~ T ~
~ T ~
Some years ago, before the hype about LGBT rights and the wars over it were so intense, I worked in a bridal shop. As a stay-home mom, with five children ages 4 through about 11, I wasn’t looking for work when it happened…
How it started that I went shopping for bridal gowns with a few soon-to-be-wed friends, on several occasions, I don’t recall. But after visiting one bridal shop numerous times, the owner approached me and asked if I’d like to work Saturdays part time. She had observed me when I brought friends in, and felt I would be a good match.
Starting a week later, I tried my hand at sales in bridal wear and did quite well in both sales and connecting with customers. Trying to get inside the head of a bride is… well, interesting and dangerous. You don’t want to go in too deep; just enough to understand her wants and needs.
One thing that had not even crossed my radar, is the potential of a lesbian couple coming in for dresses, or how I would handle such a thing. It never occurred to me ahead of time…
Two women came in, each trying on dresses. One was easy enough to ‘fit’; she had that ‘perfect’ bride body. The other was more difficult, with a figure much harder to accommodate. (Why are most dresses made for fairytale brides, with fairytale waistlines when we come in all shapes and sizes?) Option after option was turned down. Finally we found one or two that landed on a ‘maybe’ pile, but she asked us to put them on hold while she continued her search elsewhere, as she was still unsettled. And with that the two friends were off.
As the door closed behind them, the owner commented that they only have a few weeks until their wedding, and went on to explain that as a Catholic, albeit not the most devout one, she didn’t agree with gay marriage.
“How do you know they’re lesbians?” I asked. I hadn’t heard either of them mention it. The owner said this was certainly not their first time in shopping, and they had told her on a previous visit.
I thought then about the dresses on hold…. I thought about my own faith… I thought about my family and marriage values…
And when Sarah returned with her soon-to-be-bride in tow, I pulled out the dress, helped her with fitting, and marked the alterations. I spoke with her just as I would have, had I not known. And when all was said and done, Sarah had a dress for her gay marriage.
That was me. That was my response. And if I was confronted with the same scenario today, I would probably do it the same way again. And I’d think about my faith, and my family, and my marriage values and probably breathe a silent prayer for her. And when they would leave, I would hug them like I would hug every other enthusiastic bride who just bought her dream dress… if they initiated such a hug. And I would do this because I don’t feel it violates my faith in Jesus, or undermines my (very strong!) family values, or challenges my personal belief in the Jesus-definition of marriage.
Even so, having responded this way back then, and assuming I would again, I think not one of us should be forced against our wills, to do that which violates our conscience, and therefore I support Kim Davis. (Personally, I would probably resign if it was that offensive to me, but that, again, is me. It’s obviously not Kim.) She was elected, if my understanding is accurate, to sell marriage licenses before this conflicted law was imposed on her, and her conscience doesn’t allow this new requirement. Of course, when her term is up, this can be revisited and she will likely be looking for work elsewhere.
Personally, while I chose to help the lesbian couple, I also understand those who choose not to for conscience sake. And while I understand those who choose not to do as I did, I also understand how ignorant that must seem to those who see the world through a very different lens than conservative Christianity. Whenever every person is offered freedom of speech–or people assume they have the right to be honest–there will be a collision of beliefs and someone will be offended.
Both sides have valid points. As a believer I don’t expect the world around me to live up to what I believe, and am not surprised they are upset when such standards are imposed on them. I expect their beliefs and lifestyles to be different than mine, and I expect them to want to be ‘respected’. By the same token, those with a conscience against certain things want to have their religious freedom granted and conscience respected. They’re as determined to live at peace with their consciences as the homosexual community is determined to have their rights met. Inevitably, this ends in stale-mate pretty much every time. One is unwilling to offend their conscience, and the other often hell-bent on being served by that particular person or organization. (And whether, for the Christian, it really is ‘for conscience sake’ or seizing an opportunity to ‘make a statement’… or whether, for the gay couple, the determination to be served is driven by that particular business or individual being the best in their field, or whether it is intended to create a scene, is a matter only the individuals can speak to.)
My personal goal is to be charitable and compassionate, even when it is unpopular in my Christian culture, and always to remain true to my conscience and never compromise what I believe, for the sake of comfort, approval or the popular vote.
~ T ~
When the heart stops ‘feeling’ the truths God has promised,
faith stands in the gap for our feelings, giving us the courage to believe what we cannot see.
One day, the heart feels again, but it is faith, not feeling that carries us, even then.
In January 2013 I stopped ‘feeling’ much of what I know and trust about God, and I have continued, and will continue, to declare the truth that I know. I am so thankful for the authority and power of faith.
I received a few messages, recently, asking why I haven’t blogged much, and declaring how they miss reading them. First of all, “That’s very kind. Thank you.” Secondly… I have been writing. I have nearly 100 blogs written, but I have not posted them.
Why, you ask? That is not an easy question to answer. A few of the blog posts are raw pain. That’s all they are. Several are all-out vent sessions, like the emails that you wisely never send, and serve only to offer therapeutic release for you. Others are revelations that I felt were not ready to be shared. Not new revelations, or anything, but old truth–things I rediscovered in Word of God. But mostly I didn’t share my writings because I wasn’t at peace with it, for reasons I cannot fully explain. The few I posted, were ones I felt peace about. And when I am not at peace about posting, I won’t do it. I intend never to be a slave to blogging, and this season of my life, that’s all it would have been, had I forced it.
It has been a heavy season in my life. ‘Heavy’ in the sense of carrying dead weight around, spiritually. It began in January 2013. I managed to stay focused on God, for the most part, in spite of the heaviness. Throughout that year, in ministry, I faced intense spiritual battles with clients, and writing was both my outlet and part of ministry.
Telling the stories victims wanted me to tell, and breaking the silence surrounding sexual abuse in the church, is the single most dangerous thing I have done, spiritually. And I went in with naive faith and trust, having no concept of what that would mean, no concept of the cost. I reached out to several people, when I felt myself starting to drown, but neither they nor I recognized the extent of danger I was in. One foot in front of the other, I pressed forward, always able to keep my eyes focused on the One who called me, and presenting Him as the healer and restorer, when sitting with victims of abuse, or those struggling spiritually. I had nothing to give, of myself, but I knew with confidence that I could lead them to God for healing.
Admittedly, at times it felt as though my lips were parched, and I was dying of thirst, even while I held the cup for others more wounded than I, who had thirsted longer. And watching them come to life somehow quenched my own thirst. Somehow–even though there are areas I have long struggled to trust God, in practical ways–I trust Him without reserve, to heal and restore the broken-hearted. And that is the place where I stood in the gap for many wounded.
As is inevitable, when exposing darkness, the attacks and lies began, and ‘my people’, whom I trusted and believed to be born again believers, started to spread blatant, bold lies. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I knew about the sexual abuse hidden, but I truly believed it was a matter of ignorance–a lack of awareness of the problem, among leaders–and when they knew, I was certain they would rise up as godly men, and fight for victims, and offer help to perpetrators. Instead, I watched as perpetrators were protected, victims further abused, and lies spread to discredit my ministry.
The shock of this climaxed in early January 2014, exactly one year after the intense heaviness began, and I found myself in a state of spiritual shock, struggling to accept that Christians do these things, yet believing that Jesus is enough… enough for me, in my woundedness… enough for them for lying.
Even so, I continued to meet with victims, and offered them hope that can only come from Jesus. I was honest about my own struggles, and shared with them the hope that Jesus is even in a dark place. When I had nothing else to hold on to, I would say, “I know that He loves me, and that is enough”. When I could not pray, I could still whisper ‘Thank you for loving me… thank you for dying for me… thank you for having my back.’ And always He would come alive in me, sitting across from the broken, and prayer would rise from within my own broken place, offering Jesus to the people in front of me.
The final blow, overlapping with this shock, came in the form of a letter. I felt, in ways, as if I was ‘gasping for air’, when a letter arrived in the mail. Handwritten, I opened it eagerly. Until that day all handwritten letters had been encouragement notes, offering prayer and pointing my heart to the Father. It was what I expected and, quite frankly, longed for–some small sign that God had not forgotten me, that He saw my shock, and wanted to reassure me. Yes, the letters and notes I received also carried challenges when a friend felt I was getting sidetracked, but challenges offered with love and care; always they drew my heart to God.
But that day the letter held harsh criticism, attacking my character, offering accusations about a case I was involved in–the one where I supposedly posed as a cleaning girl and lied to get in the door, and then stomped my feet and yelled at the perpetrator. The author of it attacked me, not having taken time to meet with me to ask any questions. Coincidentally–or predictably–it was a relative by marriage of the alleged perpetrator. I understood the defenses. They are characteristic of those who have an agenda to hide abuse and corruption, those who cannot come to terms with their own circumstance. But it was from someone I had known for years. Someone I respected. Someone with whom I shared a church pew. That day a part of my heart died.
In the weeks that followed, we continued attending the church we were trying to make our own, to be ‘our family’. But we were not plugged in enough–being relatively new–and the aloneness of ministry, and this attacks from within, created a deep loneliness. Church became depressing, and draining, rather than life-giving. Having said that, the worship leader and his wife, the Lead Pastor, and, most of all, the wife of the Associate Pastor, offered a kindness and friendship that drew us in.
When another case in a sister church escalated , a few months later, and I was perceived to have been involved, even though I had nothing to do with it–though I would gladly have owned it, had I been involved–more resistance and attacks trickled our way. It was then that we realized that with the ministry of working with sexual abuse in the church, we didn’t stand a chance fitting making church our home, anytime soon, and, for the most part, support for ministry would need to come from outside of church.
Ironically, one ‘hate’ letter from someone in my cultural background, calling me a BEAST, among other things, finally broke the power the lies. The evil in that letter exposed the darkness from which the attacks came, as all ‘niceness’ was stripped, and I was finally able to see the attacks came from a place of pain and denial, and a lot of fear. Until that moment I struggled to call the attacks what they were, and tried to believe that most of the attacks were misunderstandings of well-intentioned people. Reading the harshest version of attacks, all in the name of God, exposed the darkness behind all of it, and I was finally able to make peace with the attacks. I can handle persecution from those resisting truth–even in God’s name–but attacks from the Body of Christ I cannot reconcile.
Now, months later, having taken a step back from Western ‘church’ culture, and removing ‘the noise’ of it, my heart has finally come to life again. The heaviness has lifted, and God is able to touch my heart again, and worship again rises from my spirit in a way it hasn’t in a long time. We have continued to fellowship with believers–for those who might fear we are sinning in not ‘gathering with believers–we’re just not doing it regularly in the context of lining pews, and consistently listening to structured church services, at a specific time of day, each Sunday.
In the last few months, the greatest encouragement has been, not only seeing people break free from past pain and addictions as they begin to understand their position in with God through Christ, but hearing testimonies of the ripple effects of the ministry we did in the Mennonite community. When people break free from addictions, sexual sin, homosexuality, and move into a place of freedom, it makes the ‘hell’ of the past two years seem small, and it is humbling to think that God uses us, so broken and human, to bring the love of Jesus and hope to those who are hurting and struggling. It is amazing to me that, even though I was struggling to come to terms with my own pain, and the shock of what we encountered in church–attacks we might have expected from enemies of the cross–that God still worked, as only He can.
So, why have I not been writing? That is the long answer. I needed time to process, to regroup, to make peace with what I have experienced in ‘church’, the attacks that have come from within, and most of all I needed time to refocus my heart before God. The past two years have showed me that, even though I have forgiven the church of my youth, I carry deep scars and wounds that, when ripped open, cause intense pain. I don’t trust church. I don’t trust system. Even less now than I did two years ago. But, thanks to a few incredible men and women of God, I have learned to trust the hearts of more leaders than I have ever trusted before. I could have mentioned many, including several conservative Mennonite leaders. For this to be the end result in one of the most difficult ‘church’ experiences of my life, is astounding. There is a wonder and a grace in this for which I have no words.
In spite of those wounds and scars, in spite of the hate mail and attacks, in spite of my inability to fit in–and knowing the attacks will continue–I want to learn to trust. I want to connect with a church family. (I didn’t think I’d ever say that again.) I even want to learn to trust church leaders, and let them fail, be human, and I want to pray for them and forgive them in the way I wish to be forgiven when I fail. I want to fight for the Body of Christ–His bride–and partner with her, for the sake of God’s Kingdom. I am committed to continuing in ministry, because I believe it is not our perfection, or our ‘togetherness’ that offers anything meaningful. It is Jesus flowing through our brokenness, spilling out in love, that transforms lives. I’ve never stopped believing that, even in my lowest of lows. He is my hope. Besides my love, encouragement, and some practical resources, He is all I have to offer victims, and He is more than enough.
Thank you to friends, mentors, pastors and leaders who have spoken into my life this past year, taking time to meet with me in my ‘darkness’, or speaking truth during ‘random’ encounters. Special thanks to my faithful friends who have let me say, without judging me, things I could not say to everyone, but needed to get out of my spirit. Thank you to the many online ‘warriors’ who have fought tirelessly for me, through prayer. You are too many to mention, and some I would not mention because you are also clients, but each of you offered me hope at a time when I felt little hope in the Body of Christ, and had only my faith in Jesus to cling to, the support of my husband and family. Finally, thank you to my husband, Tim, who has loved me faithfully, lifting my weary heart in prayer when it was crushed, and holding me when sobs of grief racked my body. I am grateful for each of you, and pray God’s blessings over you.
If God hands out stars for positively impacting another soul, you will each carry a star for me.
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Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”
Return to first post in Sexual Abuse Series
Return to First Post in Spiritual Abuse Series
Return to the First Post in ‘Abigail’s Story’ Series