Purging

And again…you who remind me of my failures…please show me your consistent accomplishments that are my example to walk in.

Oh…what’s that? You just wanna show me my failures to pull me back into the bucket of do-nothing that you live in? Oh…sorry…I actually mistook your intention as something to bless…silly me. – Charissa Grace

I am consumed with this sentiment right now. My sister and litter mate knows this violent hemorrhaging intimately – death spilling out in waves as the darkest hidden places are finally exposed to light.

“Just keep letting the shit flow out…too long you ate it and harbored it in the name of serving Them and them…and now it needs to just get out.”

To which I replied, “Yes, I ate soooooooooo much…and it was never enough for them…never asked of me by Them. Purging, purging, purging…the shit I consumed for decades back into their do-nothing bucket. Here ya go people. Have it all.”

This is going to take a while, this phase. The worst and hardest part of a detox.

It’s a hell of a thing to break an addiction when pretty much everyone you’ve ever known is either a junky or a pusher/pimp with a vested interest in keeping you hooked and numb.

Reality (freedom) costs everything.

Friends

Livelihood

Reputation

Family

Comfort

Community

It’s the straight and narrow road so few are willing to acknowledge, much less travel – this death to everything, death to self and all its rights and judgments of wrongs.

It is the Way, the Truth and the Life. You want to know and commune with the ineffable? You must be ripped open and purged of everything that claims certainty and knowledge about anything concerning God. Absolutely everything. Consider the cost.

It’s really no mystery as to why we were so unpopular. That tends to happen when you focus exclusively on a Gospel that genuinely welcomes and pursues all the “wrong” people coupled with an invitation to follow Jesus into death in the most practical and applicable terms. Hardly anyone is up for that kind of disruption. It’s an absurd Good News to preach, and you will pay with your life if you do it with any kind of integrity.

I’m so envious of my friends who instinctively by nature know and engage the Goodness, if not necessarily the Name. It truly is a terrible thing to be chosen and elected, to see so clearly with no way to un-see, like Paul, who had no choice in the matter but to be a disciple of Jesus and pay the inherent cost.

But I do not envy those who know the Name, loudly praise the Name, aggressively defend the Name, arrogantly claim exclusive ownership of the Name yet callously trample Goodness underfoot.

You white washed tombs full of decaying corpses, you disgust and repulse me! I will not keep down the poison you force fed me for so long before beating and abandoning me. No, not for one second longer. I spew it all out now. Every drop. Wave after wave, it keeps coming up and out.

I spent my first official day of detox curled up on the floor behind my kitchen counter (not wanting my children to walk in on me) silently screaming and wailing and beating my forehead with my fist, “FUCK THEM ALL!”

Every one who plied us with vapid dishonest platitudes to our face but plotted our destruction behind the closed doors of the board room. FUCK YOU!

Every poison tongue who disparaged us and discouraged others from associating with us. FUCK YOU!

Every person who caused the weak and the vulnerable to suffer for their commitment to us, you who willfully and maliciously misled and planted seeds of confusion and doubt and guilt. FUCK YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than have to answer to God for what you’ve done to torment these little ones.

You with full knowledge of the burden put upon us; you who had the ultimate responsibility to care for us; you who had the power to stop it with one word; you who didn’t have the balls to do anything as the wolves encircled us and began tearing our flesh but somehow found some massive ones when I came crawling to you bleeding and begging for help – “Well, you brought this on yourselves. You must not have been praying enough.”

FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK YOU!

It’s a fine line between “fuck you” and “thank you.” The line was indistinguishable last night. Go ahead now and insert “thank you” for every “fuck you” above. (With the exception of tormenting and manipulating the vulnerable…gunna just leave that as a solid FU as Jesus seemed to think so too).

Tyrannical Church Biddies and Spineless Self-Preserving Duplicitous Figureheads, you have no idea what you’ve unleashed. The very thing you tried to silence and stamp out, whether directly or through neglect and starvation, is unstoppable now. Thank you, truly. I am free from decades of repression and destruction and lies. I am free to speak and to live and to love and there is absolutely nothing more you can do to me. It’s not like you can take anything else away from someone who’s been reduced to nothing. You can’t kill a dead person. And I’m ready, so ready to be dead to it all.

But first I must purge, forcing myself to feel every single thing as deep as it goes. Then up and out.

Thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul. Up and out. I will continue to purge until I am good and dead.  I can’t wait.

My Sister and all the right “wrong” people are waiting for me there.

The Future of JD

Dreams of Rejection

My dearest silly little Love, why are you crying now that you are solidly on the path with Me with both feet? I was totally up front with you that this is the straight and narrow road so many ignore in favor of the wide and glitzy one. Why do you grieve and mourn that you were rejected and maligned and abandoned for pointing to and following Me? This has always been exactly the gig I call anyone who can and will to accept…and you did! I’m overjoyed and ridiculously proud of you.

Rejoice, you darling girl! Dance, sing, celebrate on this road together with Me! You are swimming in more gorgeous fruit and abundant life than you’ll ever know what to do with.

Dreams of Rejection

Stories That Change The World #15 – Letter to Beth Moore

My heart was broken on Sunday as a (queer) couple, who, along with their 4-yr-old foster son, had only recently started to call Four Creeks home, wept upon hearing we were shutting down. We were the only church in their lifetime that had seen and embraced them as sacred and loved humans…period. Hopefully they’ll continue to find connection and life with us as we transition to meet together and grow as family in each others’ homes. Love is supreme. Everything else has been stripped away, and for that I am so thankful. I beg you, brothers and sisters, to allow the false god of indoctrination and the celebrity voices that peddle it to be stripped away so that you can see and hear for yourself. Start by hearing people’s stories.

Serendipitydodah

Stories have the power to change the world … they inspire us, teach us, connect us.This is the fifteenth installment in the “Stories That Change The World” series.

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Sometimes I’m Honest

My daughter…breaking free from cages in order to freely and wholly love and be loved.

sometimesithinkilearnthings

When I reflect on any decision I’ve made and every motivation behind those decisions, I wonder what it is I really want out of life. I wonder what it is that I am really trying to find- what I deeply long for more than anything else. I think what I want more than anything else is to know that I am loved, that I am enough, that I am worth something.

I couldn’t tell you what this need stemmed from. A few years of learning about child psychology and development and you would think I could pin it on some traumatic event in my past or some failure of my parents during a critical time of my development. However, my parents have only proven their unconditional love for me consistently throughout my whole life. The majority of the messages I have received from people growing up have been positive and…

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Any Which Way But Jesus – Live From Israel

So first things first – TECHNOLOGY!! I don’t know ’bout the rest of ya’ll, but I’m old enough to remember life without the internet. As a kid I remember thinking how cool it would be if we could talk to people remotely with video screens like they did on the Jetsons (and pretty much anything set in the future). I’m ready for teleportation now, please…that and I want to go back and experience college with internet, cellphones, apps and laptops.
As my oldest two children have been off rockin’ their first years of college out in Nashville, I’ve talked to them more regularly (and intimately) and have literally seen more of what goes on in their lives than when we were all under the same roof thanks to texting, Snapchat, Instagram and video chat. We even have our own private family Facebook group on which they occasionally post to humor their old mom and dad.So you can imagine my delight yesterday morning being able to video chat with my daughter who is half way around the world studying abroad in Israel, Turkey and Greece.I knew she was headed for a monumental broadening of her perception, and I was even pretty sure at what point it would happen. What I didn’t expect was the gift of being right there with her in it as it happened. Thank you, technology, for allowing me to be with my girl as she processed an intense spiritual/life epiphany…and thank you, God, for a daughter who wanted/needed her mother to be with her in that moment.

Us Dickensons are weird like that. We dig the profound and personal and often turn to each other when the rest of life seems determined to stay solidly entrenched in the cheap and artificial. That’s how we’ve always functioned and survived as a family of faith in ministry.

WALKING IN JESUS’ FOOTSTEPS…MAYBE

When my daugher’s lovely face magically appeared on the device I held in my hand (seriously people, where is my flying car?), it was instantly obvious to me as her mother; she was diving deep into something that was going to take some work to be able to articulate.

“So…*sigh*” our conversation began, “we’re on what…day 5 of this trip? It feels like it’s been 5 weeks.”

Kathryn went on to say how much she loved her new friends and traveling companions, the leaders and the tour guides and what a great time she was having…but…she was realizing an accelerated shift in her understanding was happening and she would never again be the same from this point going forward.

“Aaaaaand…I have to somehow write my experience down in this.” she said as she held up the daily journal the students are required to write in for the course. I smiled and nodded and gave her the space to try and verbalize it.

The first few days had been spent hitting all the main touristy “holy” sites. Though it’s absolutely impossible to say with any certainty, here’s where Jesus may have actually walked. Here’s the spot where St. Peter may have lived. Here’s the spot where Jesus may have performed such and such a miracle. Here is the traditional spot where it’s said the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary. What is certain is that there are ornate churches and gift shops built on each and every one of those traditional sites that are a source of major tourism revenue for the country. You can eat what Jesus probably ate, buy souvenirs made from the wood from the types of trees Jesus talked about and vials of Jordan river water and anointing oils to bring back home and pour over the heads of the devout as a special blessing (i.e. God will surely answer our prayers because we’re using authentic Holy Land bling). Jesus, the tourist attraction, is very, very popular and lucrative.

It was while visiting the Jordan River that Kathryn really wrestled. There’s a traditional baptismal site complete with steps and guardrails where annually thousands of Christian pilgrims go to be immersed in the same waters in which Jesus was baptized. Though many of her companions took the plunge, Kathryn ultimately opted not to.  She did post this pic though which clued me in to what she was thinking and feeling even before she called to talk to me.

Look Mom, I’m standing in the Jordan River

“Everywhere we’ve gone has been historically fascinating, but not particularly spiritually significant for me. At all these traditional holy sites, the group seems to be having these emotionally-charged, spiritually cathartic moments…or maybe everybody’s pretending…I don’t know…I just know I’m not.”

*fist pump*      THAT’S OUR GIRL!
Where she did find spiritual and even a physical connection to Jesus via her 5 senses was away from the crowds and the tradition in a quiet and pristine spot on the banks of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum.

In all likelihood, Kathryn was indeed seeing what Jesus saw as she participated in his regular practice of retreating in silence and solitude in an area where he was known to have spent a lot of time building significant relationships.

WWJS?

I think the most significant question we could possibly ask ourselves in terms of what it means to be like Christ is –

What would Jesus see?…or more accurately, but doing away with the WWJ (and can we agree that just needs to die anyway?) – HOW would Jesus see the world, my world, my experiences, my life right now?

What would his take be on the relationships in my family? What would his attitude be towards the myriad of interconnected and clashing cultures and their politics today? What would his attitude be toward my neighbor? What would his attitude be toward my enemy? Who would he see as “the least of these” today? What would Jesus think about the booming tourism business bearing his name? What would Jesus think about the church and modern religious traditions also bearing his name? How would Jesus see the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

Kathryn was fully aware she’d been born and raised within an American Christianity bubble, and she knew it was going to burst in cataclysmic fashion on this trip. I not only knew it would happen, but upon looking at the trip itinerary, I knew exactly when – day 5, when they would cross the security border into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Oh sure, there was yet another “traditional” site to visit in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, that was absolutely not maybe the exact location of Jesus’ birth. Ornate church – check. Gift shop with an assortment of Virgin Mary and sweet baby Jesus tchotchkes –check. 

But that certainly wasn’t the part of day 5 that rocked my girl’s world into another dimension. No. All it took was to simply cross the checkpoint. Once you cross over to the other side of the wall, all the preconceived notions and indoctrination from your American Evangelical Christian culture about “those people” and what they believe and represent evaporates as does whatever narrative you’ve been led to believe from the American media.

Well, I suppose it doesn’t for everybody…but for those with eyes to see…and my girl has always had gorgeous eyes, sharply focused on lovely and mysterious things.  She saw very clearly for the first time in her 20 years what life looked like outside the tarnished bubble, and it was –

Gut wrenchingly beautiful, heartbreaking, joyful, impossible, inspiring, frustrating beyond all description, hopeful beyond all description.

What was being birthed in her that day was unadulterated and unencumbered compassion…she was seeing exactly as Jesus does. This was a baptism of Spirit that a dunk in the Jordan couldn’t have begun to touch.

“Mom, I knew I was going to be changed on this trip. I knew being exposed to other cultures and seeing things for myself outside of books and what others have told me was going to expand my perceptions…but…but…”  She trailed off not being able to find adequate words.

And what exactly was responsible for such radical transformation and epiphany? Seeing and hearing people and their reality and touching it for herself. That’s entirely it. Their stories, their experiences, their families, their hopes, their dreams, their despair, their fears, their anger, their joy, their culture and individual expression.

Holy crap! (surely that too must be for sale, if you find it, Kafafrin, you know I want need). Contrary to everything she’d been led to believe, Kathryn found Jesus hanging out on the Palestinian side of the graffiti-plastered barrier.  Who woulda thunk it? (well, besides me…I totally called it).

“I mean, I know that discrimination, distrust and dehumanizing exists everywhere, but it’s so concentrated in this place.”

Oh it most certainly is…every bit as much as when Jesus walked in all those places where you are now.  You, my girl, are truly seeing. Now to start walking into those undesirable places where you see love leads…into messy lives, holding nothing of yourself back, with no personal agenda or expectation…only open invitation.  Love leads you to simply BE Jesus in the moment in connection with other broken humans, shedding the indoctrination and tradition in order to see them (and very much yourself) as Jesus sees.

I thought I couldn’t be any more proud of this woman or marvel any deeper that I had anything to do with her being in this world. Now I know better. I will never cease to be amazed, inspired, and encouraged by her. The only thing I will ever want for any of my children is for them to have eyes to see and ears to hear and the courage to follow where love leads. Falling on my face tonight in tears and awe that I got to “see” her baptism live from Israel.

Jimmy and Jennifer – A Beautiful Rowdy Love Story

This is the most painfully honest and transparent piece of writing I’ve done and is the most difficult chapter of my life to share. My marriage has been the source of the greatest heartache and disappointment as well as the greatest joy in my life. I suppose that’s not so unusual as many couples can probably say the same thing, but Jimmy and I together are kinda peculiar, and nobody is more delightfully aware of it than we are. It’s a long story, so you’re really going to have to care in order to get through it. I included some pictures to up the entertainment value.  

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I don’t usually tend to think in terms of God planning out every detail of a person’s life or that there was ever “THE ONE” out there for me or anybody else. I don’t pretend to know how God works out an individual’s free will versus His sovereignty nor do I think I have a shot at understanding it in this lifetime, but I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion when it came to me and Jimmy that He did indeed decide it was an absurdly good idea for us to be together and used some remarkable circumstances not only to get us together but to keep us that way…just a suspicion.

We don’t make sense on paper. Jimmy is not only an out-of-the-box kind of thinker, the box doesn’t even exist as far as he’s concerned. To him the world is a limitless expanse of possibilities to explore, in which to take risks and find adventure. Want to drive him crazy? Force him into a mindless routine.  Me? I love the box. Gimme the box. The box is safe, defined, peaceful and predictable. Want to make me happy? Gimme a mindless routine. We’re both also on the lowest end of the spectrum on empathy and touchy-feeliness or what the assessors on a personality test called “low emotional intelligence.” (We’ve had way too much fun with that label, it obviously didn’t hurt our feeling). It’s easy to see where the tension in our relationship lies; my strong, strong desire for safety and security and his strong, strong desire to dream and take risks towards reaching a grand goal, and neither one of us naturally tuned in to anyone’s feelings and wants besides our own. So how did such an unlikely match happen? Once upon a time…

GRIZZLY HUNTING

In the spring of 1990 Jimmy and I were both attending Pt. Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. The campus is AMAZINGLY beautiful, every evening a front row seat to a sunset on the water, gorgeous venues everywhere, just add college kids and you have a recipe for a LOT of hooking up. As most of my friends were trying to get in on the dating frenzy, I was purposely avoiding it. I was still working through personal grief from events that had occurred several months earlier, and a romantic relationship was the last thing that interested me or seemed appropriate at the time. I had 3 incredible roommates freshman year who had stood by me through that tragic time and provided welcome relief and distraction. As hard as that year was, it was also the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. One night when half the girls in our unit were piled into our room (of course we were talking about boys) someone started playfully giving me a hard time about not having been out on a date. I told them I could if I wanted to, just didn’t want to. Don’t remember the details anymore, but the gist was I got challenged to prove it by getting someone to ask me out. I didn’t have anybody in mind so I told my roomies to pick somebody. The girls decided my target would be Grizzly Adams, AKA Jimmy Dickenson. Jimmy stood out, WAY out, from the Ned Nazarenes as he was rockin’ the 80s hair band look. Though I had seen him quite a bit before (he was hard to miss) we had only just recently met in a class we had together. Grizzly Adams seemed a perfect target if the goal was just a date and not a relationship. He was really cute but not somebody I’d normally be interested in and nothing about this could possibly be taken seriously…so what the heck, I was in the mood to take a vacation from being reasonable, step out of character, and live a little.


Turned out Grizzly hunting was pretty easy. Didn’t take much more than sitting by him in class, making conversation, giving a little extra attention to how I dressed, and with the help of a half dozen girlfriend conspirators, knowing when he’d be at the library, cafeteria, etc. so I would “just happen” to be there too. Maybe two weeks into the operation, I got my date. Jimmy knew nothing about me, I knew nothing about him. He had no idea what I had experienced in the last year. He had no idea the entire time we were at dinner and a movie I was feeling twinges of guilt and second-guessing as to whether even this innocent date was too much too soon. As he brought me back to my dorm that night I had decided ahead of time to give a quick “thanks, I had fun” and jump out of the car to avoid turning down what any normal guy would be expecting at the end of a date. I had my hand on the door handle ready to go when Jimmy just flat out asked if he could kiss me. It’s going to sound ridiculous, but this is the truth of what happened in my head in that split second. As I was taking a breath to say “no” in the nicest way possible, another voice in my head said loud and clear, “If you say no, you will regret it” along with a gut feeling that somehow I knew that was the truth. So, despite common sense, despite what anybody else who knew my story would think, despite the fact that this boy had no idea of the significance of this kiss to me, I said “yes”. After we kissed (a VERY good one by the way), as he looked at me and smiled his gorgeous dimpled smile, that same voice in my head said, “You are going to marry him.”

Jimmy drove off back to his dorm, I’m sure thinking “Wooohoo!” As soon as he drove out of sight (at exactly the same location where I had said a fateful goodbye and had a last kiss months earlier) I sat down on the curb and bawled my eyes out. The conflicting emotions were overwhelming. Thank God for those girls waiting back in the dorm who knew and understood it all. Long after the fact I asked Jimmy what would have happened if I had said no. He said that probably would have been the end of our story.

YOUNG AND STUPID 

If you read Exodus From Church World: Chapter 1 you’d see that at this point in life I had been experiencing a crisis of faith, doubting whether the Christian God I’d grown up with my whole life was real. The events earlier in the year had shaken me out of my doubt about God’s existence, but this certainly didn’t translate into love and trust on my part. In my shocked, numb state I came to the conclusion that God was going to do whatever God was going to do, no matter what I did. I was back to seeing no point in trying to pursue and maintain a relationship with God. Besides, all focus was on Jimmy now through rose colored glasses and I was still very much enjoying my vacation from reason and just going with whatever felt good and made me happy. I was aware I had flipped the switch off, I just didn’t want to care any more. It didn’t take long for the both of us to be stupid in love…really stupid.  After only 7 months, a big chunk of which we weren’t even together over the summer, we got engaged. My poor family and friends back home didn’t know what to think. They didn’t know this guy. I didn’t honestly know this guy, and at 19 years old I didn’t even know who I was yet. My poor mom was completely blind sided and not feeling good about the situation in the least, but to her credit, she didn’t try to talk me out of it but supported us and got to work planning a wedding. Looking back now, knowing my mom, knowing how crazy quick and thoughtless we were, the fact that she didn’t try to talk me out of it or beat me over the head with a heavy object to knock some sense into me is a miracle in and of itself.

Six months out from our official wedding we jumped in the car with our closest friends and former roomies and headed to Vegas, and on my 20th birthday we secretly got married. Why? Coudn’t tell ya, other than it seemed like a fun, tacky thing to do at the time. I went back to my dorm to finish out the rest of the school year and then back home for the summer before the “real” wedding.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

When my daughter Kathryn hears these stories, she says in disbelief, “That just doesn’t sound like you, Mom.” Exactly. I was in love with someone who didn’t have a playbook, plan (or box) to live by. I was willing to go along with whatever he wanted, however he wanted because we were in love. Even though I was willing to act out of character so much in our dating and engagement year (yes just one, in fact less than one if you count Vegas), I carried an extremely naive (stupid) notion that once we were (really) married we would instantly start to function as the secure, stable, responsible, balanced couple that had been modeled to me by my own parents and grandparents, that we would work hard for the first few years and then start making some babies and I’d be living my dream of being a wife and mother. Might have helped if we’d had even one discussion about our expectations of marriage. I really didn’t see the need. That picture of marriage and family was all I knew and I figured it would just happen automatically. It was a most crucial and unfortunate time for both of us as individuals to have turned away from God and give in completely to what was making us happy for the moment, even if it was something as wonderful as intense, romantic love.  

September 1, 1991, we were “officially” married in a nice, respectable ceremony. I look at our wedding album of lovely pictures now and can’t really be very nostalgic. While anybody else probably sees a fairytale looking couple, I see two ignorant, selfish idiots who had no clue of the hell they were about to go through.

The let down was immediate. Consistent with Jimmy’s personality, dreaming about and achieving the goal of GETTING married was exciting and kept his focus; maintaining and enriching something already achieved, not so much. BEING married was all about maintenance and I was very much looking forward to settling in. Disappointment set in quickly as Jimmy switched gears and focus to his job as a restaurant manager. The business was 40 minutes away from our apartment. He left early in the morning and came home late at night and eventually even stopped taking any days off. I was finishing up my last 2 years of college and also working some part time jobs. I was lonely and miserable but convinced myself things would change once I graduated or once Jimmy had built the business up enough to scale back his hours so we’d have time for each other. 

To say I was naive would be the understatement of the century. Looking back now, it was blatantly obvious, but at the time I had no clue that my husband was using methamphetamine to enable him to work incessantly. I couldn’t conceive of being with someone where drug use would even be a possibility. It was nowhere on my radar. Strange behavior and odd things found were always explained away and I was naturally inclined to trust him. There were even nights when he didn’t come home at all with no answers to my frantic pages and phone calls. If it wasn’t so sad it would be laughable what I was willing to believe. I knew things were terribly, terribly dark and wrong but didn’t know why, and pride kept me from talking about any of my disappointment or doubts to friends or family.  Upon graduation, turning to family and friends was no longer even an option. Every friend moved out of state, as did my entire family; parents, sisters, and grandparents. My social circle and support network was suddenly at zero and Jimmy’s now consisted of an odd group of troubled kids that he’d met through work.

Everything came to a head when I found a note from a girl to Jimmy that was alarmingly inappropriate. When I confronted him, to my shock he started spilling about his meth use. Maybe that was to deflect my questioning of his relationship to this girl. If so, it worked. Suddenly whether or not he had fooled around on me was just one part of a huge web of deception and betrayal. It was all lies, it was all infidelity – it was all devastating. All I could think to say was “You have to stop or I have to leave,” to which he coldly said, “Then I guess you have to go.” Then came the screaming, kicking, punching, biting (all me). Had I known anything, I wouldn’t have risked physically attacking a meth head as they are notoriously violent. Thankfully he had enough control not to hurt me back. Over the next few days a closet door and a car window wouldn’t be so lucky. 

ROCK BOTTOM

If there had been anywhere to go that didn’t require a plane ticket and a LOT of explaining, I would have been out of there in a heartbeat, but at that point admitting to my family that I was married to a lying, cheating meth addict seemed worse than staying put until I could figure out what to do. Jimmy lost his job and took off with our only car. I had no idea where he’d gone or if he’d be back. For two days I stayed locked up in the apartment, lying on the floor, paralyzed and completely cried out. All I could do was question over and over, “How did I get here? How did this happen?” The only thing I had ever really wanted out of life was to be a wife and mother. At the ripe old age of 22 I had to accept that my dreams and my marriage were dead. I thought about the safety, security and love of my family and my childhood and couldn’t believe how far away I had gotten and how fast. I thought back to the purest and most honest moment of my life – a little girl sitting in the sunshine making daisy chains asking Jesus to come into her heart. Oh God, what happened to her? I desperately needed to be that little girl again. The 6-year-old me had a far better handle on life and faith than the 22-year-old me.

The telephone rang and I probably jumped a foot off the floor. I figured it was Jimmy calling to tell me where he was. Nope.

“Hello?”

“Jen, it’s Mom.” (Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…should I tell her everything? If I do I’ll have a plane ticket in hand by tomorrow and this can all be over).

“Hi mom, what’s up?”

“Are you OK?”

“Sure, I’m fine, why?” (How I pulled that off without breaking I’ll never know)

“You’ve been incredibly heavy on my heart all day and I just can’t shake the feeling of needing to urgently pray for you. Are you sure you’re okay?”

I don’t remember any of the rest of the conversation, but somehow I got out of it having convinced my mother everything was fine. I just knew now was not the time to pull the plug. (Mom, I’m going to assume you’re reading this. I can never say I love you enough or too often. You didn’t know it, but you were instrumental in saving our family).

I hung up the phone and hit the floor again, this time feeling as though I’d been shocked back to life. That phone call from my mom was God confirming to me He was there. I was not alone. There was hope. It was going to be OK even if Jimmy never came back. At that moment I wasn’t even thinking about Jimmy. I was having a long overdue reunion with my Father who adored me even as I had spent years stubbornly running and pushing Him away. The second I made the slightest honest move back in His direction, He ran the rest of the way to catch me in His arms. I am the prodigal child.

DO OVER

Later that day Jimmy walked through the door and said, “It’s over.” I thought, “Alright, let’s make it official. What’s today’s date so I can call the time of death?”  Jimmy could tell what I thought he meant, “No, I’m done with the drugs, done with this place. Let’s go to Blythe.” Apparently Jimmy’s best friend from back in the day had recently become a Christian. He’d heard through the rumor mill the trouble Jimmy was in and gave his brother a call. He told Jimmy to drop everything and come back to his home town in the middle of the desert where he’d give us a place to live rent free until we could get back on our feet.

Also true to Jimmy’s character, there was no transitioning when it came to coming off the drugs. He knew what he had to do and did it, cold turkey. It was done. A week later we drove through the desert in the middle of the night in stunned silence, our little Ford Escort stuffed to the roof with everything we owned. We were leaving one of the most beautiful cities where we had experienced personal hell and escaping to a little town that most people equate with hell to start over. The irony was never lost on us.

First weeks were hard, but nothing compared to what we had just come from. I was too shell shocked to be anything but stunned and grateful for another shot. I still didn’t know if Jimmy and I were going to ultimately make it, there were still selfish indulgences to work through, but I did know my crisis of faith was over for good. We started attending the little Nazarene church Jimmy had grown up in. It took Jimmy probably six more months before he honestly and wholeheartedly turned around and had his own tearful reunion with his Father. Now it was time for the prodigals’ welcome home party!


All those personality traits (for both of us) that worked together to create such a mess when we were operating out of our selfishness were now our greatest strengths when operating in submission to God. The 8 years we spent in that hellishly hot little town in the middle of nowhere were some of the happiest of our lives. I had a husband who put all his passion and energy into living with integrity and providing for his wife and family. My dream of being a mother became a blissful reality with Kathryn and Ryan. Jimmy acknowledged his calling to be a minister. He was a few years off track, but remember that no box thing? He and God have that in common. That little bitty church in that little bitty town was the beginning of some big stuff.  Reveling in a genuinely happy and healthy marriage and two incredible little humans we’d brought into the world, I didn’t care to ever remember or dwell on how we had started. On the occasion I would think back, it was all I could do to keep from falling on my face and thanking God for bringing us out of it. I remember finding it remarkable that I didn’t struggle with harboring resentment towards Jimmy. I was too busy being happy and content with what I had.

MID LIFE CRISIS

Fast forward a few years to a time when my comfort and security were shaken, and the scars from the past started to show. We had taken a big leap of faith and left a secure career and house in Blythe to move to L.A. for Jimmy to go into full time ministry. Within the first two months of moving, the situation we thought we were getting ourselves into completely disintegrated and became something we had never anticipated. Now working a full time job, trying to afford housing, ensuring our kids’ well being, and the constant underlying current of stress and instability in the church situation left me feeling anything but safe and content. At the height of the stress I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (see I Heart Crohn’s Disease for the details of that saga). None of this is what I had pictured for myself in my early 30s. I found myself wanting to escape by reminiscing about earlier, carefree times when I was in my 20s…wait a minute, there weren’t any. I had given up the typical fun 20-something single experience to be married. Well, at least that trade off was worth it…wait a minute, no it wasn’t! My newlywed experience was thoroughly dreadful. I felt cheated out of a chunk of life and youth that I could never go back to reclaim. Even though Jimmy was now an incredibly strong, trustworthy, godly man, being hitched to this guy and the way he was wired, especially the life of a pastor, was going to mean a lifetime of instability and uncertainty – a statement that those who have been in ministry can truly appreciate.

I knew it was irrational, I knew it was wrong, but it was at that point years after the fact that I found myself struggling with resentment towards Jimmy. There was no way I was going to tell him. He was, and had been for years, choosing to be the kind of man every woman should be so blessed to have as a husband, working hard, being supportive of me in my struggles while maintaining integrity in the face of immense personal stress of his own.

I had a lot of hours in the day in my own head working alone at home while kids were at school and Jimmy was at work. I was stuck in life circumstances that were very unpleasant, I had pain and resentment in my present and past and I was convinced there was no pleasure to look forward to in the future.  To compensate and escape, I started spending time in my head in a fantasy, one that explored what life would have been like if I had never married Jimmy. I took it a step farther and imagined what life would have been like had I married another man, someone who represented security and stability. I was lusting after pleasure I felt I’d been denied. Though it wasn’t overtly sexual, it was lusting just the same, longing for something that was outside the confines of my marriage. The fact that it took place entirely in my head didn’t make it any less of an infidelity. I only deliberately indulged the fantasy for a short time. I knew what a monster it could grow into that would inevitably break out and wreak havoc in my real world if I kept feeding on it. But in that short time, my brain had hardwired a quick and easy path that led there and it was most appealing in times of stress and discomfort. I’d have spurts when it wasn’t anywhere on the radar and other days 20 times in a day I’d have to force my brain to switch gears and tune it out. “Jen, come hang out with me, just for a minute. I miss you and I know you miss me.”

The next phase in our life was our move to Visalia in 2005. Coming out of the pressure cooker experience, life suddenly smoothed out and came together on every level.  I even started to entertain whether or not we should have more kids, something I’d wanted for a long time but with the insanity of the previous years was a dream I’d let go of. My evil brain buddy wasn’t as persuasive and loud, but it still hung out in the background calling to me. One day (while working) I let my brain indulge, not in fantasizing about life with another man but in remembering the worst moments of betrayal and abandonment from our early life together. As I was feeling the hurt and anger, two thoughts dawned on me.

1). I’d been married to Jimmy for 14 years and still didn’t know for sure if he had cheated on me. I’d just always assumed it.

2). He’d never directly apologized to me.

I was aware of that unanswered question and lack of an apology in the beginning, I just didn’t think I needed it or that knowing or hearing those words would have made any difference at that time. The only thing I wanted then was proof of love in action, and Jimmy came through for me brilliantly in that regard.  Now, so many years later, I realized I did need those words.

Crap.

I knew how hard having this discussion was going to be on Jimmy. His thoughts only go one direction; forward. The past, no matter how good, bad or dramatic, just doesn’t factor in to his thinking. He’s always focused on what he needs to do to get to what’s next. So drudging up the past and me laying out in detail all the complicated mess that had roiled around inside me for so long made for a rough, emotional day for the both of us. I got an honest, one-word answer to my question (which really was all I needed) and a heartfelt, if somewhat bewildered, apology from my sweet husband.

The years since we had that discussion have been transformative for our family and our relationship in every way. We obviously decided to go for more kids (best and craziest decision we ever made aside from getting married in the first place). Jimmy and I are truly together in every sense of the word. Our individual personalities have smoothed out and are continually morphing more and more into a single oneness. That sounds kinda kooky metaphysical, but that’s the best way I can describe it.  I honestly think we are living up to the fullness of what God intended for marriage, although it’s an active process and not a destination.

And guess what I’ve found as we continue to press forward to live up to what God intended for us? Safety, security and contentment; the things I’m wired to crave. It’s not found in life’s circumstances by any means. Just when I think there’s no way to juggle another plate, another one comes flying in. Planting Four Creeks Church has been an experience marked by uncertainty and intense hardship, yet it’s the lessons learned through trial by fire over the years that have prepared us to move forward to do this impossible thing together

As for evil brain buddy, he’s still there. Like I said, it’s a permanent hardwired connection. You can’t un-think a thought once you’ve thunk it. He’s just not even remotely attractive to me anymore. He’s a sad, weak little troll. On the rare occasion that I notice him, it makes for another opportunity to fall on my face and thank God all over again for loving His prodigal girl. My welcome home party has been, and continues to be, quite the lavish affair.

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Dropping Keys for the Beautiful Rowdy Prisoners

Hello, and welcome to the very first installment of Cage-Free Christian!

aIf you’ve followed me over from The Gospel of Snark, a double welcome and thank you! That anyone reads anything I blog barf is astounding to me. I originally began blogging strictly as personal therapy, having been plunged into an emotional/spiritual undoing that stripped 40+ years worth of everything I thought I knew down to a bare foundation.

In many ways the GOS was a documentary of the death of me…and it wasn’t pretty or sanitized or safe. I let you see it all.  Raw vulnerability is a piercing sword that divides and disrupts. My story was simultaneously the stench of fear and doom to some and a sweet aroma of life and freedom for others.

Just like my parable-preaching Jesus, I luvs me some word picture metaphor. The metaphor theme for Cage-Free Christian comes from a decidedly un-Christian source – the 14th century Persian poet Hafez, who, according to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, “lauded the joys of love and wine but also targeted religious hypocrisy.” My kinda guy.

The small man builds cages for everyone he knows

While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low

Keeps dropping keys all night long for the

Beautiful

Rowdy

Prisoners

cf0f8-heartThe cage in which I was born and raised has been institutionalized church culture; not the institution itself or any individual persons, but the enforcement of the idea that God can be explained and understood and caged within the “right” human traditions and doctrines. Those keys might very well have been genuine implements of freedom and revolution in certain points of history and revelation, but we have a way of turning them into museum display pieces to be revered, not used for their purpose in opening doors to get us moving out and onward in step and in intimate communion with whatever God there is and Their workings in the world.

There will always be misguided museum curators/gatekeepers/jailers who honestly believe their service to God is to protect specific “right” keys for display purposes only, never to be handled by individuals or god forbid used  to see if in reality they actually fit. Because the concept of God lives exclusively within a particular cage of understanding and tradition, everything on the outside is suspect – dangerous – a threat to caged certainty. Anyone who dares request access to the keys or so much as presses up against the bars to view what lies outside will be harshly shamed and knuckle slapped back into submission. keys

We’re all born into cages of cultural “right” thinking and behaving, not all of them religious. Some of us escape from one only to be recruited into another advertising as the keeper of absolute rightness. There are many who are quite content there, or at least completely sold on the age-old notion that the highest calling in life is to be an aggressive defender of your cage.

But there are a few who are uneasy in their discontent, even a little rowdy, constantly sneaking glimpses of the outside with a secret longing. Those are my Peeps.

Alone-Boy-Sad-Girl-Sitting-In-Farm-HD-Desktop-WallpapersMy transition from beautiful rowdy prisoner to free-roaming sage was wild and messy. It was noisy. It was awkward. I lived through my greatest fear in standing up to and tussling with the gatekeepers (something I’d desperately avoided my entire life). I was left wounded, angry and depleted. New life outside the cage, completely on my own and away from everything I’d ever known and depended on, was even harder. I sat paralyzed just outside the door of my lifelong prison for a long time, afraid to move…not having any clue what to do next or where to go.

Then came the sages – beautiful, strong, free, healers who bore the exact same scars as me. Those scars from which they so generously led and taught were road maps of trails they’d blazed and traveling tips and encouragement. They showed me that I myself had keys that fit, keys that work, keys that unlock various doors to freedom that are formed within those very wounds of experience and struggle.

As I began to work out my feeble legs and explore farther out from the cage, I found traveling companions and fellow former rowdy prisoners walking the same roads. We’re having an absolute blast together and are always on the lookout for whoever can and will to join us as we run and jump and roam, taste, see and smell – experience abundant life and freedom and love – the reality outside the cage.

kids-playing-1

I decided it was time for a fundamental shift in focus when I realized I was truly free from all cages and the influence of gatekeepers. Cage-Free Christian is my life after death and resurrection. I’m sure you still recognize my voice, my sarcasm and dry humor. I’m still me, but my purpose in speaking has changed. I’m no longer fighting to break out. I’m certainly not trying to replace one cage of definitive understanding for another.

Dancing-in-the-NightI lived my great escape out loud and I’m dancing free out in the open like a total dork if you care to look. I’m not confronting any gatekeepers or trying to destroy cages, but I will continue to visit the ones with which I am all too familiar to drop keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners who somehow instinctively know  the cage is not life, the cage is not God.

The lock turns from the inside, Peeps. It’s up to you. Me and a host of other sages are waiting just outside for you to join us. I’m particularly skilled at helping those who need a lot of time and encouragement to figure out how to take those first few tentative steps out into the open. I was just there and know exactly how hard it is. I’d love nothing more than to train and walk with you on those first trails of freedom and discovery.

There’s nowhere you can escape from the love of God. It’s there in the cage of certainty too. But I gotta tell ya, Whatever God There Is is roaming everywhere outside. You really should come see for yourself and hit some trails with us.

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