I need to make a confession. Late last year, I surrendered to the pressure of my classmates and watched the Netflix Sci-Fi series Stranger Things. It is a Stephen King’ish scenario set in the 80’s. In season one, a young boy disappears, and his friends soon discover that he has been taken to the “upside down.” The “upside down” is a parallel dimension to our world; it is a dimension that is a dark reflection of our world filled with monsters and despair. Spoiler Alert! The young boy does get rescued and returned to the world as we know it because of the efforts of his family and friends. However, there were still things that haunted him from the “upside down.”
I could spend some time presenting the spiritual and religious allegories of the show, but I will save that for another time. Several theologians have written about it already. I am more interested in the “upside down” because I found myself trapped in a place very much like it. My world had become dark, filled with hopelessness, and haunted by monsters that I didn’t want to go on. In late February, 31 one years ago, I felt there was no way out. I decided to end my life. The sermon in church today reminded me of this time in my life.
Much like the young boy in Stranger Things, I would be rescued. My rescue came from strangers at first, not family and friends. I had driven them all away. I was really alone, or so I thought. I knew God thought I was a hopeless case and had moved on to other things. I had one person who still accepted my calls. She was a friend from seminary days and a pastor of a small church in Maryland. Drunk and angry, I called her at 2:00 am. It seemed she was finished with me, just like God. She told me she could not go through this with me any longer. She made me write a phone number down and promise to call it. Then she hung up. I was devastated. I just told her I was trying to kill myself. How could she hang up on me? (I had no way of knowing that she had been going to AlAnon.)
I don’t know why I made the call to the number she gave me, but the Hotline counselor stayed on the phone with me until dawn. It was the beginning of my rescue from the “upside down.” Because of that call, I found my way to a therapist, who after two years of therapy would become my closest friend, confidant, spiritual mentor, and guide for the next eighteen years. I became part of the fellowship of a twelve-step program where strangers became a family who showed me that God still and had always loved me.
Although I have never returned to the “upside down,” I know it still exists. Many are trapped there without any hope. I often share my story with others, and I write about it on this blog because I want those who have lost faith to see that there is life on the other side. I want them to hear someone say that God always has and still loves them.
I have been given everything back everything I lost and more. I was blessed for many years with a job working on staff for the same type of Hotline that I had called. I was able to listen and talk with those who had lost hope. I am now in college about to finish my undergrad degree, hoping to pursue my masters, and begin a journey to follow where God is calling me. I am going to begin even though I am not sure where that journey will lead. I have genuine friendships, a family that continues to grow, and on top of it all, I have peace and serenity knowing that God is with me.
During this time of year, I hold tightly to my faith. While I escaped the “upside down,” much like the young boy I am sometimes still haunted by memories. As February ends, and March comes in to welcome spring, I am faced with the tenth anniversary of the death of the woman who was my closest friend as well as the anniversary of the death of Mama Pearl. Mama Pearl was a second mother to me throughout my life. While there is profound pain in these memories, there is joy in my remembrances of them. They will be with me in spirit as I celebrate 31 years of continuous sobriety in April.
I got lost in the “upside down” a long time ago, but God pulled me back through grace and love. I know I never have to return-even during periods of questioning or suffering. Anne Lamott wrote, “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” God met me in a place of darkness and despair and brought me out into a new life. I am excited to see where God leads me next.
I write about church and faith quite often. If you have followed my blog or read any of these posts, you might recall that church and I have had a challenging relationship over the years. (You can find these posts under the Faith tab on the blog.) I only returned to traditional church about six or seven years ago. I church shopped for a while before I found a place to stay for a while. I was part of this church for about five years, however just a few weeks ago, the congregation voted to disband and close the church. I won’t go into the reasons since this blog isn’t about that. It did however create the need opportunity to visit churches over the past couple of months.
As a child, I learned that the church sanctuary was a solemn place to be treated with absolute reverence. There were many rules including no running, no talking above a whisper, no laughing; you get the idea. Music was never that toe tapping hand-clapping sort of thing. It was more along the lines of hymns written in earlier centuries to tortoise paced classical organ accompaniment. It was only in the fellowship hall that we could have a piano with more lively music; however dancing was still out of the question.
On my summer visits to my brother in West Va., we would attend small charismatic type churches. Their music was piano, guitar, and a bit more old-time gospel. The preacher was scary. He screamed, threw things, and often took off his coat and tie with armpit sweat stains showing the intensity of the sermon.
Over the years, things have changed in worship style and music in many churches, but not in the one I was attending after my return to church. Occasionally the congregation might be moved to clap after the choir anthem, and someone would usually have an “Amen”. One of thing liked about this church was that the people enjoyed talking to each other. Before church and during the time in worship when people greeted one another there was a buzzing of voices, and it was sometimes difficult to get everyone seated again. As time went, on the voices and noise faded.
As I began visiting churches, I became interested in the church noises. One of the first I visited had a full band with music I love from contemporary Christian artists. I know many people love this type of “concert” setting, and while I enjoy it, I like a blend of more traditional hymns. From the moment, I entered the building, an excitement and joy could be felt. The next few churches I visited were much mellower. There wasn’t much noise at all, even during the worship.
I attend service at a small country church in the upstate every few weeks when I go to stay with my friend. I love this church. It has a history stretching back one hundred years. The organist/pianist is a precious 95-year-old woman. A small group of children in choir robes sing with a guitar accompaniment. The choir is small, but powerful. The sounds of children and babies create a sense of delight. The noises in that church are truly joyful ones.
I recently visited a church, and as I entered, laughter and chatter filled the foyer. Before I could find a seat, several smiling faces had welcomed me as if I already belonged. During the time in worship for greeting one another, the people seemed genuinely happy to be in worship with one another. Each time I have attended, children and youth have been part of the worship. Excitement and wonder are the noises that fill this place. I think I might just stay a while here. I like the noise.
Of course, I have to add a quote from Anne Lamott:
“I live for Sundays,” she says. “It’s like going to the spiritual gas station to fill up on fuel and clean the dirty windshield and mirrors. I usually show up nuts, self-obsessed, vaguely agitated, and I am at once reminded not of who I am, but Whose I am.
“Then everything falls into place, and I smile again at how crazy I (and most of us) are, but how at church, in fellowship, in the arms and eyes of Jesus […] I remember the truth of my spiritual identity. I love to sing in a group – more than anything, and to do the holy dance of swaying, and clapping. Plus, they say that clapping in church scares away the devil.”
This blog post is NOT about Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty, or the controversy surrounding them. However, it was prompted by comments made by Phil from Duck Dynasty that is featured on A&E.
If you follow facebook, any news channel, or read the paper, you might have heard the huge debate going on about an interview Phil gave to GQ. He has been banned from A&E for his comments. I am not here to argue if he was right or wrong, talk about free speech, issues of race, homosexuality, or anything else. I am writing today because of what he didn’t say.
You see, I was raised by a grandmother who lived most of her adult life as a drunk, along with a variety of other sinful ways of living. When I was about 7 or so, she decided to start taking me to church. She found “religion”, and her life did change in some ways, but she was still the same person inside. She was mean-spirited and did hurtful things to those around her. She wore her religion like a street person putting on a new suit without ever showering or cleaning up. It was all for show.
She used the Bible as a weapon and as a crutch for her way of living and thinking. She would quote Scripture to prove her point, to allow her to judge others, and to control my behavior. One that she loved to throw around was, “Vengence is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” I am sure we could take time and have a long theological discussion about this verse, but I am going to bet that most of you would not interpret it the way my grandmother did. Her use of the verse was to say that God was going to get me if I did bad stuff. I was a kid who had been neglected, abandoned, and abused the first few years of my life, so I was going to have a few issues, and I (like all kids) was going to do things considered bad. I was always waiting for the Lord to punish me and I assumed anything bad that happened to me from being sick to not getting all A’s in school was vengeance being imparted to me.
You see, the thing that troubles me is when we don’t get the rest of the story. My grandmother stopped short of telling the whole story when she used scripture the way she did. I remember when Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was released; people asked why I didn’t go see it. I had a number of reasons, but one of them was that it didn’t tell the rest of the story. The film only showed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus. It only showed the horror of the crucifixion, but didn’t show the resurrection or talk about the things Jesus came to teach us. This is what happened with Phil’s interview. He didn’t tell the rest of the story. He only quoted verse 9 and 10 from the Corinthians passage. Verse 11 is so powerful in this passage. Can you see the difference it makes?
1 Corinthians 6:9 “9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Look at that list of sins! Can you see any there that you might have committed or even held in your heart? I can tell you that in my life, I have committed most of them. You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I hit bottom hard, and I don’t need to tell you the kind of life I lead for a while; you can figure it out. So, according to those first two verses, I cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That is devastating news, almost hopeless.
Yet, just look at verse 11. That is the one that wasn’t quoted by Phil or the GQ article. “And that is what some of you were.” Yes, that is what I was. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” That was all done for me!
Phil also said, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” I disagree. Sin is the most logical thing I understand from the Bible. There are many verses telling us that we are sinners by nature and that no one is without sin. It is from the beginning to the end. What isn’t logical is that this all powerful, omnipotent God would bother with any of us. Why not just get rid of us all and start from scratch? Instead, He did something absolutely illogical. He sent His only son to be born as a human and live this earthly life, and die for our sins.
As we celebrate Christmas next week, we remember the birth of Jesus. But, we need to remember the rest of the story. Jesus showed those he encountered the purest love and gave hope to everyone, even the worst of the sinners. He opened his heart and his arms to tax collectors, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, and more. And, that is what He asks us to do.
“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”
― Anne Lamott
I have several friends on my facebook list and blog followers who may wish to debate or help me with my theological understanding of scripture. Instead, I hope they will simply read this and say a prayer for this justified, sanctified, and forgiven sinner.
There is a curse on the women in my family. My Grandmother told me about it, so it must be true. Every month she would remind me of the dreaded curse of the 11th. “Tomorrow is the 11th. Remember, anything can happen”, she would warn. Her belief was that on the 11th of every month something “big” happens. Occasionally it might be something good, but she made sure I knew that was a rare thing. These big things could be anything from someone dying to a natural disaster. My Grandmother also had some strange ideas about the “rapture” and was sure it would take place on the 11th.
I have come to understand that Grandmother had very unique ideas. Most of them were not based in reality or fact. Her ideas about God and religion were the most bizarre. My friend came up the term, GAG. It means “Gospel According to Grandmother.” If I mention one of Grandmother’s ideas, she will smile and say GAG. Even though I know these ideas are illogical and foolish, I still have those old tapes playing in my head.
Yesterday was January 11th. It was a beautiful day. My friend and I decided to go to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants near the beach. We also decided that since we would be so close to be the beach, it would be a shame not to go for a quick walk. We were minutes away from the beach when I stopped at a red light. I noticed that my car was unusually quiet. I realized the engine had shut off. I turned the key only to hear a whining and popping noise. The car would not start.
I did the usual thing. I waited a minute and tried it again. I did that a couple of times before looking at my friend and agreeing it wasn’t going to start without help. We were in the middle of a busy road and even though my flashers were on, cars came up behind me and started blowing their horns. Even the sound of angry horns did not make my car start. Soon a couple of kind men came and pushed the car to the side street for us.
I made the appropriate calls for emergency roadside assistance. The first rescuer came with jumper cables and attempted to start the car to no avail. He determined that I needed a tow truck. That was a determination I made long before he showed up. I made another call for a tow truck. They told me it would be close to an hour so we decided to walk across the street for some food. The tow truck showed up much sooner than we expected. We asked for our food in to go boxes. We found it very difficult to eat while riding in the cab in of the big tow truck. I imagine it was much like the early settlers riding in covered wagons with the rough ride, bumps, and wind blowing everything around. The truck was not one my friends would have on the “sexy” list. You can read more about that idea here.
I remember looking in the mirror and seeing my beautiful little car perched on the bed of the truck much like a sick person lying on a stretcher in an ambulance. I wish we could have ridden inside her but it seems the law doesn’t believe that is safe. As I looked at her, I heard my Grandmother’s words. “It is the 11th of the month. You should have expected something like this.” My mind started to wander.
I wondered if this was some message from the universe that I should go out, find a full time job, and give up this silly notion of going back to college. Every time I have thought about returning to school, life has happened. Was this going to be just one more time? I told my friend what was going on in my head. She helps me stay focused on logic and reality. I remembered her sermon last Sunday about life getting in the way when you are doing what you are supposed to do. Anne Lamott says, ““When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. ” ― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
My car is in the shop and I won’t know the exact extent of the repairs needed until then. The suspected diagnosis is a timing belt and water pump with the estimate somewhere around $1000. The dealership did give me a loaner car much to my delight. I looked at the car this morning and found that it is a Dodge Journey. When I saw the name Journey on the back of the car, I smiled and thanked God for reminding me that life really is just a journey. On this journey called life sometimes we walk, sometimes we run, sometimes we fall, and sometimes we ride on the back of a tow truck.
There was no zombie apocalypse, and I didn’t see one rouge asteroid penetrate earth’s atmosphere. December 21 passed and the world as we know it survived intact. Last December, I remember hearing the legend of the Mayan prediction of the end. I jokingly said that if indeed the world would end in a year, I needed to make some serious changes in my life. Little did I know I was making a prediction that would come true.
The first change I made after the New Year was to go back to church-again. I stopped going for several months and missed what I had found there. Encouragement from the pastor and the warm welcome back by members made it easy to return. After all, when confronted with an end of the world scenario, prayer and faith seem the logical solution.
A lunch meeting with Jan early in the year brought an unexpected new friendship. Our schedules made finding a date a challenge. We met along with her daughter Anna and laughed our way through most of lunch. We became fast friends. A love of writing was one of the many things we found in common. Jan and her family are now a second family for me and a gift from 2012 for which I am truly grateful.
My diet and exercise programs needed a serious boost. I walked past a karate studio near my office many times and decided to finally check it out. In February, I started training, and I am now a blue belt. I finally hit my goal of losing 100 pounds as the year went on. If the world was going to end, I wanted to be healthy and strong enough to fight and make a run for it if possible. After all, every end of the world movie has people survive who can run, jump, fight, and look amazing doing it.
I love to write and wanted to find ways to improve. I decided to make a move from Blogger to WordPress for my blog and made it public. During the year and my blog followers and views increased dramatically. Connections with many new writers during the year were an added benefit. I attended a Writer’s workshop at Montreat in the spring and renewed my commitment to writing on a regular basis. This fall I went to Atlanta to see my favorite author Anne Lamott. She offers great advice and encouragement for writers.
Things at home (my marriage) had been difficult for some time, but I made the decision to stay and do what I could. My job was stressful but I loved my work. Friends, family, and writing kept me going. However, things changed quickly in the summer. The job I loved fell apart and I made one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in a very long time. After much prayer, talking with my therapist and consulting close friends, I choose to leave my job without another job in site. I know in my heart it was the right decision. Within weeks of leaving my job, I made another difficult choice. I left my marriage of five years.
While the world didn’t end in December, the world as I knew it ended in 2012. 2013 is a mystery. I registered for college and will sign up for my classes on Jan. 10th. I have no idea how that is going to work. I am 61 and haven’t been in school for over 40 years. I need to find a way to support myself and get health insurance without working full time and going to school. I work only 17 hours a week and pay almost my entire income to cover COBRA for health insurance. I fight the demons of feeling alone at times and feeling like a failure at others. I know there are people in my world who think I have taken a walk into insanity. There are moments when I feel very lost and unsure of what is happening. Some days I wake up, get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, and see where life leads me.
Yet, for the most part, I feel happy. I have a sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I have two amazing grown children who encourage me and support me. Jan and Anna make me laugh, let me cry, push me, and just let me be me. I have other friends who believe in me as well. And, in the middle of all of this, I pray and I trust God.
A blog challenge for 2013 is to find one word to focus on through the coming year and incorporate that into your writing. I have several words that seem appropriate but the one word that keeps coming through is trust. It isn’t something that comes naturally for me. I learned a tremendous amount about trust in 2012; some of it bad and much of it good. I am going to embrace the challenge and put trust in my daily life- trust in God, my friends, my family and in myself. I survived the end of the world in 2012 so welcome 2013. Let’s see what you have in store!
Happy New Year!!
It is no secret that I am a huge Anne Lamott fan. I also enjoy Donald Miller and Laura Winner. They all write from a place of honesty and humor that isn’t always appreciated by everyone. I just came back from Atlanta, Ga where Anne Lamott spoke to a full house. We were able to buy her new book “Help, Thanks, Wow” that was released just two weeks ago. NPR interviewed her about her new book for a Thanksgiving spot.
In searching for some information on the new book, I came across a blog post about Anne,her new book, and the NPR interview. I understand that not everyone is going to agree with her writing. I fully appreciate that not everyone agrees with me. The blog post itself was simply a review of the NPR interview Anne did for Thanksgiving.
What blew me away were the over 100 comments. People were bashing Anne Lamott, denominations, and each other. They were hostile and mean all in the name of defending their own view of Christianity. They even started insulting each others grammar. Here are just a few comments shared between “Christian” brothers and sisters: (I am leaving the spelling and grammatical errors in tact)
1. “As long as you are openly gay (like colm Toibin) or supportive of homosexual marriage (like Anne Lamott) then you get your books promoted on NPR. It’s an AGENDA, people.”
2. “What a simplistic and very scripturally wrong view of God”.
3. “With all the incredible writing on prayer in just the Christian tradition alone, NPR puts on this vapid piece of crap.”
4. “Wow, reading the comments below, it’s apparent that some do worship two things: smugness and condescension!”
5. “So, Ms. Lamott is an alcoholic who managed to stop drinking. I send her my heartiest congratulations for that. But because of that she is now an expert on “essential” prayers for all the rest of us? If I wanted to listen to blowhards who pass off their ignorant opinions as facts, I’d watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh.”
6. ‘In your introduction, you presented Lamott as a Christian; I heard little or no evidence of this in her description of prayer. What I heard was just another Northern California flake with an addictive personality who has figured out a way to make money off of it. Put this one in the cringe file!!!”
7. “White person wearing dread locks – why should I take her seriously?”
This is just a small sampling of comments. No one escaped the onslaught including Catholics, Puritans, and Jews. People attacked each other to prove their view of God, Jesus, prayer, and scripture was the right one. Sadly, I see this type of behavior from Christians over many issues; some big and some small. I am sure we are going to see name calling and hatred spewed because someone said Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. It would take volumes to discuss some of the really hot issues.
One of the last comments came from a non believer. It simply said, “Thank Goodness I’m an atheist!!!” Is this really how we hope to share God’s love and our relationship with Jesus with others? It isn’t working. Maybe we could try following Paul’s advice to the Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:31-5:2 4: 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5: 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
This blog post is part of NaBloPoMo. The theme for November’s NaBloPoMo is blogging for blogging’s sake.
Delayed gratification is the ability to resist an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. I read an article that stated people with the ability to delay or defer gratification are less likely to have impulse issues or addictions, etc. I obviously am not good at the delaying thing. That is of course unless I can use it is as an excuse to put off something.
This blog post is a great example. I promised to do the 30 Days of Gratitude Challenge on Sunday instead of daily. It is now Wednesday and I have not posted. I could say it was because I was savoring the moment and delaying the gratification of posting. That would be a rationalization. Actually it would just be lie. Sunday was just a busy day and I didn’t get to it.
Today I am going to catch up and promise to try to do better.
Nov 12 I am grateful for laughter. I love that I have people in my life who enjoy having fun and laughing.
Nov. 13 I am grateful that I am able to have faith in a God love even thought I was taught to believe in a God of fear and punishment.
Nov. 14 I am grateful for the kids in my life. I have three amazing grand kids. They are growing up way too fast. One is driving and one will be a teenager in a few weeks. The little one is a toddler and has a smile that doesn’t stop. I have the privilege of spending of time with the two kids of my best friend. They are very sweet and loving kids.
Nov. 15 I am grateful for the opportunity to go back to college. I am trying it out with a couple of classes in the spring to see how it goes.
Nov. 16 I am grateful for chocolate. Yes, I know that isn’t very deep but I do love chocolate.
Nov. 17 I am grateful for the lessons learned in my life, even if they came at a price.
Nov. 18 I am grateful for music. Music takes me to places nothing else can. I am very sure there is music in heaven. I am sure there is chocolate, too.
Nov. 19 I am grateful for the opportunity to meet Anne Lamott and hear her thoughts on prayer and life. I am also grateful for a wonderful couple of days on the road with Jan.
Nov. 20 I am grateful for GPS. Yes, I really am. It kept Jan and I from getting lost in Atlanta. 🙂
Nov. 21 I am grateful for my brothers and sisters. I have one brother and bunch of half brothers and sisters. I haven’t seen or spoken to a couple of them in a very long time. I pray that they will someday want to put aside old issues and be a part of my life.
I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This blog post is part of NaBloPoMo. The theme for November’s NaBloPoMo is blogging for blogging’s sake.
At the beginning of summer, the pastor of my church started a series of sermons using Disney stories and characters to share spiritual lessons. She also shared that she hoped we would all be thinking about our own stories during this time. She asked if I would be willing to share part of my story at the end of the series. I made a promise a long time ago that I would never say no to sharing my story.
I was at the church on Wednesday talking with Jan, the pastor at the church and saw the bulletin. It said, “Sermon-Cathy Morton”. I showed it to Jan and explained that I was “speaking” on Sunday, not doing a sermon. She laughed and said I was indeed doing the sermon. I jumped on the internet and searched for the definition of “sermon”. Here is the definition I found: 1. A religious discourse delivered as part of a church service. 2. An often lengthy and tedious speech of reproof or exhortation. OK, I was doing the sermon. I just hoped it was not going to be lengthy or tedious.
Several friends asked if I would share the sermon with them. I decided I would share it on this Sunday morning in lieu of being with my church family today. I am sitting in a beautiful country house in Vermont this morning and spending some quiet time praying and having incredible gratitude for my life story.
Here is the “sermon”. Please remember that the grammar and sentence structure are not correct throughout. This was my outline for speaking. Thank you for letting me share this with you today.
“What Is Your Story?”
I was so excited when I heard that the sermons this summer were going to be based on stories and characters from Disney. I am still a kid at heart and love Disney. I was even more excited the day the story was from Peter Pan with my favorite character Tinkerbell. Since Pastor Jan asked if I would share part of my story with you as part of this series, I have been praying about sharing it with you.
Some of you know that I have a blog and that I love to write. Writing for me is about telling my story. As I heard some of the stories this summer, it seemed that I had forgotten some things about these stories or remembered them in a different way. Have you ever heard a story and realized that it wasn’t the story you remembered or this person told the story in a similar way but the facts were different?
It took a long time for me to figure out that I had been listening to the stories about God and Jesus from other people. I read the stories myself, but I let others tell me what they really meant. Over the years, I came to realize that what I was missing was a relationship with God and trusting God to help me understand the story.
The children here sing “Jesus Loves Me” every Sunday morning. The kids love it and the adults get involved. The song has had a bit of different meaning in my life. I heard the story of the song in a different way. As a child, I learned very quickly that I was indeed weak. The people who were supposed to care for me, protect me, love me……didn’t. They were strong but used that strength in harmful ways. By the time I started going to church I was in the first grade. It was the first time I heard that song. At six years old, I had already experienced several forms of abuse from those strong people. I had been abandoned by my parents and sent to live with my grandparents……..that was just a chance of faces, not circumstances.
My grandmother started taking me to church and she did stop drinking, smoking, and cussing. That had to be divine intervention. It would not be the last time something happened in my life where I knew God’s hand intervened. But I don’t believe my grandmother ever came to know the God who loved the world enough to sacrifice His son for us. The story of God she told me was that God was a vengeful punishing God. She had stories from the Bible to prove it. When I heard in church that God loves us just as our earthly father loves us, well…it seemed to prove her point. I had already had two fathers who were punishing and vengeful.
She also said that bad things happen because we are bad. Yes…. so many bad things had happened that I wondered what I could have done that was so very wrong that it would keep God from loving me. I felt that God couldn’t possibly love me..in fact, I didn’t know anyone that I believed was capable of loving me.
Those beliefs followed me. As a young wife and mother, we lived in the church. I married a Southern Baptist so that is what I became. My husband was a deacon, his father was a deacon. I taught children’s Sunday school, VBS, youth, and served on any committee that had to do with kids and food. That was the extent of service women were allowed to have.
But I still didn’t believe God loved me. In fact, I felt so empty on the inside. I just wanted to know God the way other people said they did. Jesus was their best friend, God spoke to them all the time, in fact, God often told some of them that I should teach Sunday school and VBS, etc. Our pastor did a short series of sermons on evil, and Jesus driving out demons from people. and how God turned Job over to Satan. I started to believe perhaps that was what happened to me. I went home after church one night, and Billy Graham was on TV talking about the same thing. I stood and listened and at the end when he offered the invitation. I went to the TV with tears in my eyes. I told God that I was so sorry for whatever horrible things I had done and if he would just take this evil from me, I would do whatever he asked.
I tried so hard to find the perfect formula to make him love me. All the work in the church, starting the day with devotions, reading my bible, not listening to secular music or certain tv shows. But it just didn’t work. You see…I missed another part of the story. I knew John 3 16…I am sure you all do.
John 3:16-17 New King James Version (NKJV)
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
But we stop reading there… one day I read the rest…
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Wait…God didn’t want to condemn me. All I had to do was believe? It couldn’t be that simple. Or could it?
One Sunday, my husband walked the isle after service and announced that God had called him to the ministry. I was speechless…I was sure there was no way God was the one making that call and I was certainly not being called to be a minister’s wife. But nonetheless, we packed up and moved to NC and attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He got his masters of divinity and master of religious education while I became an alcoholic. Yes..you heard that right. I started drinking and with my genetics it didn’t take long for me to become a full blown alcoholic. During the next few years it got worse. I left the church. Eventually I lost the only thing that mattered to me in this life..custody of my two children. I moved out the state and for the next few months, I went as far down as possible. I lost my kids, my family , my friends, my morality, my dignity, my hope and any bit of faith I ever had. In early March of 1987, I was at the end of my rope. I tried to take my own life. But God had other plans. That night, God intervened and I got help. I found an amazing therapist and she sent me to Alcoholic Anonymous.
My first meeting was in a church..Most meetings are held in churches back rooms, fellowship halls, basements, etc. I looked at the wall and saw the 12 steps. I got as far as number three. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
God?..I didn’t sign up for this. Been there done that..I could tell everyone in the room more about God than all of them put together. How was this going to help me? But something happened in those rooms. The people showed me the love of God. There were people from every denomination, every creed, some new believers, some old, some doubters…but it didn’t matter. They told me to pray and even if I thought the prayers hit the ceiling and bounced..to act as if I believed it…….. and keep doing it. They said that God loved me..yes me..a drunk, a women who had lost everything and done everything.. and one who didn’t understand God at all. Yes, God loved me.
I stayed sober. Two months later I saw my children again. That Christmas their father said they could come spend the holiday with me if I could get them there. He knew I couldn’t. I shared it with my friends and my group and asked for prayer. The next day my sponsor took me to lunch and pulled out a voucher for two airline tickets. She told that she lost her kids and never got them back. She wanted to help. She wanted me to have a chance with mine. The next day my group went out after a meeting and they handed me an envelope with cash and gift cards. They said, “we are going to keep loving you until you can love yourself and know that God loves you. ” It was the first time I saw a glimmer of hope and I really thought it was possible they were right.
I knew God was leading me to come back to church. I started visiting several churches. I thought I knew the type of church I wanted to attend, but nothing was connecting with me. I decided to visit the church where one of the volunteers from my job was the associate pastor. I didn’t know the name of the church, so I went to the internet to find it. I couldn’t find it, but the search came up and the one at the top of the list was Park Circle Presbyterian. Wonder if that was another one of those “God moments”? I grew up Presbyterian and I knew I was comfortable with the theology and doctrine. I decided to visit and what I was found was a group of people who were welcoming and accepting. You seemed to accept me as I am…..tattoos and a feather in my hair and all. You have become my church family. You reminded me that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn me, but to love me.
One of my favorite story tellers is an author named Anne Lamott. I know some of you are familiar with her. I want to share one of her quotes with you.
You were loved because God loves, period. God loved you, and everyone, not because you believed in certain things, but because you were a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child. God loved you no matter how crazy you felt on the inside, no matter what a fake you were; always, even in your current condition, even before coffee. God loves you crazily.
― Anne Lamott
Today my story includes the fact that God loves me–just as I am–PERIOD.
I hope that becomes part of your story, too.
I was having a discussion with my friend Jan about changing the tone of our voice in certain situations. As women, we tend to use a deeper, firmer voice when we want to sound authoritarian. I hate to say this, but we often still associate a deep manly voice with authority.
We also associate a deep booming voice with God. Admit it. How many of you imagine a big, booming, deep, slow speaking voice when you think about God talking to Moses. We don’t really want to think that God sounds like George Burns in the movie, “O God.”
I see the same thing happening when we talk to God. Yes, I mean when we pray. A Pastor friend shared a story about this recently. He was sitting on the edge of his bed one morning and the conversation went like this.
“God, I lifteth my sock and place it upon my foot.” He used his big manly voice.
“What are doing?” His wife peeked into the room to see what was up.
“I restore my foot unto my shoe and ask your blessing upon my steps. I seek Your divine inspiration as I prepare my other foot for socking.”
By now, his wife was laughing and standing in front of him. “Really, what are you doing?”
He laughed and explained that this is how he feels in church sometimes. He wondered why prayers in church shouldn’t be more like prayers when no one is listening.
Here is my interpretation of the out loud voice of prayer. Remember, you have to use slow, methodical speech. You must use every variation of names you know for God. He may not hear you if you don’t use the right one.
“Father God, Lord of Creation, We humbly bow before you as we come into Your holy presence.
“We ask that Thou be with us as we prepare to partake of this meal, God, and we ask Thou to bless those who prepareth the food for your lowly servants.
“Lord God, we know we are not worthy of such a gracious feast, while our brethren in foreign lands hunger, not only for food, but for Your love and forgiveness.
“Jesus, Use this food today to nourish our bodies so that we may go forth from this place and be of service to You, O God and those less fortunate.”
Ok, I am going to be in enough trouble for this blog post, so I will stop here. This prayer would go on for about five minutes. By this time the babies are crying, the toddlers have turned something over, the little kids are putting their fingers into whatever they can reach, and some of the adults tuned out after the first thirty seconds.
I want to ask the same question as my Pastor friend. Why can’t my prayers aloud be like my prayers in private? I don’t offer to pray in front of others because I am afraid I won’t do it right. I know my theology will come into question as soon as I use the wrong name at the wrong time.
As a child, I was taught that God was a vengeful, punishing, controlling entity. God’s love had to be earned. Missing church and Sunday school or praying the wrong way would surely result in a bad mark in the judgment book. It would take many painful years to find my way to understand that God’s love is based on grace not fear.
In a post by Joy Cannis, she says this,
Because it is easier to read about prayer than to pray, I have shelves of books: meditations on the Lord’s Prayer by a dozen different authors; scholarly accounts of prayer in the twelfth century, the eighteenth century; Hasidic wisdom on prayer; manuals for knitting a prayer rug, a prayer shawl, a prayer blanket, a prayer tree. (I don’t alas, know how to knit.) Sometimes I think that all this reading gets in the way, that the books become excuses, something to do in lieu of praying. Other days, I know that to read about prayer is at least to indulge my desire, to acknowledge that I want this thing, that I long for it…
I am in long term recovery from alcohol and drugs. In twelve-step recovery groups, step 11 says, Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. The key to this for me has been developing that conscious contact. Prayer has become a way of life not an act to perform. I have moments when the only prayer I can offer is “God, I can’t do this.” I know He hears that prayer, even without the right voice and proper words.
It should come as no surprise that I am using a quote from Anne Lamott.
“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.”
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
I have unbelievably blessed to work with two of the most amazing therapists during my life. My first was twenty-five years ago. For my regular readers you will know something about Jan already. She was my therapist and later became my best friend. I talk about her in several blogs including this one. After her sudden death, I decided to return to therapy. A friend’s recommendation led me to Rhonda Baiocco. If you are in the Charleston, SC area and ever need a therapist, call her.
I haven’t been in therapy now for over a year, although I will admit to calling Rhonda and popping in for one quick visit before making a huge, huge life decision. During my drive home after an intense workshop last night, I started thinking about the other “therapists” in my life. I am not going to go into a long dissertation on the different types of psychotherapy, counseling, etc. (I hope you realize my use of the term therapist from this point on does not include anyone who is licensed practicing therapist.)
Rachel is my massage therapist. She knows me pretty well by now. She begins my session by sitting down and asking, “So what is going on? Let’s get all this out there before we start.” I give her the quick update on what has been going on in my life and then we talk about body areas might need work. During my massage, we often discuss our lives, our issues, and our solutions. Yes, we talk during massage. Occasionally I will be quiet and listen to the soothing music, but I love talking to Rachel.
Ginger has been a source of a couple of blogs including this one. She has been my hair therapist for about 9 years now. We have formed a friendship apart from the salon. However, every three weeks I am in her chair and shop for at least a couple of hours while she does her magic. We catch up on life and help each other figure out what we are doing wrong or right. We have been through some similar life experiences and that gives us courage to share with each other.
Karate is my newest passion. I love the physical experience but I am learning so much about myself in the process. Our Sensei (teacher) is Joyce Stech. You can read more about her here. Her teachings are to develop the individual to understand their personal truth and essence. I am learning as much about myself at the Dojo as I am about Martial Arts.
Last, but certainly not least, are my trusted friends. I have many friends that I enjoy and love having in my life, but there are only a few with whom I share my true self and all my joys, fears, issues, ideas, laughter and tears. These are the people I can truly say I love. They are the ones that know me best and call bullshit when they hear it. They expect the same from me. We counter that with support and encouragement.
One of the things these people all have in common is faith. While their ideas may vary, they all have faith and are willing to share that with me. They have opened my heart and mind to building and growing my relationship with God. My Grandmother told me things like psychiatry, psychology, and therapy showed a lack of faith and were not necessary for a true believer. I disagree. I know God put these people in my path and have used them all in my life.
One last therapist doesn’t have a name. It is writing. Writing in blogs, writing a book, or writing in a journal all have an impact on my life. I learn so much about myself by writing. Jan F. was the first one who taught me write my thoughts, ideas, and just to do free writing. Sharing my writing publicly has given a new world of people from whom I can learn. Here is a quote from my favorite author. If you are a blog follower, you have the opportunity to read many of Anne Lamott’s quotes. I hope you have picked up one of her books by now.
“We write to expose the unexposed. Most human beings are dedicated to keeping that one door shut. But the writer’s job is to see what’s behind it, to see the bleak unspeakable stuff, and to turn the unspeakable into words – not just into any words but if we can, into rhythm and blues. You can’t do this without discovering your own true voice, and you can’t find your true voice and peer behind the door and report honestly and clearly to us if your parents are reading over your shoulder.”
― Anne Lamott
My first therapist Jan said the goal of a good therapist is make you your own therapist. She helped me do that. I also knew I was in a place where I needed a refresher course and I am grateful that I found Rhonda. She helped me sharpen my tools and added a couple of new ones to the toolbox. I don’t know if I will ever need to go back to therapy. I hope I have learned the lessons well. I believe having these other “therapists” in my life will help me continue to grow and learn.