Learning Curves

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Well, it’s been over a year since I’ve been able to write anything. As many of you know, I’ve been working on finishing my Master’s degree at Keuka College in Penn Yan, New York, and while the classes weren’t at all difficult, graduate level work is both time-consuming and labor-intensive. It’s a lot of writing, which I enjoy, but it’s also a lot of pressure. Things were going well, and I should have graduated last month and taken my exams to be licensed as a therapist this summer. I had good grades and a lot of positive and encouraging feedback from my instructors in all of my courses, and so it should have been a fairly easy slide right through to graduation. Or so I thought!

I started my field placement at Syracuse Jewish Family Service in August of 2017. I had done a previous internship there in my undergraduate years (while working at the Jewish Home) and was looking forward to seeing all of my old friends, and being back at a place I had loved. Within the first few weeks of training, however, it quickly became apparent that things were not going to go as well this time around. I had enjoyed my interview back in the spring with the field placement instructor, and had a subsequent one with the other two directors of SJFS, and both interviews went well. They had asked about my religious beliefs during the interview, but because it is a Jewish organization, and I had worked there for years without ever having a problem, I assured them that I didn’t foresee any possibility of there being a conflict while in my field placement. The field instructor and the other two directors freely shared their own personal religious beliefs with me and the other interns over the next few weeks, in meetings and in supervision, and it became more and more uncomfortable and difficult to keep things at a clinical and professional level, without being pressured to violate my own personal beliefs and values. I desperately just wanted to finish my clinical training and get out.

What I did not foresee was that my field instructor (who told me during supervision that she was a Catholic Christian) had ‘found’ Zen Buddhism at some point over the years, and brought it into the Jewish Home, not realizing – as so many don’t – that the two opposing belief systems are completely incompatible. In our first day of training for the PEARLS program, she had all of the interns engage in a guided meditation exercise, and then tried to teach us how to do something known as ‘alternate nostril breathing’. I will write more on what this is later, but as a Christian who has studied and written quite a bit on spiritual and occultist practices, I knew that this was something I would not participate in. I was completely caught off guard, and although I just sat quietly while the other students followed her lead, my discomfort and lack of participation was noticed, and later addressed (not very kindly, I might add).

One of my assignments was to attend a weekly group that was supposed to end an hour after I was scheduled to leave for the day on Thursday afternoons. (I was scheduled to be at SJFS from 12:00-4:00 p.m. on Thursdays, but the group was from 1:00-5:00). This left me with less than an hour to meet with clients on Thursdays. I pointed this out in supervision, but my field instructor ignored this and scheduled me for the group every week anyway. The first week of the group, the woman who was leading it (one of the directors of SJFS) suddenly had everyone stand up and she began to lead us in the practice of qigong (chi kung). I had no idea that this was going to happen, as all it said on the schedule was “exercise”. I couldn’t stand in front of all of the clients and not participate without making them uncomfortable, and I also knew it wasn’t the time or place to state my religious beliefs and objections, so I excused myself from the room and waited until they were finished. My intention was to discuss this with my field instructor during supervision, and ask her what to do.

When I next saw her, she said that she had heard that I had left the room on Thursday, and that I didn’t participate, and she wanted to know why. I said that I would not be participating in any of the Buddhist or Hindu practices at SJFS, because as a Christian I am unable (and unwilling) to do so. That should have been all I needed to say (according to both state and federal law) and I should have been given a different assignment.

She immediately lost her ‘zen’ however, and all hell broke loose – literally. She then abruptly left the room, saying she needed to go and talk to her supervisor (the director of SJFS) and I didn’t hear from her again until we met the following Tuesday for supervision. As soon as I sat down, she informed me that she “found my religious beliefs to be offensive, arrogant, and self-serving” and then proceeded to let me know that she didn’t think she could give me a passing grade unless I was willing to participate fully in all aspects of my internship (specifically meaning qigong) which from her perspective meant that I should put my own beliefs (and conscience) aside while in school. She also took it upon herself to inform me that the NASW Code of Ethics is ‘now my bible’ and that I could be a Christian, but not at work. Mind you, I was not witnessing to other employees, students, or clients, or in any way enforcing my beliefs and practices on anyone, nor would I. I am very familiar with the Code of Ethics, and nowhere does it state that we have to participate in all of our clients religious practices as a licensed professional. I’ve had a lot of clients over the years, and if I had said to any of them “I’m sorry, but I’m a Christian, and I can’t do that” they would have immediately said “okay” and respected that. Not one of them would have been offended, or even questioned it – nor would I have had to explain and defend my beliefs, especially during clinical hours.

The fact that this meeting with my supervisor took place in public (we were meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts in North Syracuse) made her behavior even more appalling. She was rude, condescending, and unkind, and I am ashamed to admit that I cried. The whole experience was humiliating and painful. She let me know, in no uncertain terms, that not only was my field placement in jeopardy, but my graduate degree and entire career were also in jeopardy, informing me that “she knew people at S.U.” and could call them. What she meant by that, I didn’t know, but the implication – the threat – was clear. I graduated from Syracuse University in good standing, with good grades, and did not have any problems while there, however, so this was clearly a manipulative statement.

To make a very long and painful story short, she failed me on October 31st, when I refused to sign a document that required me to participate in qigong, and which would have required me to agree to other statements that were false and misleading, and when she failed me, the program director of the School of Social Work at Keuka College dropped me from the program.

They are social workers. The very people we are supposed to be able to look up to and learn from – people we are supposed to both trust and respect. Licensed by the NASW, they are supposedly committed to exemplify and abide by the standards of the Code of Ethics. They are also required (both Syracuse Jewish Family Service and Keuka College, as an organization and as an institution) to uphold and respect state and federal Civil Rights laws, and to violate a student’s (or anybody’s) legal rights in such a manner is unacceptable, not to mention illegal. I have appealed to the school to no avail, and to say that I’m disappointed in my experience with Keuka College is an understatement.

I don’t want an apology, I want my money back. I want my credits, and my internship hours, all of which they stripped from me (despite my having an “A” on every assignment and paper for that semester) and all of which has to be done all over again. I have tried to apply to other schools, as I only have two classes left, but I would need a letter of good standing from the Department of social Work in order to transfer, and so completing my degree isn’t possible.

Needless to say, the last few months have been extremely painful, and knowing that my class just graduated without me has kind of ruined my birthday this year. God is in control of my life, and I know in my heart I did the right thing, but this hasn’t gone at all the way it was supposed to, and I am broken-hearted over the whole thing. I also miss my friends at the Jewish Home, and I was so looking forward to being there. But, my hope is in God, not in schools, or degrees, or organizations and institutions, and so I know that it will all be okay in the end – even if I didn’t handle everything right, or do everything perfectly – I know my God, and my faith is in Him, and His abundant and overflowing grace and mercy. This is a difficult, difficult time, but a friend posted this verse on Facebook this morning, and it helped:

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17 KJV

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Variations On A Theme

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Grief….Loss….Rejection….Redemption….

Many, many years ago, we were given a paper in church that required us to fill out a questionnaire in order to identify the predominant themes in our life. I obediently filled mine out, along with my story of “how I got saved” (pardon my Christianese), and tucked it safely within the back pages of my Bible, where it still lives today. The point of filling it out was to be able to clarify for ourselves our own narrative, so that if we were ever asked to, we could share our testimony. Being extremely shy, I never intended to share my story with anyone. I didn’t even know I had one. The major theme of mine was rejection, although grief, loss and depression ran a tight race behind.

Every loss that I’ve ever experienced has been primarily a result of having been rejected or left behind, whether by my biological father, my spouse, a trusted spiritual leader, or a mentor. I was not one of those children who believed that my parents’ divorce when I was a child was somehow my fault, or that I was in any way to blame. I don’t remember feeling anything but sad, to be honest. Nor did I feel that it was in any way my fault when, years later, my father disappeared suddenly, in the middle of the night, leaving everyone to assume he was either dead, or had somehow fallen off the planet. (Come to find out, he was living a whole new life on the other side of it, complete with a new identity and a new family, but that’s another story for another time). I’ve always had a pretty good grasp on reality for the most part, and I assumed at the time that he had problems of his own, and in all likelihood was running away from himself, more so than from any of us. (Still is, now that I think about it, but that, too, is a story for another time).

My husband also left (more than once) to pursue a life out in the world without us, but that one did feel a lot more personal, I have to say. As did the rather sudden departures of various spiritual leaders and mentors in my life; especially those who swore up and down that they would never, for any reason, put me through the same hell I had already lived through in my past. But, away they went, without warning or cause, leaving a snarled mess of unfinished conversations, broken promises, and heartache behind them.

Abandonment and rejection are not at all the same thing. What my father did was abandonment – he left, I believe, for reasons that were pretty much all about him. What the others did was rejection; they were saying, in effect, that they just didn’t want me. Or at least, they just didn’t want me any more. For whatever reason.

These themes: grief, loss, depression, and rejection are woven throughout the fabric of my life; to pull them out would be to undo the whole. But also woven through this story are the themes of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance, placed lovingly and deliberately by God Himself. He gathers up all of those random, broken pieces and threads, and turns them into a beautiful whole. What’s more, He doesn’t just crumple it up and throw it away, or get tired of us, or turn His back on us. When we bring all of our brokenness to Him – even that which we’ve brought upon ourselves – He welcomes us with open arms. There is absolutely no rejection for those who become His children through faith in Christ.

This is what is known as “healing”. Our personal healing lies in the telling of our testimony; all that we’ve been through, and all that God has delivered us from. Our testimony becomes our ministry, so to speak. God rescues and redeems us from the depths of our sorrow, and strengthens us to go and help other people up and out of theirs. And then – if we’re willing – He uses us, unfinished and imperfect as we are, to weave beautiful new threads of grace and mercy through the lives of others.

I am grateful – so grateful – for all that God has done in my life. For all that He has set me free from, and for all that He has healed me from, and for everything that He has brought me through. I still have a long way to go, and a lot to learn, but I am comforted by the fact that I am not alone on this journey, and that there is hope at the end of it.

“It seems to me that we have a lot of story yet to tell.” – Walt Disney

Happy New Year

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 I wrote the following on Facebook back in November, and wanted to re-post it here today. The fall semester was difficult, and by the time it ended, I didn’t really have the time to sit down and write, and now that the habit is broken, it’s hard to pick it up again. Classes start again in a couple of weeks, and I know I will be writing non-stop straight through to graduation (in 2018), so I’m not really wanting to sit and write for hours on end now. I don’t actually feel like doing much of anything, to be honest; the stress of packing and moving, and going back to school right before the holidays kind of wore me out. Three unexpected deaths in as many months didn’t help, and cast long shadows over shortened days.

A lot happened in 2016: in the beginning of the year, my story about surviving domestic violence appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine, then my oldest daughter graduated from nursing school in May; in mid-summer I decided to go back to school (a year earlier than planned) and started classes at Keuka College in the Finger Lakes. In September we packed and moved (also a year earlier than planned) and now I feel a bit like a kite bumping along the ground, trying to get the strength and energy to get up and flying again for the next round of challenges.

So, here is the post, once again, with the same heart-felt prayer that God would keep, bless and guide us as we make our way through the days of 2017:

Well, we woke up today to a new President, and it remains to be seen what will happen with our country. I think that people who maybe haven’t really prayed before, or even given thought to where they stand with God, will begin to pray and seek God for His protection and direction. I pray that Donald Trump truly considers God, and seeks His forgiveness and His divine guidance. I pray for national healing, and unity of heart and purpose for all Americans.

I liked Hillary Clinton’s speech this morning; it was gracious and to the point. She also (like all of us) needs God’s forgiveness and guidance, although she may not realize it, or even want it. Regardless, God is as much in control of our world and our universe as He was yesterday, and all of the yesterdays before. He is the God of tomorrow, and all of the tomorrows stretching out into eternity.

He Has A Plan.

And His plan is to redeem and restore us back into fellowship with Him.

Whatever it takes.

But it isn’t over until God says it’s over, and we know (through His Word) that good will ultimately triumph over evil in the end.

This we believe; now help us, God, to order our hearts, minds, and days accordingly. Strengthen us for the days and tasks ahead. Help us to set our faces like flint, as the soldiers and ambassadors You have called us to be, and move forward. Help us to put away superfluous attitudes, activities, relationships, and even possessions.
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And help us to trust You- to put our ultimate hope in You, and You alone.

So, as individuals who will (all of us) one day stand before You, and give account for our lives; and together as a nation, we pray in the sovereign and saving name of Your son, Jesus Christ,

Amen.

Same prayer, same good wishes. Happy New Year everybody. May it be a safe, blessed, and prosperous year for all of us.

Unsettled

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sam_5280It isn’t easy, this constant moving. The unmaking of a home is always a time of intense grieving for me; always moving, but never a settling of heart. None of these places are “home” in the sense that four walls and a roof of your very own are. These are not appliances I picked out and bought; nor, for that matter, are the paint colors on the walls. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful, or that it isn’t nice, it just isn’t mine.

We perch on the edge of our boxes, my daughters and I, clutching rolls of packaging tape and bubble wrap, and wait for the next wave to hit. The stress to hit. There is no opportunity to just . . . rest. Sleep is fitful, and full of odd dreams, in which total strangers are always taking my stuff out the front door, and loading it into trucks. Most of my dreams are about moving, or my marriage, and the home we owned when the girls were small. All are very intense, and vivid, and full of sadness.

There are no days of waking up happy, and worry-free. Hasn’t been, either, for many years. I keep saying that the last ten years have been, for me, just one very long, very bad year, but yesterday I realized that it has been a whole lot more than ten. Somehow, I never thought in a million years that I would be alone this long, or would end up raising two kids on my own. We have moved so many times I can’t remember what the kitchen looks like when I think of going down to make coffee in the morning. I keep reaching for light switches that aren’t there. People who don’t have to move constantly have no idea what it’s like (but they mean well), in much the same way that a therapist who has never personally been through a divorce, or ever been a single mom, cannot really understand what you’re going through, and thus cannot possibly know how to help. They don’t even know what questions to ask, and “interventions” fall to the wayside like poorly aimed arrows, missing the mark by a mile.

I miss my life. The happiest times were when my kids were little, and I was able to be home with them. I’ve heard many women say this, but it’s true. We had a tiny little house, but it was ours, and we painted the rooms, and planted flowers, and made it home. I’ve tried to recreate it, as much as possible wherever we go, but I’m suddenly realizing that I’ve been dragging this same stuff around for almost twenty years now, trying to hang onto a life that’s long gone and over. (An arrow aimed at this would have made at least one session well worth the money). The house is long gone, and the kids are young adults now, and doing well in spite of everything we’ve been through, but I wish – how I wish – with all of my heart – that I could have given them a safe and stable home while they were growing up. I wish I could give it to them now, but it’s too late. Seems too late, anyway.

So, those are my thoughts tonight. I’m supposed to be writing clinical papers, but can’t concentrate, so it’s off to bed for now, and I’ll try again tomorrow. I am (clearly) overtired and stressed out, and feel way too old for all of this. My thoughts are heavy these days, and don’t lead anywhere healthy. I have one spot in the house – in every house – that’s mine; it’s where my chair, and my desk, and my Bible are. It’s the first thing I set up whenever we move into a place, and that’s where you’ll find me every morning, pen in hand and coffee ready, whether I’ve slept well or not. I am well aware, on the periphery of my mind, that there is much work to do and there are many people to help, especially those who are still caught in the mess of Sozo, and Theophostics, but all of that will have to wait for right now, because this work has to be done first.

See you in the morning, people. Good-night.

A Season of Changes

School is interesting, but it’s an awful lot of work. Not difficult, but time-consuming. It just isn’t possible to keep up with the work and maintain a blog, at least not with all we’re going through. It has been one crisis after another from the first week of classes. When the house flooded back in the summer, and the landlords wouldn’t come and take care of it, a lot of our belongings were ruined because of mold. We got sick, and ended up not being able to sleep there. When I decided not to pay for a house we couldn’t use, they finally showed up, but by then it was too late. Still, nothing was repaired. We waited. After another week or so, we packed, found another place to live, and moved out. Needless to say, I am way behind on these papers for school, and between running back and forth from one house to another and trying to deal with the people we were renting from, I am exhausted. Seems like every time I sit down to study or write, I fall asleep.

And did I mention that the car ended up in the shop in the middle of it all? The week after my daughter’s car broke down, which happened just as we had filled it with boxes to take to the new place. So, we took everything back out of her car, and put it into mine, but then we were down to just one car for a few days. Between the two of us, we spent almost $1000.00 (unplanned) dollars on car repairs.

That being said, blog posts will go one of two ways: they will either be few and far between, or, I will write my way through the next year and a half and use the blog to “flesh out” my ideas and research topics for school. We’ll have to see how it goes, but the second option is more likely, as I have to write in order to think. Under normal circumstances, I would absolutely love being back in school, but with all of the stress and chaos of moving, it’s been anything but fun. Until I can actually own my own home again, this seems to be how it’s going to go.

This will get better, though. We have been through this enough times for me to know that the boxes will get unpacked, one at a time, one day at a time. The sugar bowl will be found, eventually. Things that should probably have been thrown out long ago will finally find their way to the curb. Life will settle back into a fairly predictable routine (my comfort zone) and one day I will wake up and realize, We’re okay.  We may be a bit shaken, and desperately in need of sleep, but we made it, and God is still God, and life is still good. We’re not quite out of the woods on this one, as the previous landlords want money, and things were left (at least as far as I’m concerned) in a way that doesn’t quite sit well with me. I want things resolved, and for there to be peace and understanding, without any hard feelings. They (the people we were renting from) honestly do not seem to realize that it was negligence on their part that resulted in our having to leave the way we did. It’s a difficult situation, and I haven’t fully resolved in my heart how to handle it, although I do not intend to give them any more money. I would also like my security deposit back, especially considering what all of this has cost us.

And so, if you don’t hear from me very often, all of this is why. We’re just down the road a bit, sitting once again in a pile of boxes, but we’re warm, and dry, and working hard. And we have coffee.

And life is good.

 

 

A Wing and a Prayer

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SAM_4077Somewhere along towards the end of July I applied to graduate school, never really thinking for a moment that I would get in. I didn’t hear an audible voice from God. The bush out by the front door didn’t burst into flames. I didn’t get a handwritten letter delivered by a dove with the words “It’s Time. Apply Now” in glowing, golden script. My plan has been to wait and apply to grad school next year, when my youngest daughter graduates from her college. However, one sleepless night in the dead heat of summer, I sat at the computer and applied to school. A few days later, an advisor from the school called me and said that even though it was well past the deadline, they would waive the application fee if I could get all of the required forms and letters of recommendation in as quickly as possible. There was only one spot in the MSW program left for this fall.

So I thought, “Well, why not? If they’re willing to waive the fee, I  have absolutely nothing to lose by trying”. And so I did, running all over town trying to find transcripts, health forms and letters of recommendation, and everything else that needed to be in so that the director of the program could evaluate it and make a decision. There was only the smallest glimmer of hope that I might be accepted, but I sent as much as I was able to pull together, reasonably sure I would be rejected because I didn’t meet all of the requirements.

Then I waited.

This past Monday morning (only five days before the first class) I got an email saying I had been accepted into the program, even without having met all of the necessary requirements. I then spent all of Monday and the early part of Tuesday morning frantically trying to find the money needed to keep my car on the road, but I finally ran out of both time and ideas. In the end I spent over two-hundred dollars of the rent money, just so I would have a way to get to classes and doctor’s appointments. It was that, or get a ride home from the DMV.

More stress.

And so, early this morning, I grabbed a notebook and a large cup of coffee and headed West on the thruway. Hundreds of cows and cornfields later, I turned onto the campus of the college on the lake, and found myself sitting through an entire day of Writing for Professionals (a class I would have very much enjoyed, had I not been so tired). The rest of the classes will meet here in Syracuse, so I won’t have to drive all the way out to the school every week, but at least the transportation problem is solved. I’m not sure I have the physical strength or energy for this (health problems hijacked much of my summer) but this is one of the those times to “set my face like flint” and go forward, ready or not. The time is going to go by anyway, and I won’t ever feel ready enough, so the thing to do is to go and make the most of what time and energy I have. Each day has more than enough worries of its own, so the focus needs to be on what can be done today.

I believe God has a plan, and I believe it’s time to do this. I have to trust that He will make the way straight before me, even though I can only see the next couple of steps at the moment.

But first I have an eight page essay to write, and so blogging will have to come after schoolwork, for now at least.

Good-night everyone.

“Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.” 

Exodus 23:20

 

Honing Your Vision

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purposePOST BY STACEY LACIK

With all that’s going on the world, it’s good to take a moment and reflect on why having a purpose in life is so important. Without a vision and a plan, it’s all too easy to wander and waste time, and from the looks of it, we don’t have a lot of time to waste. The things that are happening at home and abroad speak to the fact that the world as we know it is quickly coming to an end.

These world events are going to separate those who are serious about their faith from those who just want to avoid the Highway to Hell. To say that we love God, but refuse to live His principles out in our daily lives is to take the Lord’s name in vain. (Many believe that this phrase refers to cursing, or swearing, but what it is actually…

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Happy Birthday to Me

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The house is quiet. There’s nobody here except me and a lone summer house fly. Last Wednesday was my birthday, and it came and went fairly quickly, as birthdays are wont to do. Nothing particularly wonderful or magical happened. Nobody rode up the driveway on a white horse. No miracles happened. After waiting all year for it, the day ended with a sort of quiet fizzle, and I woke up the next morning with life pretty much the same as it was the day before. And can I just say (because every divorced woman knows it) that the other side of the bed seems to stretch into infinity like a vast and empty wasteland, especially when we’re depressed or lonely. Not having someone to do life with hits hard on birthdays and holidays.

Can I get an Amen? Anybody?

I had the sobering realization the other day that some of my houseplants have lasted longer than my marriage did.

A long time ago I starting using my birthday the way most people use New Years’ Day, for reflection and setting new goals. It’s a day to stop and survey the stunning gap between where I am and where I want to be. Consequently, it’s also the time of year that I struggle the most with discouragement and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. This latest birthday has been really difficult for some reason, probably because there were so many things I had wanted to do by this age. At this point I feel like I’m running a race I can’t win, mostly because I’m just too tired.

The Fourth of July is also always a long and lonely day for me. I have cried pretty much all weekend. The harsh and painful reality is that there is no husband grilling hamburgers out on the deck this weekend. We’re not having a picnic, or going to the beach. We’re not all going to the parade, or the fireworks together. The only thing I want in all the world is to spend the day with my kids, but since the divorce they are always with their dad, usually on vacation somewhere fun and sunny. Today they’re up in Old Forge, one of my favorite places to go in the summer. We camped there a lot when I was growing up, and I want to go back someday and smell the pine trees, walk through the woods, and go in all of the little shops. It’s a place I associate with happy family memories of campsites and candy, souvenirs and sandals.

There’s a wicked little imp who dances around my pillow every night, singing “You’re nothing but a failure … you’ll always be a failure … no one will ever want you … even God can’t help you … it’s too late! it’s all too late!” It’s the last thing I hear every night, and the first thing I hear every morning. It’s like being poked and prodded with a tiny little pitchfork all night.

I wake up exhausted every day.

The last fifteen years haven’t gone at all the way I hoped. Most of my friends who were divorced around the same time I was have all remarried, and now they have new homes and families of their own. I never, ever, intended to raise two girls all by myself, and it never occurred to me that I would be alone this long. I had thought that I would be done with school; that I would own my own home, and that my counseling center would be up and running by now. It feels sometimes like it’s too late for all of my hopes and dreams, and I have a hard time most days hoping and dreaming for anything anymore. A lot of my prayers have gone unanswered. I don’t question God’s authority, but sometimes I just want to know why?

I ran into an old friend this afternoon in the drugstore. We met about thirty years ago in a campus ministry group, and as we talked about all we have been through, and where life has brought us, we kept coming back to the fact that no matter how hard and harsh life can be, God is still ultimately in control. Even when we can’t see it, He is guiding and directing us. He has led and kept us through it all, and we have to believe He will continue to do so, because if we don’t, there’s really no reason to go any farther. There would be no reason not to quit.

Christians often like to pick what we call our “life verse”; a portion of Scripture that has personal meaning for us, and seems to sum up what we feel our individual life with God is all about. Mine is Philippians 3:12-14:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not count myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

This is what brings me back every time. So, tired or not, there will be no quitting today. I haven’t come this far to give up now, even though it may look to everyone else like I haven’t accomplished anything yet, and quite possibly never will. I know better than anybody that I have stumbled and fallen many times, but as far as I’m concerned, every day is a new opportunity to start again. One more time.

Sometimes I have to write my way back to a right way of thinking.

Happy Fourth of July everybody. Have a safe and blessed holiday.

Ruffled Feathers

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I don’t have stars in my eyes when it comes to those in leadership. I don’t know why; it just seems to be how I’m wired. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I come from a long line of very strong-minded, independent women, which can be hell on earth during holidays and hot flashes, but otherwise is a legacy for which I am usually (but not always) thankful. We don’t let anyone do our thinking for us, and I think it’s what has saved my life on more than one occasion. I’ve always had a very strong mind, and a very strong sense of identity and purpose. I know I am often not perceived as a strong or confident person, but, as someone very wise once pointed out, there is hidden gold in being both under-valued and under-estimated. It gives you freedom that those in the limelight seldom get to enjoy. I think very clearly (more so when I’m angry, or feel very strongly about an issue) and would rather stand alone than compromise what I believe to be right and true in order to be accepted by a group. Or an individual, for that matter. I do not think I should have to apologize for this.

I do quite often have to apologize for how I say it, though.

The diamond dust surrounding leadership lost its glittering effect on me way back in the early 1980’s. While I enjoy and appreciate good teaching, I’m not mesmerized by it. I grew up in the local church and have been involved in it for many, many years. All my life, really. I have seen church leaders at their best, and also at their worst; the human side, that few in the pews ever get to see. They are people, not gods, or even demigods, except in the sacred space between their own two ears. They are certainly not celebrities, although quite a few of them have an affinity for red carpets and paparazzi, especially in Western culture. Rather, they are the very human individuals who make up our spiritual family. Their role as leaders does not guarantee them immunity from the consequences of being human, but only serves to heighten their responsibility. They have the same faults, problems, desires and dreams as the rest of us. They bleed real blood and cry real tears. They struggle with the same issues everyone else does, whether it’s controlling their tempers, or feeling nervous and awkward in front of a crowd. Some people marry into leadership, but are never truly comfortable living in the spotlight, and some people are just born into it, as in the case of the stereotypical “Preacher’s Kid”.

I have often thought that church is like high school all over again, but with better clothes. (And cars). In high school, you have the in-groups and the out-groups: the cliques, the clique-less, and the generally clueless. The athletes, cheerleaders, brains and bullies all grow up together. There are the ones who demand all the attention from the teachers, and the ones who fade into the background and try to disappear.  But most of them grow up and go to church, and the more charismatic ones are quite often chosen to be leaders. More often than not, this has more to do with their ability to attract attention (and therefore a following) than it has to do with their sane and stable character traits. The drama queens and cheerleaders in high school are the drama queens and cheerleaders in the sanctuary. Those who use their size, money, looks, and/or popularity to exert power and control over their peers in high school will do the same as adults. They become well-dressed, smooth-talking bullies.

There are those who call me stubborn and those who call me steadfast. I think they’re two sides of the same coin. I can tell you neither one goes over very well in therapy. When I was going through my divorce, I went to a pastoral counselor; I knew I needed to talk to somebody and not have to keep everything inside, because doing so was quite literally making me physically ill. The counselor drew a picture of a pressure-cooker with a tiny little stick-figure person on the edge of the lid, and said “This is you, and you are going to blow up if you don’t open up and talk.” I knew when she said it that she was right, and it’s why I kept going, week after week, to the appointments. I carried that little scrap of paper with the picture of the pressure-cooker in my wallet for years, to remind myself not to let things build up in my head. Life as a single mom is unbelievably stressful; even the happy moments are frequently tinged with worry and sorrow.

People think a blog is a tell-all space where all of your life is out in the open for all to see, but that isn’t the case. Like all writers who write about their own lives, I get to pick and choose what I decide to write about. While I may at times regret having written something, please don’t think for a moment that I’m saying everything here that I feel like saying. Believe it or not, I do hold back a lot. I have a very busy (and therefore often very tired) mind. Something about turning 50 last year made me extremely irritable. My doctor assures me this isn’t hormones, as I no longer have any. I am just too old and have been through too much to be manipulated or bullied by a church or anyone else. Women who have suffered and survived abuse can smell manipulation a mile away. After a certain age, you’re no longer afraid to say so.

So here we are.

There are two things I will not write about on this blog – no, three:

  • I will not write what I do not believe to be true, and if God shows me otherwise, this is the place where I will say so.
  • I will not write embarrassing things about my family, mainly because I have to eat with them on Christmas and Easter, but also because I love them. Their stories are their own to tell.
  • Like all of you, there are personal aspects of my life that are only appropriate to share with God and my counselor. That isn’t denial, it’s discretion.

It’s entirely possible that more than a few people in the church are not happy with me at the moment, but I had braced myself for that accordingly after my last post. Life has well-prepared me for flesh wounds, and I am not easily dissuaded, discouraged, or defeated. Although I never intended to hurt or offend anybody, I am aware that I offended at least one, and for that I am truly sorry, and I do apologize. If this mess is ever straightened out, I can assure you I will write much happier posts. As icicles will probably form in the lower regions of Hell before that happens, however, I will continue to hold the conversation here. As I said, sometimes we have to settle for a partial healing.

 

Straws in the Wind

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I did not intend to spend today putting out church fires, but the current situation appears to have taken on a life of its own, and therefore warrants a response. Gossip once fanned by the flames of offense spreads quickly, and while I don’t see a need to apologize to anyone in particular, I do indeed have something to say, and so will address it here:

It has been brought to my attention that someone read my last post and completely misconstrued it, and without waiting to ask what I was talking about before getting offended, took it and ran with it. How far they ran God only knows, but my sense is that I was not the first person they shared their concerns with. As anyone who has grown up in the church knows, church leaders can be a highly reactive bunch. They have a tendency to shoot first and get the facts later, which, now that I think of it, is how the original fiasco began.

If I choose to portray myself as something akin to an unmanned windmill on my own blog it is certainly within my right to do so. I was making fun of myself, not anyone else, and my intention certainly wasn’t to single any one particular person out. The fact is that there was more than one “petite and pretty blonde pastors’ wife” at the event last weekend, and in her zeal to protect whoever it was she thought had caused me so much pain, the passionate young defender accidentally jumped to the defense of the wrong person.

As to those who played a part in the past heartache I made reference to, they know who they are, and all of this is Old News. Because I want to ease the mind of the person who took the offense, let me say here that not a single one of them was a pastors’ wife. I made every effort to speak with each of them individually and privately at the time it all happened, as was appropriate. I do, however, live every day with the consequences of their behavior, and no effort has ever been made on anybody’s part to take responsibility, right the wrong and make amends. As I said before, there are no hard feelings on my part, only extremely sad ones. I was dead serious about not ever trusting anyone like that again, though.

At the risk of being embarrassingly transparent (as though I haven’t been already) here is what I was trying to convey when I wrote the paragraph in which I made reference to the “petite and pretty blonde”:

I do not now, and never have felt pretty.

I will forever see myself as the skinny, socially awkward nerd I was in high school, complete with a full-body back brace, glasses with lenses the size of dinner plates, and a frighteningly bad perm. Not even close to the Malibu Barbie look I was going for. It wasn’t until one day in high school, when I was at a friends’ house, that I heard her describe me to someone on the phone as “a tall, thin girl with blond hair and blue eyes.” It was the first and only time I ever felt even remotely attractive, and it occurred to me that day that it’s possible I don’t see myself the way everyone else does. The insecurity persists, however, and trips me up any time I find myself in a room full of attractive, confident, well-dressed people with whom I’m supposed to interact and act normal.

What I guess I should have said (because it’s what I meant) was that “I tower over people like a Neanderthal giant” (this is getting more ridiculous by the minute) so no one would mistakenly think I meant I had an issue with one pastor’s wife in particular. Although I do think I make at least one of them uncomfortable for some reason, but I usually chalk that up to my own nervousness when interacting with anyone who isn’t part of my own close circle of friends. Therapists recognize this as Social Anxiety, and know – or should know – not to take it personally. Church leaders in general don’t know this, and therefore really are afraid of you. Maybe it could have been better written, but again, the point was to poke fun at myself, not anyone else. It honestly never occurred to me that someone would read it and take it the wrong way.

My blog is both my story and my testimony. This is where I am free to talk about any issue or concern in my life that I feel I wish to write about. It’s a blog-in-lieu-of-therapy. When I first started it, I would delete certain posts out of fear that I had offended someone in particular, but I don’t delete myself anymore. After all of those years in an abusive, controlling relationship with my ex-husband, it doesn’t make sense to finally be free while continually violating my own personal boundaries myself. Part of the normal Christian life is realizing  that we can both hurt and be hurt by – however unintentionally –  those we worship with and minister alongside of. To pretend otherwise is unhealthy, and I have never been good at pretending. I am who I am. Saying that I love the very people who caused me pain is not to say that what they did wasn’t wrong, or that they don’t need to be held accountable. It’s saying that there’s more than enough grace to go around. It is, as I said before, acknowledging the fact that the people themselves are more important than the situations they created.

We do our kids a great disservice when we bring them up within the insulated walls of our “Let’s Pretend” churches, where nothing bad ever happens, but if it does, they’re not allowed to say so. The real world is going to smack them right upside the head someday, and they won’t be able to defend themselves, much less anyone else.

All of that being said, I am now going to see if my passport has expired, and then go and buy myself a big, floppy hat and the darkest sunglasses I can find, because I seem to have developed a strong and sudden urge to disappear as quickly and permanently as possible.

Enough is enough.

Have a good day people.