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

DestinyHighway.com

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.

 

Grief and Grace at a Baby Shower

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I went to a baby shower today. The beautiful young mother-to-be has been a close friend of my daughter since they were in the fourth grade, and I love her like one of my own. Gathered all together in a large and beautiful room were some of the people who have caused the deepest, most excruciating pain in my life; along with people whom I love dearly, all mingling over coffee and brunch and gifts.

It was hard.

Never sure who is being kind because they want to, or polite because they made eye contact and have to, and always uncomfortable in groups and gatherings, I felt big, awkward and nervous, and very much in the way. At 5’10” tall, with nearly three acres of arms and legs, it’s hard to find a place to hide sometimes. I tower over the pastors’ wife (a petite and pretty blonde) like a Neanderthal giant. I swear I think she’s afraid of me. I have never, in all these years, had an encounter with her that didn’t leave me feeling completely and utterly humiliated.

Some days simply have too much pain in them. Way too much.

Time doesn’t heal; it numbs. I watched as a grieving couple who had lost their child was interviewed on a talk show last year. When asked how they had been able to “move on” the father said, “You only move forward on the outside. You take a shower every day because you have to. You go to work because you have to.” What else is there to do? I’m no more healed than I was five years ago when everything happened, although I can dress it up as well as anybody (I hope). People get impatient with grief when it’s not their own. They get tired of the fact that you’re not “over it” and “better”, although nobody seems to be able to describe what “better” actually looks like. It gets embarrassing to admit you’re not, so the best thing to do, especially at events like these, is to pretend that you are and secretly hope you eventually will be. Where are the ruby slippers when you need them?

Whenever someone gets married, or has a baby, or, Heaven forbid, dies, we all come together and eat cake.

Why do we do this?

I think about the young, beautiful mother-to-be and realize we do it because we’re happy for her. We love her. Everything else gets pushed aside because of love.  It’s what love does – it covers. It doesn’t undo all of the bad that has happened in the past, but knows that the people we love are more important than the issues, and that there is a time to forgive, and yes, to move forward. And it’s okay if you can only do it on the outside for now; sometimes just getting yourself moving can pull the rest of you along eventually. We are only as healthy as our relationships, and digging our heels in waiting for an apology only gets our shoes dirty. Sometimes we have to settle for a partial healing, which, all things considered, is better than nothing. I can say today was a taste of what healing would feel like, but I still have an uneasy feeling about who’s sincere and who isn’t. I honestly can’t tell. I do know that I don’t think I will ever be able to fully trust or believe anyone ever again, no matter how hard I try, or how nice they seem to be.

The best thing to do with a day like today is to pull the blinds, drink my tea and crawl into bed, trusting God to help me to face it all again tomorrow. I don’t have any anger or hard feelings towards anyone who was at the shower today, only a deep, relentless sadness that doesn’t ever, ever go away. It’s far too late to fix any of it; too much time has passed, and the people who need to care don’t care anymore.

So, we move forward. We walk with a limp, but we walk. We get up, take a shower, and do it all again tomorrow, by the grace of God, and with His help. Only with His help. His mercies are new every morning, and who knows? Tomorrow could be a surprisingly good day.

Even If

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This hasn’t been a good month for blogging. A recent surgery left me with some unexpected complications; my daughter came home from college, depositing the entire contents of her dorm room into my living room, and there’s nowhere to put it all away until fall. It can’t go in the basement because it floods down there when it rains. The power in the house keeps going out, and the drains don’t work well. I saw the landlords at the grocery store when I was buying Draino and told them things were okay over here only to come home to find the lights flashing and the clocks blinking. The beautiful trees that gave us privacy got quite a haircut, and the branches are littering the yard. (The line crew had to cut many of them down, and they’re sending a chipper on Monday to clean it all up). The driver’s side mirror of my car is still in the trunk (I accidentally knocked it off when I pulled up to buy a coffee last year) and the muffler is loud enough to make conversation difficult when driving.

Stress is high and the funds are low; too low, in fact, to meet the needs of the moment: medical bills, car repairs, household items and household bills. The priority is, as always, paying the rent. But rest is also a priority. So is healing. And quiet, which is hard to come by lately. I’m frustrated because I had hoped I would be feeling a lot better by now, but it’s taking awhile. Days are filled with doctor’s appointments and medical tests, and I’m pushing to get it all behind me so I can move on. Writing and studying have taken a backseat to taking care of the crisis of the day. I’m still concerned about the problems in the churches but can’t seem to find the time to sit down and write about it. Seems like every time I sit down I fall asleep lately.

Speaking of which, I am off to bed. I just wanted to check in and leave a note in the midst of this present storm, and hopefully things will right themselves soon. But even if they don’t, I will say along with Habakkuk:

“I WILL rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation,  even if:

The fig tree does not blossom,

The vines do not bear fruit,

The olive crop fails,

The crops in the field fail,

The flock be cut off from the fold, or

The herd be cut off from the stalls.”

(From the six-fold Consecration of Habakkuk 3:17-19)

 

The Prison Epistles (Re-post)

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4098718595_9e7f57455d_mIn most of his letters to the early church, Paul begins with doctrine and ends with the practical application of doctrine in the lives of believers. Paul stated that he was “an apostle of Jesus Christ”. The Greek word apostolos means to be a delegate;  one sent with the full power of attorney. It means to act in the place of another, the sender remaining behind to back up the one sent. In the case of Christians, it means that God sends us to do what he Himself would do in our place. We are to represent Him in the world.

Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus, sometime around 60 A.D. He was under guard in rental quarters in Rome (see Acts 28:30) and the letter was delivered to the church by Tychicus. At the time, Ephesus was the leading center of the Roman Empire; Paul stayed there for three years on his third missionary journey. At that time it was the capital city of the province of Asia.

There are two categories of knowledge: pure, or theoretical knowledge (doctrine) and applied knowledge, which is the practical application of theoretical knowledge. For example, in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the first three chapters deal with doctrine (the calling of the church) and chapters 4-5 deal with application (the conduct of the church). This letter was addressed to the saints living in Ephesus. The Greek word for saint is hagiois, or “the Holy ones”; those who are set apart for God’s own use. It is the essence of what it means to live as a Christian and to be a follower, or disciple of Jesus Christ.

Paul taught that the Jewish and gentile believers are one in Christ, to be demonstrated by love for one another. He encouraged them to love both God and their fellow saints in Christ. Agape is the Greek word for love as a noun; agapao is the verb form. Paul uses both forms in his letters; agape being the love of God (as in “God is love: and agapeo as being in how that love is expressed through the lives of the saints. There is also a third Greek word for love: phileo, which is the love felt in relationships between people (as in friendship) but here Paul is primarily dealing with the application of doctrine, the foundation of which is the love of God in us and through us.  Paul’s focus was on maintaining unity within the church.

This letter begins and ends with love;  it was most likely a ‘circular letter’ meaning that while it was written to the saints in Ephesus, it was most likely passed around to the other churches as encouragement to love each other, and as a reminder to establish churches that were not based on rules and structure alone, but churches where the love of God was to be manifested to the people through the lives of the saints.

Fast forward about two thousand years.  Paul is under house arrest, somewhere on the outskirts of the city of Syracuse.  Tychicus is sitting with him;  the two men are having coffee and Paul is listening intently to the report of the churches.  He is disturbed by something that Tychicus is saying:  “There is a teaching going around in Syracuse, Paul, that in order to love others you must first love yourself, as though it is doctrine.  The people have focused on this, and their activities seem to include reading a lot on self-love, and attending groups to learn how to love themselves.”  Tychicus sits in silence as the Paul lowers his head into his hands, and sits silently.  After a time of deep thought, he lifts his head and says “Please bring me my pen.”  Pouring another cup of coffee for himself and his guest, he sits down and begins writing.  “To the Church in East Syracuse . . . to the Church in Fayetteville . . . to the Church in the Valley . . .”

This is a reprint of an old blog post from November of 2012; a period of deep grief and reflection for me. I have spent this snowy afternoon looking over old writing, beginning with the very first post in the spring of 2010. I liked this one in particular, however, so I am re-posting it today. I’m still working on the next article in the Sozo/ deliverance and inner healing series, and may or may not get it finished in the next couple of days. Writing has been immensely therapeutic for me, as it has been for as long as I can remember. I have my journals going all the way back to elementary school, along with a copy of my very first ‘book’, written when I was somewhere around ten years old. I found old articles today that I had written years ago, and an early copy of my testimony. Interesting reading.

I’m heading out now to brave the wind and snow and see if there are any Sunday papers left. Not likely after the games this weekend, but will come back to writing the next post in the series when I get back home.

Have a blessed and peaceful day, people.

You must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey Him and the power to do what pleases Him. ~ Philippians 2:12b – 13

Syncretism: Where the Odd and Unholy Come Together

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graveHere’s a new one for you: Grave-soaking, also known as grave-sucking. Closely related to the sport of mantle-grabbing, the idea is that the dearly departed leave behind whatever anointing they carried while alive in the box they’re buried in when deceased, free for the taking. Takers can either sit, stand, kneel or lie in front of, or on the grave of, those who are no longer sitting, standing, kneeling or lying and summon the vibes of saints whose bodies are six feet under. It’s a new and disturbingly creepy trend that some of your friends and fellow pew-warmers are engaging in.

Bethel Church, in Redding, California, the same church delivering the dubious ministry of Sozo (along with gold dust, diamonds and bird feathers) has long been known for a host of unholy behaviors and associations, but this one steals the show. Once you’re all cleaned up and cleaned out from Sozoing and Shabaring, you can embark on a church-endorsed field trip of grave-soaking (a.k.a. grave-sucking). A quick internet search pulls up disturbing images of the people from the church – leaders and youth included – draped over headstones or lying prone on slabs inscribed with the names of prominent, long-dead Christians.

As a result of all of the bad press Bethel has received due to the photos and videos on the internet, Beni Johnson (her birth name is Brenda) took to her Facebook page to make the following statement: “I am not what they call a grave-sucker. Just so you know. That’s creepy.” And yet, that’s Beni herself in the photo above, lying on the grave of C.S. Lewis. To give you an idea of the mindset of those perpetuating the practice, John Crowder (a Bethel associate, whose ministry is endorsed by the Johnsons) was taped while kneeling at the grave site of Alexander Dowie. Looking into the camera, he stated:

And we’ve just come to the grave today to release to you an impartation of  healing revival; of city-building, restoration, city-taking anointing, master-building anointing, and so we just rip it right out of the ground; we just suck it right off his dead bones, in Jesus’ name, and loose it to you; a healing-revival-glory-master-building-apostolic anointing glory …

If this sounds to you like the confusing mess that it is, it’s simply a reflection of the New Apostolic Reformation and Third Wave movement that has been propagated by those who have declared themselves to be the new apostles and prophets of the end-time generation. People who flock to these movements are found on the Elijah List, in the Healing Rooms, and trying to work their way up the Seven Mountain Mandate. Think this can’t happen in your church? That surely your leaders are so rooted and grounded in scripture that they would see right through all of this? If your church is utilizing Sozo materials in their ‘Freedom and Deliverance Ministries’ then know that it has already happened – the lion is no longer at the door, but is roaming freely up and down the aisles, and in and out of our classrooms. The Bible is clear: Satan doesn’t appear to us with a pitchfork and horns, otherwise we would recognize him for who he is, but he appears instead as an angel of light, promising blessings, healing, and untold wealth and prosperity to those who are desperate, vulnerable, needy or blind. And the shepherds (the pastors, deacons and elders of the church) have a God-given mandate to protect the people entrusted to their care.

The lure of mysticism is subtle. Syncretism is that odd mix of the holy and the profane that we are seeing with ever-increasing frequency in our church services. Syncretism, as defined by Webster, is simply this: “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” and to syncretize is particularly telling: “to attempt to unite and harmonize, especially without critical examination or logical unity.” It appears to be a politically correct form of Christianity, not just in America, but one that has spread rapidly around the world. Celebrity Christians are selling ideas such as ‘contemplative prayer’ and the ‘breaking of soul-ties and generational curses’ to a people who are more interested in having an emotional experience with God than a solid, biblically accurate relationship with Him. The idea of soul ties and generational curses, along with the perpetual quest for inner healing are nothing more than New Age, occultic, and mystical teachings that have infiltrated the church to such a degree that people are signing up for (and paying for) counseling sessions and classes without batting an eye. Combining any false teaching with the Word of God is absolutely forbidden in scripture, which clearly commands that we are not to take away from or add to the written Word. When we do, we end up with a confused and unhealthy church; one that is both deceived and diseased, and we are left with nothing but a chimera for a God. We’re a group of people who can decree, declare, and rebuke everything right down to the consequences of our own foolish choices, but who can’t walk straight when the fog-and-light-show ends.

Bill Johnson, Beni’s husband, and the senior pastor at Bethel, believes that:

There are anointings, mantles, revelations, and mysteries that have lain unclaimed, literally where they were left because the generation that walked in them never passed them on. I believe it’s possible for us to recover realms of anointing, realms of insight, realms of God that have been untended for decades simply by choosing to reclaim them and perpetuate them for future generations.

Nothing in scripture supports this.  The anointing of God is not just lying around unclaimed, waiting for us to soak it up at will. We don’t serve a hapless God who is sitting in the heavens wringing His hands, bemoaning the fact that we’re all down here stumbling over years of unclaimed anointings and mantles.  Spiritual growth is not a Christian version of an Easter-egg hunt. We develop insight and spiritual maturity by spending time in the Word, not by laying on the graves of those who have already left the earth. If the normative Christian life were to include going back to suck the glory out of dead bones, wouldn’t the letters to the churches have been the logical place for the New Testament writers to tell us so?  Instead, we’re told to learn from the heroes of the faith, and to emulate their faith, but we’re not told to try to dredge the rewards of their faithfulness for ourselves by lying on their graves. 1AA4

Sunbathing on grave sites didn’t originate with the large church on the West Coast, however; Benny Hinn has been known to try to suck the leftover anointing out of the graves of Kathryn Kuhlman and Aimee Semple McPherson. The practice stems from the idea of transferable anointings, or mantles (a teaching made popular in the Word of Faith and Latter Rain movements of the last century), hence the term mantle-grabbing. These aren’t teachings you will find within the pages of scripture, however. What you will find is that necromancy is absolutely forbidden by God. In the Old testament (see Deuteronomy 18:10) those who practice it are called an abomination to God. This includes any form of communicating with the dead, whether it’s channeling, praying to a dead saint, calling up your beloved grandmother, or grave-soaking. Nor will you find that any mantle or anointing was ever transferred from a dead person to a live person in scripture. In fact, the only time a mantle or anointing is transferred from one person to another is through relationship, as in the case of Elijah and Elisha, so the next time you find yourself cozying up to a skeleton, you might want to stop and consider the health and depth of your relationship with your fragile friend. And while you’re down there, you might want to stop and think about the health and depth of your relationships and associations in general.

grave-sucking-2 So shake off those mold spores and grow up.  You’re not supposed to smell like a cemetery.  You’re not supposed to sprout gold dust and feathers; to bark, foam at the mouth, roll on the floor, or shake and laugh hysterically, or participate in any of the other mindless activities associated with hyper-charismania. You don’t need to lay on the ground and try to work yourself into a trance by singing the same verse of a song over and over until your geese bump and your flesh tingles. (There’s actually a name for this unholy practice; it’s known as “carpet-time”). Read the New Testament carefully and you will find that not only is self-control listed as a Fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:23) but in almost all of the letters to the churches we’re encouraged to control both our minds and our bodies. Christians are people who should be known for our resemblance to Christ. We’re not supposed to be known as people who post “selfies” of odd behaviors that nobody naming the name of Christ should be engaged in, but rather, we’re exhorted to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting the people of God.

2nd year BSSM students at the grave site of Evan Roberts.

2nd year BSSM students at the grave site of Evan Roberts.

“For the time is coming when [people] will not tolerate (endure) sound and wholesome instruction, but, having ears itching [for something pleasant and gratifying], they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold, and will turn aside from hearing the truth and will wander off into man-made fictions.”  – 2 Timothy 4:3,4 (Amplified)

“Take no part in and have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds and enterprises of darkness, but instead [let your lives be so in contrast as to] expose and reprove and convict them. For it is a shame even to speak of or mention the things that [such people] practice in secret. But when anything is exposed and reproved by the light, it is made visible and clear; and where everything is visible and clear, there is light. Therefore He says, Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine (make day dawn) upon you and give you light. Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil. Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.” 

– Ephesians 5:11-17 (Amplified)

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SAM_4068We’re going to take a break here for a minute from all of the soaking, sozoing, and shabar-ing we’ve been doing lately, so grab yourself a towel and sit tight.

A week ago today, the March issue of Good Housekeeping hit the newsstands. I, along with five other women, were interviewed by a journalist for a story the magazine wanted to do on domestic violence. I’ve never been interviewed for a national magazine before, and I have to say it’s been an interesting experience. The whole process took about six months from beginning to end.

I wrote a lot, not just about my own situation, but about domestic violence in general, and emotional abuse in particular, which is what the term gaslighting refers to. It’s taken from the 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Other terms for this kind of abuse are mind games and crazy-making. They’re tactics used by an abuser that are intended to make you question your own reality, or worse, make others doubt your reality. It’s a ploy designed to isolate you, and cut off any means of support or help. It deflects attention away from the behavior of the abuser and onto the person they’re abusing. The behavior itself isn’t addressed; instead, the mental stability of the person being abused becomes the focus (yes, gaslighting occurs in counseling, and frequently results in collusion) and this is why you do not ever counsel both spouses together when there is domestic violence going on. It’s a dangerous (and in my case, almost deadly) mistake, and one that Christian counselors in particular frequently make in their zeal to “save the marriage”. But untrained and uninformed people can do a lot of harm, even when they mean well. Domestic violence is not a matter of anger management. Abusers manage their anger very well, and can stop on a dime and turn on the charm when they want to.  Most churches, at least the ones I know of, never have a domestic violence agency come in and train their leaders. This is why most of the people in the pews don’t bother reaching out to church leaders for help. It isn’t there.

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Anyway, I thought I had made myself pretty clear, both in what I had written and in the phone interviews, but I think that in the end the editors of the magazine tried to make my story fit their story. I think that what they wanted was a part on spiritual abuse, and pulled bits and pieces from what I had written and said about my own experience in order to do so. The problem is that while my husband was emotionally, physically and verbally abusive, the spiritual abuse, if any, came from the church, not him.  (I personally don’t consider my disappointment about not being able to go to Bible college to be abuse at all). They completely missed the fear and danger of what my daughters and I went through.

The part about what the elder’s wife said is true, unfortunately, but that is not the point at which I “quit reaching out and started praying I’d find a way out.” The truth is, I never did actually reach out to begin with; help found me, first from my primary care doctor, and then from a pastor at a different church than the one we were attending. The part about my pastoral counselor isn’t true at all; she never said that, or even implied it. All I said in the phone interview was that I made the mistake (huge mistake) of having my husband go along with me to my counseling in the first place, and that he controlled the whole thing from the beginning. But my counselor was never his counselor, and we didn’t go to her for marriage counseling.  Looking back, I can see that maybe I didn’t make that clear.  I thought I did, but I was so upset at the time that it’s possible that I didn’t.  I had to look over all of the notes from the police reports and court appearances in order to send the facts of the charges and orders of protection for the magazine, and in reading the court reports I can see that the counselor honestly thought we were there for marriage counseling, when, in fact, the counseling was for me. I knew I needed a witness and an advocate, and help with the grief and anger I was trying to deal with on my own.  I knew that whatever I was facing was going to be too heavy – too difficult – for me to handle by myself. Friends and family can love and support you, and they did, but they can be too emotionally involved sometimes to be of much practical help. I just needed the facts regarding adultery, from him, because those were the facts I believed I needed in order to decide what to do about divorce. I didn’t know that it was okay to leave an abusive situation if you were a Christian; I was never taught that. He went, because he wanted someone to validate him and protect his reputation; and to make sure that my counselor didn’t believe me.

I also wanted to make it clear to the editors that I, like most women, didn’t stay in the marriage because of “low self-esteem”. The average woman will leave an abusive situation an average of seven times.  The church leaders (at the time) had a “three-times-and-you’re-out” policy, meaning that they would help and support you no more than three times, and if your situation didn’t improve, then they were done with you, and you were on your own. There was absolutely no knowledge or awareness of domestic violence, or how to help people in crisis. The most dangerous times for any woman in a domestic violence situation are when she is pregnant, or during the first six months after leaving.  Another huge reason woman stay, and something I stressed to the writer, is the issue of finances. When women leave an abusive situation, they, along with their children, quite often fall immediately below poverty level. If all you have ever been is a stay-at-home mom, and in my case, a home-schooling mom, and all you have is one car, which he is going to get to take with him; and no viable means of getting employment and health insurance, you’re going to do your best to make that marriage work. Losing your house is not a small thing, especially if you have children; in our case, it has resulted in years of moving and instability that have only made things worse, not better.  I’ve never had the chance to get better, because I’m always trying to keep a roof over our head and the lights on. I can’t remember a day that hasn’t been clouded by grief and worry for over fifteen years. There are no ‘happy’ days, although there are happy moments, albeit few and far between.

Having said all of that, years of physical and verbal/emotional abuse do take a toll, and yes, your self-esteem suffers. When all you hear, day after day, is “No one will ever love you – no man in his right mind will ever want you – even your counselor is going to see what you are and reject you” (and she did, in the end) it hurts.  You don’t feel attractive, you don’t feel pretty, you don’t feel wanted. You feel pathetic. Rejection and fear are the feelings you learn to live with on a daily basis. The physical abuse is simply too embarrassing and too difficult to write about, to be honest. The whole thing is humiliating.

The one quote in the article that is exactly what I said is that “divorce doesn’t end abuse, it merely changes it. It may not be happening in your living room any more, but it happens on the phone, in the driveway, at school events and soccer games.” The church still shuns you, although they let you know in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they are “praying for you and hoping you come back to the Lord.” I didn’t fall away from the Lord however, or ever lose my faith in God, although I’ve lost it in people. On the contrary this experience has deepened my faith in God. The person who actually helped, in the end, wasn’t my own pastor but was Pastor John Carter, from Abundant Life Christian Center in Syracuse, N.Y.  He is the only person I actually ever saw confront my husband about the violence in our home (on the midway at the State Fair, of all places) and I will forever be grateful for that, and for his help and counsel.  I went to Abundant Life after the divorce because I felt safe there. The counselor helped in that it she provided a safe place to go and try to deal with all of it. Sometimes we need to pay someone to just sit still and hear us.  To be both a presence and a witness to our grief, and sometimes, but not always, a friend.

Anyway, I thought that everything I said in the interview was all very clear. The problem, I believe, lies with the magazine editors, not the writer of the article. She seemed to understand what I was saying, and as a counselor myself, I know how difficult it can be to try to write a verbatim account of everything that was said in an interview, especially if you don’t know them personally.  It’s easy to make a mistake, or to get a wrong impression, no matter how hard you try to be accurate. When the ‘fact-checker’ editor from the magazine called me, I did tell her that she did not have the facts quite right, and tried to correct her, but she seemed to already have the story written as far as the magazine was concerned. I told her that the quote from my counselor was incorrect, and asked that it not be included, but for some reason, they wrote it into the article anyway.

I am horrified to see that they quoted her as having said something she did not ever say, or even imply, and to see it when I got my issue last week was extremely upsetting. I can’t fix it, no matter how sorry I am, and have had a difficult week worrying about it all of it. Any relief I had from finally being able to tell my story has been ruined by the error, however unintentional it may have been. After six long months of waiting for this story to come out, I don’t think I’ve done anything but cry since it did. Believe me when I say that I haven’t slept in a week. I am just so disappointed.

What I learned from this whole experience is that the story that results from an interview is not necessarily going to be written at all the way it was said. I will never read an article again without thinking I wonder if that’s how it really happened? I learned that from now on I will write my own articles, and tell my own story.  I may not get it all right, but at least I will know why, and where the problem lies.

 

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