passionate about doing, things that charge me up. The ultimate dream job would be getting paid to do what I love, but these are things I’m always going to find time to do with or without a paycheck.
- Communicating important things – Usually in writing. As of the last few blogging years, important things worth communicating have been almost exclusively about whatever God there is and church culture. I do actually enjoy public speaking and teaching as long as it’s something I feel is of deep personal importance to a willing audience. I think my ultimate dream job would be a college professor teaching anthropology and comparative religion, but that would require a lot more schooling, so I ‘spose I’ll concentrate on a not-so-ultimate dream job in the meantime to finance that one.
- Seeing people – Truly seeing them, listening to their stories, learning from them and connecting; being constantly challenged to shed my preconceived notions about people, myself included, and having my perceptions broadened. I’ve very much enjoyed one-on-one counseling and facilitating courses in emotionally healthy spirituality. I’ll be looking for every opportunity to continue this.
- Writing – I absolutely love it. Writing is my one true creative outlet in which to communicate the important things. I’d love to write a book sooner than later. To get paid for that would be ultimate fulfillment indeed.
- Lots of alone time to reflect – Can one be paid to have lots of alone time to reflect? If so, THAT right there is my dream job. In lieu of that, I suppose a job with a sane predictable schedule that would allow me to structure my life around health and wellness would be the next best thing.
- Performing musical theater – For reals, I do. Haven’t allowed myself to even entertain the idea for many years, but now that my heart is beating again, it’s saying it would love that very much.
So there you have it, my friends. If you have any connections for possible employment, I’d be ever so grateful. Let me know if anyone is interested in my actual very basic resume, and feel free to forward this post to those you suspect would enjoy it. Cheers and thoughts and prayers and hoorahs also most welcome. Nashvegas, here I come!
I’m a severely introverted and reserved person. These days, in person, I’m unlikely to impress you. I don’t emote much. Whatever I’m feeling (and I feel the full spectrum of emotion with deep intensity) this is probably all you’re going to get.
My randomly selected combination of genes allows me the luxury of attaining the label of “attractive” female from others if I put just a bit of effort into my outward appearance. Truth is, I’m much more comfortable downplaying any outward attractiveness to the point I’ll even deliberately sabotage it when I feel the real me – my passion – my soul – who I really am, think and feel is being dismissed because it’s just too much for someone else to handle – which is most of my life, most of the time, and all my relationships at some point or another.
Spiritually and emotionally, I’ve been Shamu my entire adult life in Church World – a creature designed to travel and hunt in vast open expanses of ocean in community with my own kind, artificially isolated and enclosed in a kiddie pool as a commodity, my only value being the ability to perform for the entertainment of others. What choice did I have as long as my keepers were the ones holding and doling out all the dead fish?
I’ve been in a horrible and weird state of limbo for 4 years now. We stopped performing and started acting out of our true nature with full integrity as Four Creeks Church. The first chance they got, the powers that be, the very ones who had given us their full blessing in front of the crowd, shut us into the tiniest holding pool in the back, out of sight, and withheld all fish…and then got very testy when I didn’t just quietly submit to that fate. Me being seen and heard was very bad for business.
I could have gone Tilikum on them. Lord knows I was screwed up and traumatized enough to convince myself I was justified in inflicting harm back.
And I so totally could have…on multiple occasions. I could have used my words to bring the whole joint crashing down on itself. Easily.
Instead, I used my words to bare my soul and let anyone who would listen see just how deep I go. The underlying message in all my writing has always been, “Help me, please. I’m dying here in these shallows” while exercising restraint to withhold the details as to what specifically was going on and who was doing it in the hopeless hope that some kind of reconciliation might be possible – that someone, anyone involved would turn and see and acknowledge this wrong and make it right.
That hope has died. Way too much artificial sea water under the bridge. Too much, too much, too much. I am too much for just about everyone and everything in this place…even myself.
I’m going to be swimming out to sea very soon and that hope has been the only thing keeping me alive. But my present reality is this – I’m still here, right now in the tank out back, severely malnourished, atrophied and covered in sores and I’ve got a couple more months to go here. I still, right now, am desperate for connection and relief; a kind word, hell…just basic recognition and “I see you” is really all I need.
Or is that still too much to ask of the “men of God” holding all the dead fish?
It might sound a little bragish, but I think our marriage is exceptionally great. There isn’t a single couple I’ve ever envied and thought, “Gosh, I wish our relationship was like theirs.” Not that I haven’t been miserable and desperate for change in my own at times, but I have always considered the one I have worth fighting and even dying for.
We’re also more than a little ridiculous together and we’ve accumulated a whole lot of NOT EASY in our 25 years of being hitched, but this is precisely what makes us so great together. We’ve managed to navigate some insanely treacherous territory as the perfectly dysfunctional hot mess we are. As I write this, we are bracing ourselves for yet another trip through the wringer, this one likely to stretch us beyond recognition into something quite different.
Painful as that sounds (and is), it’s more or less been our normal every few years. Several years ago I documented the first traumatic rodeo we experienced as newlyweds (Jimmy and Jennifer – A Beautiful Rowdy Love Story) and I was blown away at the response it received. Turns out when you dare to expose yourself with that degree of raw vulnerability, a lot of people feel relieved and free to say “Me too! I thought I was the only freak who couldn’t get their shit together!” I also understand it can be rather unsettling for those not ready to release their tightly-clenched turds or admit they even have any.
But for those who are up for another installment of the shit show that is Jimmy + Jennifer, come gather ’round the fire and snuggle up to your significant other as I recount more of our ancient history and what has become the great metaphor of our marriage…
THE CAMPING TRIP
It was spring break 1993, just a few months before I would graduate from college and all hell would break loose in our fledgling marriage. All I knew at that point as a grossly naive 22-year-old with 18 months of matrimony under my belt was that I hardly ever saw my husband, had no social life, and was very unhappy. So when Jimmy suggested we get away together for a couple days of camping in the Mojave desert where he grew up (and where we’d fallen in love 3 spring breaks before), I was thrilled.
Day 1: Trusting Jimmy that he knew what he was doing being on his home turf, we drove to the top of a mountain that overlooked a desolate valley and the Colorado River in the distance. The plan was to hike down the mountain and camp by the river, so we stuffed our backpacks with as much bottled water as we could carry, leaving more behind in the car. I asked Jimmy if he thought we had enough. He assured me that even if we ran out we could refill at the river. I wasn’t OK with the thought of drinking river water, even boiled, but Jimmy assured me we’d be fine.
As we peered down the mountain, one side had a relatively smooth, direct trail leading from a transmission tower at the top down to the base. The other was covered in large boulders. We headed down the side without the trail because – OF COURSE WE DID.
By the time we reached the bottom after an hour of slowly lowering ourselves rock by rock, fully loaded with gear on our backs, our thighs were absolutely destroyed, but as young seemingly indestructible 20-somethings we laughed it off and started hobbling in the direction of the river…at least as far as we could tell since we couldn’t see it once we were on the valley floor.
I asked Jimmy how we would know we were staying on track. He told me we’d find one of the many washes once we got closer and follow it down to the river. I thought a compass would have been a safer bet, but hey, I’d trust the guy who grew up running around in this dirt.
We spent the rest of the afternoon happily walking and talking and exploring, Jimmy reminiscing about growing up a desert rat. As it started to get late with no river in sight, we decided to set up camp for the night and hopefully reach it the next morning and spend that day and next night by the water. Though it wasn’t blistering hot (yet), April was still plenty toasty weather, and a refreshing dip in the river and resting my super sore legs for the day sounded mighty fine to me.
That night under a blanket of stars, and nothing else, just as Jimmy and I were getting down to romantical business, a large fleet of Apache helicopters descended low and began thundering across the valley directly over our heads before we could do much of anything to cover up. I’m sure if there were any young Marines who noticed us they enjoyed the show.
Day 2: We set out early eager to find the river and have a day of play and rest from hiking. Jimmy suggested we descend into and follow the nearest wash which would surely lead us there quickly. An hour passed…two…three…four. Our water was running low. I increasingly kept suggesting we give up on the river entirely, but Jimmy was insistent. We had to be almost there. We finally stumbled onto a road and another hiker who was able to tell us the river was still a good 5 miles away and our path had been running parallel to it.
Jimmy’s reaction: Great! We’ll follow this road and be there in a few more hours.
Jimmy: Fine. You stay here, I’ll RUN to the river and bring back water.
After unleashing another steady stream of expletives and screeching he’d do no such thing, I sat down in the dirt and refused to move. I was taking over this operation. We were going to stop, set up camp for the night, ration our water and head straight back for the mountain first thing.
Night 2, instead of romantical shenanigans, there was only seething silence and restless tossing and turning, trying hard not to think about the 10-mile hike back that awaited us the next morning or the 2 remaining 16 ounce water bottles that were going to have to be enough to get us through.
Day 3: We started out as early as we could to get as much walking in the cool of the day as possible, waiting as long as we could in between tiny sips of water. The only positive was being able to clearly see the mountain we were headed to and knowing an oasis awaited us at the top. By the time we finally reached the base of the mountain, we’d long since run out of water and were dangerously thirsty. We slowly began the tortuous ascent up the long, steep trail on the opposite side from which we’d initially come down.
Even though my legs and throat were screaming, I got a sudden boost of energy and moved briskly. The end was in sight, dammit, but Jimmy was failing. At about the half way point, he lay down unable to go any farther, dangerously dehydrated and risking heat stroke. It was up to me to make it to the top and get the water.
What followed was probably the longest 15 minutes of my life. I’d never experienced such desperate thirst, and I hope to never do so again. About 2/3 of the way someone’s old Big Gulp cup tossed on the side of the trail cruelly mocked me.
As I approached the summit with relief just a few more yards away, a horrible thought struck me. What if for some reason the car wasn’t there? What if someone had stolen or confiscated it? Suddenly the hope that had been giving me almost superhuman endurance was sucked right out of me and replaced by terror.
As I rounded the last bit of the hill full of dread and the summit came into view, I was startled to see the entire mountaintop crawling with Marines. The Boys had used our mountain to set up operations for their desert training drills. And there was our car, right where we’d left it, except now surrounded by military vehicles buzzing about. As I stumbled through the surreal scene toward the car, a cute guy in desert camouflage gave me a cheerful, “hello ma’am” and continued on his way. I tore open the trunk and inhaled at least 3 bottles of water, letting the relief wash into and over me. It felt like heaven to finally sit down and take my time with bottle number 4.
But crap! Jimmy was still half way down the hill. I suppose I could have asked a Marine to help me go get him. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask the cute one. I did actually contemplate rolling some bottles down the hill rather than have to go back down there. After a very deeeeeeep sigh, I put my backpack in the trunk, tucked a few bottles of water under my arm and reluctantly headed back down the hill, my thighs loudly protesting being forced to do the downhill thing again.
Once Jimmy got a bit of hydration, he perked up enough to walk to the top, but I had to carry his pack. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking on that second climb, but I imagine it was something along the lines of,”‘Let’s go camping’ he said. ‘It’ll be fun’ he said…grumble, grumble…City Slicker wife had to save Mr. Desert Expert Sissy la-la Pants.”
I then drove us down the mountain to the nearest town where we stopped and eagerly consumed a bunch of Carl’s Jr. cheeseburgers in stunned silence, until Jimmy piped up, “That was a great trip.”
Sigh…was it too late to go back for that Marine?
We Are Who We Are
We learned some things about ourselves and each other on that camping trip and have watched them play out time and again in our relationship over the years.
Jimmy values the big picture, not so much the details. We went camping, we came back. It was an adventure. That’s a win in his book and the experience itself is the reward and totally worth it.
The details are where I live so that we CAN live. They matter to me, and it’s good that they do. But I can lose sight of the big picture quite easily and without his adventurous yin to my play-it-safe yang, I’d miss out on much of the richness of the human experience if left to my own devices.
I never would have initiated going camping. Never would have seen the breathtaking view from the top of the mountain. Never would have made love under the stars. Never would have learned what a complete badass I can be when pushed to the brink.
Being extremely intuitive, Jimmy is a brilliant dreamer and a fantastic implementer but rarely has any kind of exit strategy.
I’m horrible at planning or initiating, and I’ll commit loyally (to a fault) to his plans and often marvel at his genius, but it usually falls on me to recognize when we’ve hit the end of the road and I simply can’t and won’t go any farther. Then, and only then, do I assert myself and pull the plug.
We do our fair share of butting heads along the way, me fixated on the details, him with an eye on the big picture. To carry the camping trip metaphor into what we are facing right now, we’ve been in the thick of it for the last year.
I went into our latest big adventure of planting and pastoring Four Creeks Church with Jimmy with my whole heart and soul, fully trusting in his plan, and its conception and implementation were truly brilliant. But no amount of good intentions or brilliant planning could save us after we were abandoned by the church that sent us out, left in the desert to fend for ourselves with very little water. We eeked out an existence for as long as we could, but our resources eventually dwindled down to nothing. We kept walking thinking surely the river was right around the bend…but no. Relief just wasn’t going to materialize no matter what we did.
Jimmy and I are ridiculously stressed and have been for an extended period of time. We’re butting heads dealing with it the only way we can…as ourselves. True to form I pulled the plug on Four Creeks. I pushed through so much for so long until I simply could not take another step. I also realized I could not continue to live in this town, this desert, where we’ve been utterly despised and rejected. I need my family, my children, my parents – my oasis – and I have to get to them to live.
It’s me this time who’s stalled out half way there and it’s Jimmy who’s going to do more than just climb the mountain for me – he’s gunna sacrifice himself and move the damn thing. He’s masterminding and financing my exit strategy and rebirth.
I’m relocating to Nashville in a few short months with our 2 youngest to be near our 2 oldest college kids. I’m going to be living right around the corner from my parents when I’ve never before lived within driving distance of them my entire adult life.
Jimmy is going to stay behind in California to work and recover financially from the last few years – in the desert alone without the comfort and affection of his family. We don’t know for how long…at least a year, probably 2.
And once I get out there, I’m going to have to get in touch with my inner badass once again. I’m going to have to figure out how to do things on my own I never felt capable of or allowed myself to do before without my yin and Jimmy without his yang, but for the first time ever I’m going to have abundant resources and support to figure it out.
I suppose most couples go on a cruise or something for their 25th anniversary. We’ll be spending ours 2000 miles apart, ’cause that’s just how the shit show that is our life seems to roll.
Even so…I don’t regret a minute with this man. Not a one. The big picture, the views from the mountain I’ve experienced together with him are breathtaking, as is making love to him under the stars. Every aching muscle, every scarcity, sacrifice and near-death experience is more than worth it for this adventure.
A Gospel of Snark blog post from this time last year. The tally of complete emotional/spiritual unravelings in the process of planting, nurturing and then letting go of Four Creeks Church stands at 3. I felt during each one that I was going to die. I was right. Over the last year my laziness and vanity were finally starved into oblivion. Jimmy and I are so very, very relieved to be on the other side among the dead-living and immune to the bites of the living-dead.
In preparation for facilitating a new round of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I’m going through the little twice-daily devotional book Day by Day (formerly The Daily Office) for the third time. This morning I came across one of my favorite quotes that I strongly related to the first time I read it 3 years ago.
“I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands of my time are proof to myself –– and to all who will notice — that I am important…I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.
I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.” – Eugene Peterson
Scazzero, Peter (2013-03-26). Daily Office (Kindle Locations 346-347). Kindle Edition.
I AM LAZY
My entire adult life in church in ministry has been miserable and drowning in busyness and physical and spiritual exhaustion because I am a lazy ass. We’re talking pathological here. I’m extremely passive as a result of equally heavy doses of nature and nurture. I was raised in a culture with a double whammy of indoctrination from both family and church that the “right” (and only) way to live was to abdicate “the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals” and to let authority (parents/church) do it for me. For the most part, having a naturally passive personality, I was happy to let others dictate life for me because it was easier, because…I am lazy.
My laziness is rooted in fear – fear of facing the discomfort of conflict. It’s much easier for me to conform and play by the rules in a system I have no responsibility in making than to take responsibility for my own, because…what if I get it wrong? What if someone doesn’t like it?
Rejection and criticism wreak havoc in the life of a comfort junky. It is deeply, desperately ingrained in me never to be/act/think wrong. It’s the worst. I feel the worst. I am the worst when others think I’m wrong. It’s not that I have a need to convince anyone that I’m right…no, no, no. I just want to avoid at all cost the risk of anyone thinking or believing I am wrong…because in the system I come from, the wrong person is not respected; the wrong person is not worthy of love; the wrong person must be stopped, condemned, corrected and made right immediately or forever rejected because – THOU SHALT NOT BE WRONG.
I am lazy mostly out of fear of being wrong.
Comfort and safety are my #1 inherited family idols that I was taught to hold up as supreme and noble motivation. Over time, they insidiously morphed into a lazy, dishonest, hot mess of an inner life while I feverishly expended energy maintaining a squeaky clean, socially acceptable, respectable outward life. I became grossly church busy for 18 years as the wife of a minister at the expense of my family, my health and my sanity because…I am lazy.
I repressed and denied my true thoughts and feelings and allowed people to direct me down soul-sucking paths I didn’t want to go because I have tremendous safety lust and…I am lazy.
It’s taken me every bit of the 3 years I’ve been working in EHS “going back in order to go forward” in order to identify and unpack this baggage. To no longer be conformed to the pattern of my world and be transformed by the renewal of my mind is an intense and prolonged process – a gnarly, epic wrestling match.
My entire Church World experience had sold me on an alter call, some tears, and a one-and-done prayer and doubling down on the rules as the answer to all Christian struggles. God loved me enough to utterly break me before I was ready to get over myself and my laziness in order to stop buying (and selling) the shit substitutes. But wow did that love feel like death…because it is; death of SELF in order to live as Christ.
THE SCARLET “W”
The planting of Four Creeks Church saw my worst fears realized and magnified on a personally horrifying scale. We stepped out of the established church system in which we’d worked and served faithfully our entire adult lives and set aside it’s comfortable human traditions and secure structure to embark on a grand experiment to see if a church that preached and taught and modeled Jesus alone and the exclusive inclusiveness of his Gospel of Grace could fly.
Starting out, we honestly thought we had the full support and partnership of our home church. If anyone had told me we’d end up completely rejected and unsupported just 9 months in, I never in a million years would have been on board to sacrifice so much or take such a personal risk for myself and my family – absolutely not my M.O. as a comfort junky and safety slut.
And why were we rejected and dropped like we were hot from the fires of hell? Because we were wrong in the eyes of a few influential and very vocal church people. Our teachings on prayer, worship, love, how to be the church and do life were all wrong. It didn’t matter if they were all taken straight from Jesus’ own words and example – it challenged the long established system, which, in Church World, is the ultimate in WRONG.
Rather than be associated with anyone or anything that had a reputation for being wrong, even the nicest and more sane personalities in leadership distanced themselves from us and let us go, out of sight and out of mind, to fend for ourselves so they could try to get back to safe and established business as usual without being sullied or inconvenienced by our scarlet “W” of wrongness.
WAKING UP ANGRY
I’ve heard it said anger is a secondary emotion and that it’s really an expression of underlying fear or hurt. In my case it was a massive sucker punch of both. I’ve also heard it said, “Jennifer seems angry in a lot of what she writes and shares on Facebook.”
You don’t open up the flood gates of a lifetime of repression and resentment and get a gentle trickle. When my eyes were pried open and I saw things clearly for the first time, I woke up angry, terrified and in a tremendous amount of pain, and very, very much on my own with God alone to figure out how to deal with it. What intimacy and reality in relationship with my Father I have found there.
Pardon my French (or don’t…I truly, honestly no longer care), but since one of the first things that earned us the scarlet “W” was me using the wrong words, I’ve freed myself up to use all the words that best express my frustrations and to try to get across just how much of a cluster mind fuck this experience has been to have everything I thought I knew, every system I’d ever trusted, every rule, every certainty utterly and completely destroyed in order to build new and completely different…in faith.
I AM VAIN
The laziness, the repression, the grief, the bitterness are all quite familiar traveling companions to me at this point. I’ve worked very hard to honestly identify, embrace and submit them over the last 3-4 years. But, as EHS has a way of doing, a brand spankin’ new layer of dysfunction was brought to the surface and made visible to me this morning.
I have had such a hard time with bitterness because I am vain. I am most vain when you mess with or challenge…
My family –
“I can’t believe those gossip-mongering, power-playing church biddies said such things about my husband and actively campaigned to put us into financial crisis. Could they really not see how amazingly good my own children are and what obviously fabulous parents we are to think we could possibly be a bad influence on anyone? How could anyone in their right mind with any compassion in them whatsoever justify doing that to any family, much less one so *perfect* as mine?!”
Oooh girl, that’s some hardcore bitterness coming from someone so *perfect*
My work ethic –
“None of you understand how I’ve worked my ass off apart from church as a corporate peon, full time for 13 years; working holidays, even weekends and then exhausting myself 3 services on Sundays plus rehearsals, all with my family in tow. I never got away on weekends for family fun time. Why did I do that for so many years only to be rejected the second we stopped entertaining you? Not only did you not appreciate my sacrifice, you went above and beyond to treat us like shit. Ungrateful assholes.”
Oh so much bitter…even if I alone am responsible for making myself the lamest martyr on the planet fueled by my own dysfunction. It’s a lot easier and even feels kind of good to resent church people rather than myself. Ick, it’s a lazy and vain combo. That’s unattractive and thoroughly anti-Christ. Way to be Jen.
My intellectual integrity –
“Oh no they didn’t! They did not just haul out the most tired and ratty scripture sound bite out of context to try and shut me down and shut me up.”
I suffer from the delusion that if I just explain myself clearly enough, citing sound evidence and reason about how I got to a certain view of scripture, that people will accept it (and me). I’m so very cool if you hold a different view…just don’t ever, EVER, denounce me as wrong for holding mine unless you want a deluge of scripture references explaining their context and blog links to help make my point and justify myself. I’m learning, albeit slowly, that hardly anybody appreciates that the way I do, and that hurts and then starts the whole sick bitterness merry-go-round spinning again. I’m getting better about not buying a ticket for that ride, no matter how tempting it is to justify myself, but vanity is a true beast in this scene. It just can’t handle people accusing me of being wrong in the name of God on the internet.
THE PERFECT VULNERABLE STORM
All of my weakness and vulnerability is tied up and on display at Four Creeks, not the least of which my laziness and vanity. I had what amounted to round two of an emotional breakdown last month. Thankfully, it wasn’t anywhere as debilitating as round one had been right after we launched Easter 2012, but alarming enough for Jimmy to panic a little and text the older children, “Mom is losing it again guys…help?” Poor guy is just not okay when I’m not okay. I love him so.
Here we are almost three years in and in more dire straights financially than ever. We had some people leave. It was a long time in coming and it needed to happen, but it was still very, very scary. For the first time in all this I entertained the possibility that we just might be forced to fold this thing and quit at a time when the few faithful people we do have are beginning to really catch on and run with us. Oh how the bitterness welled up fresh out of me as I wrestled with that thought. I love these people and what we are doing together so, SO much. The thought of having to quit now after enduring so much was too much. Then the thought…what on earth would my life be like not being in ministry, not even going to church for that matter. I just couldn’t see myself going back into a traditional evangelical church setting ever again as a free person. That was mind blowing to consider.
I spent a few sleepless nights and a lot of tears trying to wrap my head around those possibilities. A lot of crying out to God these words, “What more do you want from me here? I’ve done everything I know to do, said everything I know to say and now slammed up against yet another wall. Seriously God, WHAT DO YOU WANT?” Silence.
Then the bitterness welled up in me more fierce than ever. “It shouldn’t have to be this hard. None of them see. None of them care.” Jimmy was off driving for Uber in those awful wee hours. I was truly feeling tormented and utterly alone and unseen. In those toughest moments of panic came a whisper…
“I see you. Until that alone is enough for you, you’ll stay stuck.”
The fog of fear lifted a few weeks ago, but it all made sense this morning when I realized it is my vanity that keeps God alone from being enough; His provision from being enough; His acceptance and love for me being enough. Vanity feeds off people providing those things, and my vanity, having been brutally kicked in the crotch, spawned quite the formidable bitterness monster. The only way to kill that nasty beast of SELF?
Laziness and vanity have a hard time putting down roots in a life of faith. Faith perseveres and strains and sacrifices without need or desire for human recognition or approval. Faith is aiming for a much farther and grander target than instant gratification. And as my two biggest and oldest vices starve and wither the deeper in faith I dare to go, the more familiar I’m getting with the bravery and humility that are my new traveling companions.
Your exceedingly gracious and beautiful Mamma reminded us that it’s your 45th birthday today. This time 26 years ago I know exactly where we were and what we were doing – engaging in blindfolded scavenger hunt birthday shenanigans fit for our beloved roomie and queen of all things adventure and fun.
Wow, how that reminder punched me in the gut. There are so many others acutely aching for you, not only on the anniversaries but every minute of every day for the last almost 7 years since you were wrenched from this life so abruptly. To try and quantify my sense of loss compared to that of your parents, your children, your husband…to go anywhere near that ineffable grief with my words almost smacks of blasphemy. But it strikes me even harder, after some honest reflection and recognizing just how significant and sacred an influence your life is to mine, that to not express it would be the sacrilege.
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember the last time we ever saw each other. I think it might have been your wedding not long before Jimmy and I nearly self-destructed and fled San Diego and you and Steve moved to Texas. The day we met, however, is crystal clear in my memory.
I was nervous upon arrival to campus, not knowing a soul and hoping to God my roommate situation would be tolerable. With 4 to a room I figured surely the math would add up to at least some relationship drama/trauma. As I tentatively stepped into the room for the first time, an impossibly cute little blond was waiting there to greet me. Your corner of the room was already set up in distinctive Kris style. I felt comfortable enough to choose the bunk underneath yours rather than one of the vacant beds across the room. After my parents finished their delivery and said their goodbyes, there we were…just you and me, waiting on the other 2 strangers and soon-to-be sisters to arrive.
I don’t think you gave the awkwardness more than 30 seconds to fester before asking if I wanted to get out of there and go for a drive. We spent an hour or so driving around Pt. Loma in the VW Rabbit convertible with the top down swapping basic info about our lives. We both had boyfriends. I got to hear the first of many never-boring tales of your life in small town Colorado. You told me how your parents had moved out with you to work at the college and lived nearby. You already knew the lay of the land and had scoped out potential adventures. Within the first hour of meeting, you demonstrated your distinctive ability to simultaneously put people at ease while encouraging them to get out there, take life by the balls and live it…and you did it with me, probably one of the toughest social nuts to crack. This chick was cool and fun and loved to take others along for the ride.
Heather and Jessica would arrive later that day and the magic that was our relationship as freshman roomies of Goodwin Hall P1 began.
We were each so very, very different from one another in personality but the most compatible foursome imaginable. We didn’t fight but we also didn’t walk on egg shells with each other. Each one gave the others complete freedom to be who they were without judgment. Our room was a comfy, albeit perpetually messy (thank God all 4 of us were then) haven of peace and belonging and fun.
I miss that dynamic SO much. I’ve never experienced anything like it since. I’ve tried, but I’ve never been able to develop friendships anywhere near that free and loving in adulthood. Maybe if I’d had a Kris…
I’ve always been horribly insecure when it comes to orchestrating fun and instinctively relied on other people for it. Kris, you were the master. Fancy schmancy dinner dates with the boyfriends. Generously offering to loan me cute clothes and formal wear. “Forbidden” activities on and off campus (which was pretty much breathing back then at a conservative Christian college). I didn’t join you for all of it, but you never EVER made me feel lame for taking a pass and I was more than happy to cover for you crazy gals a few times and you were more than happy to return the favor when it was my turn for a little unsanctioned fun.
As a unit, we’d already grown quite close by November when Sean died. When my parents came to break the news to me and take me home early before Thanksgiving break I wouldn’t leave until I’d seen you and Jess and Heather. I have a vivid memory of the three of you standing outside Goodwin holding each other as we drove off. I desperately didn’t want to be apart from you.
When I returned, oh how you girls saved my life. Kris, you in particular encouraged me to live. It seems so strange to say it, but that year was the most fun of my life, bar none, even punctuated by such devastation and tragedy. You cried with me, you laughed with me, you let me do what I needed to do. We shared and lived our stories with each other in all honestly and without shame and you truly wanted the nitty-gritty both ways. I loved that the most, I think.
Then in the spring of our freshman year, you were the main instigator in getting this reluctant dork together with The Grizzly, truly the mark of a master of fun and mischief. The twists of fate got even wilder as Jimmy’s best mate eventually became yours.
Not even a year later we were in VEGAS BABY! I might have been the one getting married on my 20th birthday (wearing your dress), but I’m quite sure you had the most fun of any of us.
The bulk of our relationship was compacted into only two years…two glorious and magical years. After I was married-married, adult life started to creep in and we didn’t see each other very much, though we still managed a highly memorable shenanigan or two. Then it wasn’t long before we all moved far away and started families. I never saw you again. We kept in touch old school with Christmas cards and birth announcements and such. We discovered your family were old friends of our pastor’s family and kept tabs that way too.
Then Facebook hit the scene and just as the whole gang was coming together to reconnect and reminisce…suddenly you were gone – eighteen years to the day of our Vegas trip, my birthday.
My God, my God…the significance of that to me. What a horrendous and beautiful treasure to have all of that tied to one date and how much more that snapshot of those 6 silly child-people means to us all.
Your memorial service was just as much a college reunion. What love you engaged and facilitated in your lifetime. It was so wonderful to see all the faces and hug all the necks and I swear I had to force myself away from thinking you were just on the way to the party and would be joining us any minute. That group without you, the master of fun and living life to the fullest…my brain and heart just couldn’t make it real.
How could any of us ever have seen ahead to this? Who could have predicted our relationship with Steve now? The man who once asked to know God better than any other human has been instrumental in me being able to know God as fully as any human can through integrity in my humanity.
Who could have predicted Jimmy would be Steve’s groomsman twice? Oh Kris, your beautiful mother is the bravest and most gracious human I’ve ever met, and I suspect the original master of fun and mischief herself. She adores you so…it was always plain to see. It was one of the most profound honors of my life to sit next to her at Steve and Lindsey’s wedding. Words fail me to describe your parents’ strength and grace that day, but I know you were right there. I was talking to you the whole time and you were talking to me, telling me to love your Mamma for you. You adore her so. It was always plain to see.
Did any of us have an inkling that from 4 girls would come 12 new lives or that a P1 reunion would forever be incomplete?
None of us can look ahead…none of us could stand to…but we can look back with perspective to see the sacred woven throughout that we could not recognize as we lived it. With enough reflection maybe, just maybe, we can develop eyes to see it in each other in real time going forward.
Happy birthday, Kris. You being born and that any of us got to share space and time with you is certainly worth celebrating as well as feeling the ache as deep as it goes…and you made one hell of an impact crater, Girl.
Thank you for doing you so well and sharing yourself freely with us. We miss you terribly. Please give Sean a hug from me if that’s a thing as you are. We’ll be there soon enough for a group hug. Until then, I’m going to remember you, grab life by the balls, and live (and have some fun while I’m at it!)