Archive for November, 2014

“For God so loved the world you . . .”

Day 21

Way back on Day 2, I encouraged you to reclaim your power by writing and telling your story. As we finish up these 21 days, I want to encourage you to RE-write your story. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow. But sometime soon.

Only this time, let go of the parts of your story that do not serve you well.

For a long time, I identified myself as someone who was tossed out of the church, spiritually abused, unwanted, unworthy, unnecessary, etc. Today, when I think about who I am and what my story is, I think, “strong, happy, kind-hearted, loyal, faithful, beautiful, confident, gracious, generous, loving.” And I think of all of the ways that I demonstrate those attributes.

The fearful, cowering person that I was no longer exists.

So while I have chapters in my life that were horrific, today I am a different person. I have a different story to tell.

And while I continue to talk about spiritual abuse, it’s not because I am bitter or still mired in pain. It’s because I am confident, generous, kind-hearted, loyal, and caring. It’s because I want to let others know they are not alone. And that there is life after spiritual abuse. Abundant life.

So rewrite your story. You have already started. Keep going. And come back here to visit and share. I would love to hear from you.

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“God made you in His image.”

Day 20

You may have noticed that I haven’t spent much time on God over these 21 days except for the brain changing thoughts that I hope you have been repeating to yourself several times a day through the month. If you stuck with it, you will probably notice a change in how you think about what God thinks of you. Please don’t stop once our 21 Days are over.

But I haven’t said much about God outside of that because I needed to get back to a “normal” relationship with Him, too. All those years when I was being made to feel that God was angry with me, didn’t want anything to do with me, and that I didn’t measure up, I worked very hard to change His mind. I worked and served and gave and prayed and took classes and went to church every time the doors were open. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get God to like me better or make the church leadership like me better.

When we were tossed out of the church, and I started working on changing my brain from what the church leadership communicated to me about my unworthiness, unwantedness, unacceptableness, etc., I found that God was saying something entirely different to me than the church leadership had been. He was telling me that He is not like them and they are not like Him. He doesn’t act like that. He was telling me that I must not blame Him for the bad behavior of people who claim to represent Him. They don’t. He was telling me it is okay to rest and take care of myself. Because just as I didn’t have to do anything to earn my salvation, I don’t have to do anything to keep it, either.

I’m not going to hell because I am not going to church. I’m not making God mad because I’m not working my tail off for a church. I do not have the ability to control God’s mood. He loves me (and you) with an everlasting love. Period.

One of the mistakes I made when we left our first abusive church was immediately looking for another church to attend. And while I didn’t get involved there for several months, when I did the abuse started almost immediately. If I had stepped away from church and experienced a deeper healing without the “measure up” messages that pretty much every church sends, I think I would have been better able to reject the early abusive treatment in that second church and to walk away from it.

Because I was still very broken from that first church experience, I was ripe for additional abuse. I was still in the “if I just do more, try harder, am patient, etc., God will make everything work together for good.”

As I listened to what God really thinks of me over those first few weeks, I began to accept that God does not expect me to submit myself to a system that demands – whether overtly or subtly – more than He does.

“It is God who works in you to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

God does the work. Not me. God puts people in my path that He wants me to serve. God nudges me when He wants me to do or give or help or encourage. He directs my path.

So, I’m pretty sure that if God wants me to attend a church, serve in a church, give to a church, He will direct my path. I don’t have to strive to get there.

Also, for many of us, prayer and bible reading became very difficult during our abusive experience. I know it did for me. For years, I so immersed myself in bible reading, bible study, bible classes, that I am pretty confident that “Thy word I have hid in my heart.” (I was never great with memorizing the scripture reference, that’s why you don’t often see a reference when I quote scripture – but I’m also not looking it up. I know my bible.)

And for years, I couldn’t sing or pray. This God that we were singing about and praying to didn’t even want me, how could I?

Now, I rarely say anything to God “in prayer.” Talking to God is just part of my day – as I’m driving, walking down the hall at work, cooking. I’m much more likely to just listen to what God is saying to me.

“Ellen, I love you.”
“Ellen, I’m not like those who reject, ignore, diminish, ostracize, devalue, aovid.”
“Ellen, give.”
“Ellen, rest.”
“Ellen, delight.”

We are good, me and God. Why would I mess that up?

How about you? What are your thoughts about God after your spiritually abusive experience? Are you trying to win His favor? Are you afraid you will make Him angry or that your behavior will put Him in a bad mood? Have you been able to let go of trying to keep your place in heaven by earning it even though you never had to earn it in the first place? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

“His love endures forever.” (Thought suggestion for today.)

As I am writing this, it is the day after Thanksgiving, 2014. Black Friday. My husband left shortly after 4 AM to pick up my son and go shopping. (For shop vacs, ladders, scaffolding, and an iPhone.) Me? I stayed home.

And I have to tell you I feel good! Physically good! We spent Thanksgiving with family and food was over abundant – as it probably was for most of you. But today, I don’t have the food hangover. I am up after only six hours of sleep and I feel energetic – even envigorated! I’ve been feeling this way for a while now. Because part of my journey toward healing from spiritual abuse has been to realize the value of self-care.

Self-care might mean different things to you than it does to me, but I want to encourage you today to think about what self-care looks like for you.

Self-care for me means several things. Things like:

Going to the hair dresser regularly for a really great color and cut.
Taking that daily walk that’s on my perfect ordinary day list (see Day 14).
Having a little “down-time” every day.

And here’s probably the biggest for me and what made yesterday and today fantastic:

“Eating Light.”

That doesn’t mean ‘dieting.’ It really means not overeating. And at least not as much on big days like Thanksgiving.

“Eating light” has become my mantra. I live with a husband who has always thought that if I don’t want to eat something, he won’t either. If he wants a bowl of ice cream but I don’t, he will say something like, “Well, I won’t have any either, then.” And I would get the guilts feeling like he was being deprived. Several years ago, I finally put my foot down and told him I was going on a diet and if he didn’t eat something because I wasn’t eating it, that was his choice. And I lost 65 pounds and he was fine. Probably because our boys were still at home and they would all eat treats and bigger servings together.

But the past few years since the boys grew up and moved on to their own homes, my husband and I fell into the same old pattern. And it was difficult not to because so many times we were so busy running to church and spending long hours at church that we were eating on the run – grabbing fast food, eating out, or just grabbing whatever was available when we got home because we were hungry and didn’t want to take the time to fix a healthy meal.

After we got out of that environment, and I started to work on putting my life back together, I realized that I was an emotional eater, as well. The stress of the situation packed ten more pounds to the 20 I had gained back over the previous 4-5 years. And I realized that if I was going to heal and be emotionally and spiritually strong, I also needed to by physically the best that I could be. For me, that doesn’t mean running marathons or even doing burpees. I suffer from arthritis and battle bursitis so I’m never going to be an olympic athlete.

But it does mean taking care of myself the best that I can physically – and that, for me, means “eating light.” I say it a lot. I tell my husband, “I’m eating light.” And most of the time, he says, “Yeah, me too.” Isn’t that great?

I think that because I’m not saying, “I’m not going to eat that, but if you want it, go ahead,” he isn’t sending those subliminal guilt messages. Instead, “eating light” means “I’m eating – just not big (man-sized) portions,” so he takes that as a “Yes! I can eat, too!”

The result has been that I eat whatever I want – I just eat “light.” And I feel great.

For you, self-care might mean something completely different. Maybe it means getting a good pair of shoes that support your arches or writing in a daily journal or using sunscreen or making that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off.

It’s okay to take care of yourself. In fact, when you take care of yourself, you are better able to enjoy those bucket list items – both large and small. And when you care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, you will take a big step toward healing.

I know I did.

If you have some self-care ideas to share, please help the rest of us by putting them in the comments. I would love to have some new strategies.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Can you tell your thoughts are changing?)

Day 18:

For those who are following the 21 Days of Healing, you have read and hopefully thought through Days 13, 14 and 15 – which are about letting go of all of the stuff you used to do and then thinking about – and doing – the things that you truly want to do.

Today, I want to encourage you to limit even those lists. You don’t have to do everything all at once and you don’t have to do everything at all. So, as you think about your bucket lists, think about the focus of one or two of those items.

For example, one of my bucket list items is to write and maintain this blog. At first, I thought my blog would be a one-stop shop for any and all spiritually abusive information out there. And there are websites and other blogs that attempt to do that. They are filled with so much information that it’s almost overwhelming to try to take it all in.

I don’t have the time (blogging is not a full-time endeavor for me) to develop an intricate blog or website, and even if I did, would that be what I should do? As I looked around at other blogs and sites that deal with spiritual abuse, I decided that my focus should be on sharing my journey. It only takes a quick Google search and many, many sites about spiritual abuse with generally the same resources pop up. I didn’t see a need to reinvent the wheel when there are others posting resources and links.

One of the reasons I am so intent on sharing my story is because my story is not one of a blatantly cultic church, an extremely charismatic church, an extremely conservative church, nor was there physical or sexual abuse – which seems to be the majority of spiritual abuse stories out there.

I believe that there are even more spiritually abused folks like me who were/are involved in what appears to be a well-grounded, servant-oriented, God-honoring church. Yet, because they have been singled out for whatever reason, they have been made to feel that their relationship with God is in question. Questioning our relationship with God because church leaders have in VERY SUBTLE ways indicated to us that we are lesser-than, don’t measure up, are unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, etc. is the hallmark of spiritual abuse.

That’s what makes my site different from the norm. I point out that spiritual abuse can happen in the most “unlikely” places. And because of that, people often don’t believe our stories. How in the world could the pastors and leadership of such a great church really do those things? And so, we abused are the ones who are cast aside while the abusive leadership continues on their merry way.

My story, then, and my journey to healing have become my focus for the blog. This is my niche. This is what makes my blog “different” and helpful to those I am hoping to reach. I don’t need to include what other people have already put out there. If people have found their way to my blog, they have probably also found those other sites that have wonderful resources lists and links.

So, when you look at your bucket lists – or when supportive and encouraging people suggest that you broaden your scope – keep focus in mind. Whether it’s a vacation to the Grand Canyon or maintaining an exercise program, focus on an obtainable and sustainable goal and stick with it. Otherwise, you risk falling back into doing more than is healthy or, even worse, the people-pleasing patterns that many of us who have been spiritually abused get caught in.

If you have a bucket list item that you are keeping focused, I would love to hear about it.

His mercies are new every morning.  (Brain work.)

Day 17

A few days a go I attended a conference for teachers in my discipline – music. Of course, the first person I ran into is a life-long member of the church that tossed me out last December. In fact, because she divorced several years ago, she no longer serves in any capacity. (He had an affair and refused church or any other kind of counseling. The wife did everything she could to save their marriage. But I digress.) “I haven’t seen you in a long time!” she exclaimed. And because she was with another woman whom I did not know, I simply replied, “Oh, like all of us, I’ve been very busy!”

We continued our small-talk for a while and then moved on.

Later that day, I saw a gentleman who “knew me when.” Throughout my years of spiritual abuse, my son was in an auditioned choir that this fellow and his wife directed. We chatted for several minutes and then he said, “I just want to say you look fantastic! I didn’t even recognize you at first. Is it the hair? Your glasses? I’m not sure what, but you just sparkle! You look really good!”

I didn’t mention that I have gained 20 pounds in the past 5 years so I would have thought my appearance had not improved (more on that in a day or two), because I have been told many times over the past few months that I look wonderful.

When we first were tossed out of the church, people were very supportive and understanding of the pain that I was experiencing. How I bled all over the place from the wounds that had accumulated over the previous decade plus! And I so appreciated the supportive comments.

After a while, people with whom I had shared the pain of being tossed out of the church started making what I am sure were, in their minds, loving remarks and suggestions. Sometimes it was when I would run into them in person.  Sometimes it was them sharing a neat and tidy little quote on Facebook.  Sometimes it was a comment made to my husband when I wasn’t around.  I’m sure they are well-meaning but they often had not “kept up” with me enough on a personal level to know just how far I had come in my healing process.

As I said earlier, at first I bled all over people. I was outspoken about spiritual abuse and, some would say, reckless in my openness. As I healed, I became even more outspoken in my Facebook posts, twitter comments, and in face-to-face conversations about the impact of abuse, the mindset of one who is healing, and an advocate and encourager for abusive victims.  So many times people would read my comments or the quotes I shared or links I posted and assume that I was still very, very wounded when, in fact, I was very advanced in my healing process.

Here are a few of the comments I would receive:

I’m sorry you are still hurting.

Have you found a new church yet?

I hope someday you are able to find healing.

Why don’t you get involved in (fill in the blank)?

I had to remember that their comments were meant to be helpful but often they simply irritated me.  Why, I wondered, did they assume that I was still so broken and bleeding?  Why couldn’t they understand that just because I was vocal, I was not bitter or hurting?

And then I realized that it was because I continued to talk openly and honestly. And even when I had told a friend or two that I was well on my way to healing, they weren’t convinced. Because for some strange reason, people think that once you are healed, you will shut up about what happened to you. To many people, healing should be demonstrated by not talking.

And I’m sure that’s true for some people. Once they feel better and “move on,” they don’t need to wallow around in all of the negativity and what is often seen as (and sometimes is) self-pity. Many of you will one day discover the blessing of speaking of your abuse as a long-ago memory. Thank God that there is a gift in forgetfulness!

But what some folks have a hard time understanding is that some of us who have healed (and I’m not saying I’ve arrived – I carry scars that will ever remind me) are now living out a new calling, if you will. And that calling is to keep talking.

You know some of the big names out there who had terrible things happen in their lives and went on to start or fund organizations to combat abuse? Would my same friends and acquaintances who think I will demonstrate my healing by not talking say the same thing of Oprah or Boz Tchividjian? Would they say to Oprah, “I’m so sorry you are still hurting?” Or do they think she’s a phenomenal advocate for people who have suffered abuse (of many kinds) and hope she continues to speak on their behalf? Of course they want her to continue that good work of speaking out and helping others.

So, when the woman from my church said she hadn’t seen me in a long time, if she had been alone, I know I would have said, “I know. But since we were tossed out of the church, you probably won’t see me very often.” I don’t know how she would have responded because I don’t know if she is aware of what happened, but it would lead to an interesting discussion, you can be sure.

Then there are those who think that I just need to find another activity. But remember, I now know my core values and I have some bucket lists. So, when someone asks, “Why don’t you get involved in (fill in blank with activity/charity/etc.)?  Unless I truly want to, my response is, “I’m sorry.  I’m already committed.”  Maybe my commitment is to reading a book that night or I’m planning on sleeping in, but I have made commitments to myself and if what they are asking doesn’t fit what I want to do, I don’t do it.  I’m not interested in making other people happy or winning their approval by doing what they think or want me to do.

When someone makes a “I hope you find healing someday” kind of comment, I often respond by telling them, “Oh, I’m not saying this because I’m still hurting or bitter.  I’m speaking out because I’m vocal about spiritual abuse.  People need to know what it is, that it’s wrong, that they are loved and valuable, and that they can heal, too.”

When someone asks, “Have you found a church yet?” I ask them, “Are you inviting me to your church?” When I ask this question, I never get a “Why, yes! I would love for you to come to my church!” Isn’t that interesting? I’ve only had one person invite us to her church – right after we were tossed out of ours and we were too raw wise to consider it. And one person has told me I need to find a church but that hers is too broken to recommend.

Were they to say, “Yes! Please come to my church!” I would then say something like this:

“I don’t think we are going to be interested in looking seriously at a church for a while yet.” If they pursue it further, then I would say, “I don’t think there are very many churches out there that are ready for the accountability that we would hold them to, so we are comfortable not getting enmeshed in that again – at least for now.”

And those who tell me I look fabulous? Why wouldn’t I? I no longer have the look of one condemned. I sparkle! I glow! I exude happiness because I am happy, loved, accepted, wanted, appreciated, and joyful.

Please don’t allow anyone’s comments or questions lead you back into thinking you aren’t enough or that you aren’t healing or even healed simply because you have a voice. Sometimes it’s in using that voice that you find the most healing.

How about you? What questions and comments do you get? How do you respond? Or how do you wish you would have responded? I would love to learn from you.

I wasn’t going to post anything but the 21 Days of Healing series until after it was done, but seriously, this just deserves to be posted.

When I was tossed out of my church, a “friend” from the church (who still spies on me by following this blog) invited me that next week to have coffee with her. We spent several hours at a coffee bar the next town south of where the church is located talking about what was happening.

She is the one who was afraid that the daughter of the pastor who tossed us out of the church would tell on her for meeting with me (the daughter was sitting a few booths away). She told me during our conversation that this pastor – brother to the senior pastor – had talked to her a week before he had contacted me about sharing my story. In our conversation, she appeared to be quite horrified that the leadership of the church had treated me so poorly and especially with no attention at all to biblical protocols such as Matthew 18. Yet, when I asked her if I deserved an apology for being spiritually abused, she could not bring herself to say, “yes.”

Instead, she kept saying, “But Ellen, you told!” And I kept saying, “But Kathie, if what they were doing to me was appropriate, why does it have to be kept a secret?” And she would respond with exasperated harrumphing and tongue clucking but couldn’t give me an answer.

She did declare that she was my friend and ever would be. And back then, I believed her. I desperately wanted to believe her and so I did.

And for a very short time we exchanged a few texts and emails and she promised that she would get together with me again sometime soon. That was back in January. Other than her seeing my husband and me at a coffee shop in August in which she actually said, “Hello,” and then kept on going, I haven’t heard from her since.

Until this week.

This week I got on email. It was a group email to several people. It started with “Friends” as the opening and goes on to promote her new book – about a female biblical character who was a “social castoff.”

So, my first thought was, “Why am I getting this email? My second thought was, “Why am I getting an email that addresses me as a ‘friend’ when I haven’t heard from this person for ten months? My third thought was, “Why would she send me a book about a woman who was a ‘social castoff’ except to rub it in?”

And then I realized. She wasn’t sending me the email because she still considers me a friend. A friend would have kept her word. A friend would have stayed in touch and invited me to have coffee or lunch a few times in the past ten months. A friend would have paused and chatted when she saw me in August.

And then I thought about the email again. And the link to Amazon.com. And I realized that, just like the church, it was all about money. This was just a marketing email that she was sending, most likely, to any and every acquaintance she has ever known. It had nothing to do with friendship. It had nothing to do with me at all. It had everything to do with money.

I would not have believed this at all if the email had come to me only and with a personal note. Something like, “Hi, Ellen! I’m so sorry I haven’t kept my commitment to you about getting together. I didn’t realize when I made that promise to you that I would be immersed in birthing a book and how much time that requires. But I want you to know that I have not forgotten you and now that the book is completed, I would love to get together with you – maybe over your Christmas break? Oh, and by the way, when we get together, I want to give you a copy of my book. I think it will speak to you – I hope it does. Please let me know if you are up for setting a date during your break and, again, I am so sorry that I couldn’t get back to you sooner.”

Instead, it was a “form email” sent for the purpose of making money.

Isn’t that sad? I am filled with compassion for her because she represents everything that my former church was about. Money. I’m sorry, Kathie, but I won’t buy your friendship. Not any more. But if you ever want to have that cup of coffee, I’ll meet up with you. Because even though I won’t buy your friendship, I will be a friend to you no strings attached. That’s what Christians do.

God delights in you. (Brain work.)

Day 16

By now, you probably have figured out what’s coming today. Yep, that’s right. What are the big things you want to do?

All my life I have wanted to see the Grand Canyon. Guess what? Last spring we went. The Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, The Petrified Forest, Sedona, the Rocky Mountains and much more. What beauty! What majesty! We were awed. And delighted. We came home with something like 14,000 pictures between our camera, phone cameras, and two iPads. Absolute splendor.

Next, I think we are going to go south because it will probably be during my spring break. And then east. I attended a conference in Washington DC when I was in college and when my son’s choir toured through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and up to Maine, my husband and I were chaperones. But there was little sight-seeing and I really want to visit the historical monuments and Civil War sights.

Also on my list are the redwoods in California, Glacier National Park, Nashville, and Niagra Falls. That’s a bit of my traveling list.

Other things in my big bucket are:
Write a book.
Build a greenhouse.
Finish quilting my grandmother’s quilt tops.
Become a master gardener.
Start a business.

I always thought I would have to wait until I retire to work on any of these projects, but now I can actually work toward them or even on them. My world has opened up in so many ways without the hundreds of hours per year we were spending at the church.

Now, I’m not saying that if you are still involved in a church and are volunteering and giving, that those are bad things. No, no, no! They are wonderful things. But if, as part of the abusive environment you were in you were like me and the volunteering and giving were so extreme and so “expensive” that you lost yourself – because really, if you don’t have money or time to live the life and do the things you dream of doing, reasonable things that lots of other people at your church have been doing for years because they didn’t have to measure up to the extreme standards expected of you – now is a good time to make up for all of those lost years that the locusts have eaten.

Even if it’s just sitting on your front porch watching the world go by.

We live in a 103 year old house with a beautiful front porch. We always thought how wonderful it would be to just go out on the porch weekend mornings in the spring, summer, and fall, and have coffee or breakfast. How wonderful it would be to sit there on hot afternoons and enjoy the shade and the breeze. How wonderful it would be to sit out there and read. How wonderful it would be to sit out there.

We filled it with beautiful outdoor furniture. That never got used.

Ultimately, for many, many years, we never had a Sabbath. Because we worked on Sundays. And while the church staff got Monday’s off for their Sabbath, we went back to our weekday jobs.

I know that porch sitting might sound like it should go in the smaller bucket list. But it’s on my big one. And I’m keeping it there.

What’s on your big bucket list? Why don’t you start making some plans to do one of those things or, better yet, just get out there and do it?

I guarantee that it will bring to you a measure of healing.