Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving At Little Nanny's

I love this time of year! My family looks forward to Thanksgiving every year when we go to "Little Nanny's!" All 65-70 of us gather in Tennesee at my husband's grandmother's farm in a small home that was once a trailer. The numbers continue to increase as the children grow up and have families of their own. It's a happy time! All of the guys get out in the front yard and play football, while others sit in the porch swing and watch. The little kids get "Papa" to walk them to the lake to see the ducks. The women are in the kitchen cooking and getting all of the food together. And of course, there is my sister-in-law, who takes pictures of everything. There is a spread of food like you wouldn't believe and it's funny to watch people start inching towards the front of the line well before it's time. Then there's the call to eat..... and Uncle Jerry says the prayer.

We had a bit of a scare this week though. We got a call that Nanny had been rushed to the hospital with congestive heart failure. She is 89 years old and she has had heart problems for a few years now. For a couple of days she wasn't doing well, but she is better now and she is going home from the hospital this weekend. For 23 years I have been a part of Thanksgiving dinner at Nanny's house and for a couple of days it looked like that was all about to change. I'm so thankful she's going home and we will get to see her again. She has always said she wanted to live to see the 5th generation and she has done that. I know she stands and watches all of the people enter her home each year and she knows she is truly blessed to have this family - this large, loud, happy family.

I have been thinking this week about my own family and how thankful I am to have them. I have these wonderful children and I love them so much. I don't ever want to take my life for granted and I want to always remember to thank God for the things that really matter in life - my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my home, my health, and life! Thank you, God! I know that one day there will be new traditions in my family and I look forward to the day when I watch my children and grandchildren fill my home on Thanksgiving Day, just like Little Nanny.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On The Road To Recovery

I have been reading the online book, "Recovering From Churches That Abuse" by Ronald Enroth, and I came across a great list of steps that will help you on the road to recovery. I want to share that list and add some of my own thoughts as I go along. (The list from the book will be in green and my own personal thoughts will be in black.)

1. For closure to take place, there needs to be an acknowledgment of abuse. Denying what has happened will only stall recovery.

In my former church we were taught that "confessing" we had needs or problems meant that we were "not in faith." This resulted in me and many others holding years worth of questions and fears inside. I believe you can't fix what you don't acknowledge. That is very evident to me now that I see what holding it all in got me. Since I have been sharing my experiences through this blog, I have taken huge strides on my road to recovery. I believe admittance is very important because if you try to minimize what has happened to you and push it aside, it will only pop up later in your life. Even though it my be hard, admit it now and take these steps so you can truly move forward in your life.

2. Find someone who will listen to your story, who supports your desire to gain healing and restoration.

In a controlling church, you are never encouraged to talk about issues you are dealing with. Even though it may go against the grain of how you have lived for years, you need to tell someone your story. I wrote a post several months ago called, "It's Okay To Get Counsel" because in many controlling churches counseling is frowned upon. If you are feeling like you need to get things off your chest, do it. If you want to share your story on this blog, please feel free to. I understand you not wanting to talk about your situation at your new church because if you told some of the things that happened, people may wonder why you continued to stay. Unless someone is familiar with these types of churches, they just wouldn't understand. Find someone to talk to who has been there and understands. Depending on the degree to which you were involved, you may even feel like you want to talk to a professional counselor - and that's okay.

3. Talk freely about your doubts, feelings, and hopes.

4. Recognize that you will probably go through a grieving process - grief for the lost years, the lost friends and family, and the loss of innocence.

Everyone handles things differently. Some people are just happy to be out and they are able to put the past behind and not look back, but others do grieve. We were always taught the grieving was "not of God" and that you were supposed to be strong and get over it, but in some situations it's a normal part of the process. I cried for a whole weekend when we made the decision to leave. It wasn't because I was going to miss the church or the leaders, but it was because I had spent such a huge part of my life there. I had friends that I had known for years and I knew that many of them were never going speak to me again. I knew that I would be labeled and shunned. I knew my children would lose friends because their parents were taught not to talk to the people who left. I felt like I had wasted years of my life, and the biggest thing I dealt with was that I had kept my children in a spiritually unhealthy place. Yea, I did grieve when I realized I had raised my children in a situation that was now bringing doubt and pain to them and leaving them wondering who in this world they could trust again. Thank God, we are getting past all of that now, but it is a very real part of the process you walk through.

5. Expect to feel fear, guilt, and shame. It is crucial to find people who will support and validate your own step of faith and can help you address your hard feelings.

I can tell you that you will feel every emotion known to man as you leave a controlling church and walk through the detoxing process. It will level out and become easier with each passing day, but don't be surprised if you think you are all over it and then one day it hits you like a ton of bricks. Something you see or read can trigger this reaction and it will be like an aftershock. It's all a normal part of the process. When you have given so much of your life to something and had your children involved in something you now realize was wrong, you won't be able to get over it in a day.

6. Expect to feel foolish and experience self doubt. You may ask yourself over and over, "How did I let this happen to me?" Feeling foolish and regretful about poor decisions is a sign of growth; you will soon leave these emotions behind.

I have asked those questions hundreds of times over the past months. "How could I have not seen this? Why did I put up with that for so long? Where was the love?" I have kicked myself and felt foolish. I have felt embarrassed when I tell people my story, but the most important thing is that I did see the truth and when I did, I left. Don't beat yourself up over it any more and don't ever let it happen to you again.

7. You will need to trust again, in stages. Above all, learn to trust God again. Renew your walk with Him; rebuild a quiet time with Him; don't give up on the church despite it's imperfections.

I have talked to many people who have wondered if they could ever trust again, but it will happen eventually. I have met some wonderful people who have helped me to rebuild my trust, although I have my eyes wide open. Psalm 118:8 tells us it's better to put our trust in God rather than in man. That is one of the problems in controlling churches - you are taught to "honor your man of God" and in many cases people end up honoring him more than God. It is never supposed to be that way! Over the years, I developed a distorted view of God because I thought God was like these controlling men of God in my life that I was told to honor, but since I have been gone I see that God is the opposite of who they are. God is full of mercy, compassion, patience, kindness, and love. It's sad to say, but some have not been able to separate God from the men that hurt them and they have given up on everything. That makes me so sad because God is not who they think He is. He is love. It may take time and don't feel like you have to rush into any of this, but don't let the people of the past keep you from trying to trust again.

8. Relax! Enjoy your new freedoms. Take time for physical recreation, art, music, and just plain fun. Thank God for all the good things He has given us to enjoy.

9. Remember that forgiveness is crucial to recovery. It has been said that forgiveness is for the benefit of those giving it, not for the benefit of the ones receiving it.

I shared this quote on forgiveness several months ago and it has really helped me to look at forgiveness in a whole new way. We were always told we had to "forgive and forget," but I think that was said many times because that's what they wanted us to do. But just read this....

"Forgiveness does not require you to pretend that what a person did never happened and it in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness releases you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully and openly. Don't let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving. You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realized that you have forgiven completely." (William P. Young)

I encourage you to consider carefully each one of these steps. I know of many who have walked this out and are now happy and free. I have walked out these steps and I feel like I have covered a lot of ground on this road to recovery. It has been 7 months since we left our former church and I can honestly say that we have never been happier. God has been so good to us. He has brought some wonderful people into the lives of my children who love them and have made it easy for them to learn to trust again. There are still days when we have to deal with doubts, but it's way better today than it was 6 months ago. This just shows God's love and faithfulness. If you are just beginning this process, I'll just tell you now it takes time and it's not always easy, but you will make it through and you will experience joy again.

If you have found yourself having a hard time trying again, know you are not alone. I had some young people from the former church tell me the other day that they were having a hard time understanding prayer. They explained how they hear other people talk about praying and yet they feel like they don't even know how. Chalk that up to the church they came out of - the church that said, "God doesn't want to hear your problems. He only wants to hear you speak the Word." I told them how when I first got saved as a teenager I fell in love with Jesus. I told them of how I used to lay on my bed and just talk to Him. I would tell Him about my day and I talked to Him about things I was going through. I would share my life with Him and ask Him questions. I lost that over the years of trying to follow the "7 steps to prayer" and trying to confess things a hundred times to make it come to pass. I encouraged these young people to start over and just talk to Jesus. I told them to lay on their bed and say, "Lord, I don't even feel like I know how to pray and I need your help to figure all of this out." I told them to be honest with Him and tell Him about the things that were bothering them. That's what we all need to do. He wants to be a part of everything we do. I can't say it enough - don't try to hide your feelings about what you've been through from Him. He understands and He will help you through all of these steps. He wants all of us to be spiritually healthy and strong so we can help Him do the things that really matter - love people and share the gospel with the world.

*An interesting sidenote - Psalm 118:8 is the verse that's in the exact center of the Bible. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just A Reminder

I am constantly adding articles and resources to my sidebar. I added several new links today, including two great online books.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sharing My Heart

I guess it could appear that I am "dwelling on the past" or refusing to "get over it" because of certain things I write. I received a couple of comments after a recent post that showed me there are a few people who think this is the case. I am an open and honest person and I do not try to be something I'm not. (Although I make that statement with a little hesitation because for 22 years I tried to measure up to what the controlling leadership of my former church wanted me to be.) But even at that, I am who I am and I have written all of these things from my heart. I know I'm rambling, but I have a hundred thoughts rolling around that I want to get out - the main one being what's on my heart concerning my blog.

Before I left my former church, I went through a tough period of time where I questioned all that was going on, and the last people I could have talked to were the leaders at my church. I knew they would have labeled me "crazy." Besides that, in one service it was said strongly by the leader, "Don't come to me with your concerns or issues!" I had no one to turn to and I knew that I was walking on shaky ground. I was risking everything by venturing out beyond the boundaries, but I had to get my answers.

I had gotten wind of a blog that had been started by a couple who had left the church. We were told by the leadership of the church not to read the "evil blog," but I was curious to know what was being said because I knew the good people who were writing it. The first time I read it, I felt guilty because I knew if the leadership found out, they would be mad. But, when I read it I saw that many others were having the same thoughts and questions I had been having for a while and it brought clarity to me. (Thank you!) In one of the posts, they referred to an article where the term "spiritual abuse" was used. I had never heard that term before and the word 'abuse' seemed a bit strong, but as I read the article it all rang true. I began to google words like "spiritual abuse" and everything I read began to answer my questions. I was doing all of my research in secret because I was afraid to let anyone know, but the more I learned, the more truth I saw.

I found blogs by searching the web and then I followed links to other blogs. I was amazed at the number of people who had been through the same things I was going through and how similar the circumstances were. One blogger described it by saying, "All the controlling pastors must use the same play book." By reading different blogs, I learned of books to read that would help me. As I read Jeff Von Vonderen's book, "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse," I learned about the "signs of control and abuse" and "how you get caught in spiritual traps." A dear lady, Aida, recommended Darin Hufford's book, "The God's Honest Truth" and I learned more about God's love than I had learned in 22 years. I read Jake Colsen's book, "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore," and I saw a perfect picture of who Jesus is and that having a relationship with Him is what really matters. I began to see a totally new picture of God and His love. For so long I think I and many others equated God with the controlling leaders of the church, but things were quickly changing for me. I can honestly say that reading blogs has helped me to see the truth about the situation I was in and I am glad they have been there when I needed answers and when I needed someone to talk to.

When I first began my own blog I thought it would be good "therapy" for me to write out my thoughts and I also wanted to help others by providing the same type of information that had helped me. It was a good thing for me. The comments people left helped so much and it has also been good to hear that something I shared helped someone else. Everyone is at a different stage in the process. It would seem that some have fully recovered, some are still walking through the healing process, while others are just beginning to see the truth. You may not know some one's story and there are some who will never tell their whole story. Some things are too personal for people to speak of. I have shared some of my own personal experiences so that others can relate, but there are things I will never tell. It has never been my intention to hurt anyone or to write things that stir up hurtful emotions in people. I try to be very careful about the things I say. I have to be able to lay my head down at night and feel that my heart is right before God. I said in the very beginning when I started my blog that if I ever felt that God wasn't pleased by my blogging I would delete it all. But I don't believe that's the case and I think that the materials I have provided and the information I have shared has helped people - so it stays. Helping people is what really matters. And this blog has helped me to heal too. I have met so many people from around the world - people I wouldn't have met otherwise, like my friend "Getting There" from South Africa and my friend Barb. I have reconnected with a friend from the former church who now lives in Georgia. She heard about my blog and she too read "The God's Honest Truth" and it helped her immensely. I have such a special place in my heart for the readers of my blog and for the writers of the blogs I read.

I chose to do my blog anonymously for various reasons, although a lot of people have figured out who I am. The first couple of days I had it up I began to get calls asking if it was me. How did people know? I didn't decide to do it anonymously because I am ashamed of anything I have to say. I just felt that it would be the best way to do it because I was already having a hard enough time dealing with things. I'm sure that many bloggers understand why I did it that way. I didn't want it to somehow be used against me by the people in my past. It was hard enough to find out that 2 days after I left my church, my family was all of a sudden being called "evil" and "bad." I felt like I put myself in a vulnerable position by having a blog, but even after "dumb blogs" were referred to from the pulpit of my former church, I still had a resolve to continue sharing this information to possibly rescue others from the trap of spiritual abuse.

I am so thankful that caring people took the time to blog and share information for me to read. I am in that same place now - I care about people and I don't want to see anyone stay in a hurtful situation because of a lack of information. I know how great it is to be out of the control and walking in freedom and I know God wants all of His children to experience that same love and freedom. Each person takes a different amount of time to heal and my heart goes out to everyone in this situation. I continually hear of situations that people are dealing with and all I can do is think how sad it is that all of this hurt came at the hands of people we thought we could trust - in a church. Boy, have we all learned some lessons.

Everyone has to be allowed to be themselves and if they need to talk one day, then I want to be there to listen to them. If they need to cry, I want to lend my shoulder. I will be understanding and never judge another person by how they deal with difficult circumstances. And by all means, I will never tell someone to "get over it." That is like a slap in the face and those are hard words to hear when what someone really needs is compassion. I want to be a friend to those who are struggling and say, "I understand, I've been there." And I hope I will always have people in my life who will do the same for me.

I know what's in my heart and the reasons I share, but I have felt at times that some have had the impression that I just keep bringing up the past. I just don't see it that way. I don't believe continuing to share information about spiritual abuse holds me to the past situation. I think it sets me free to know what I will never allow myself to be a part of again and I want to continue to share things that may help one more person get away from a bad situation. If I share things I've learned, like information on "Healthy or Unhealthy Churches," just know that I'm not stuck in bitterness, but I want to get the information out there to save others from hurt. I want to share information that helps people see they are not crazy and that there are others who have made it out of a controlling, abusive situation and are now doing good, walking in God's love, and living in the freedom God provided.

Okay, I think I said it in enough ways so that you understand where I'm coming from. I know I didn't have to explain myself, but I wanted to. I will continue to share the things on my heart and I always welcome and look forward to any information you can share to help me and others. Please just don't say "get over it." I look at how far I've come over the past 6 months and I am so thankful to be where I am. When my former leaders told me my life and family would fall apart if I left, they were wrong. Me and my family are so happy doing the things that really matter in my life - loving God and loving people. My honest prayer for everyone who has been in a hurtful situation with a church, is that you will be able to separate your experience from God and know that He loves you more than anything and the pain you have felt had nothing to do with Him. Have a great day!

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Healthy Church

Have you ever been sitting in your church and thought, "Something just doesn't seem quite right." Have you wondered, "Is anyone else having the same thoughts I'm having?" Have your family members pointed out odd characteristics or behaviors that go on in your church and have they shown concern for your well being? It could be that the church in question is an unhealthy environment for you and your family.

I have researched this for months now and I have compiled a list of characteristics of healthy churches and unhealthy churches. Keep in mind that two people in the same church can perceive the exact same thing differently - one could think it is terrible, while the other may think it is great. Matters of preference and opinion are one thing, but matters of spiritual health are another. Some churches become unhealthy, abusive, or even cultic over time and there comes a point when you have to step back, evaluate the situation, and realize it may cost you to remain. Take the time to ponder these points and make sure that you and your family are in a healthy situation. If you are in a healthy church, great! I thank God for the great churches out there who are loving God and loving people, but there are churches that can be controlling and cause hurt. As you read, keep in mind that it really matters to God how His children are treated and His desire for you is to be treated with love and care. If you have struggled, wondering if what you are feeling is real and if your questions are legitimate, I hope while reading this list of characteristics, questions will be answered for you.

Healthy - The church is a place of blessing and freedom. It is a place people want to go.
Unhealthy - The church is a place of slavery. People attend more out of obligation, rather than desire. It is a place people want to leave.

Healthy - The church is built on loving God, loving people, and reaching out to the community around and ultimately the world.
Unhealthy - The church talks of love, but the actions are not there to back it up. The leaders and members are focused inward, rather than reaching out to the community and helping people from all walks of life.

Healthy - The Bible is taught in context.
Unhealthy - Scriptures are taken out of context and twisted to make you believe what the leaders want you to believe.

Healthy - The leaders are humble and caring, and they have no personal agenda, other than leading others to follow Jesus.
Unhealthy - The leaders are prideful and the church is built on the foundation of the leader's personality. They are in control and they see to it that their own personal agenda is fulfilled.

Healthy - The leaders see all people as important and all people are truly cared for.
Unhealthy - Favoritism is shown and it's usually based on how much money a person gives or how much time they spend working in the church. No care or concern is shown towards the majority of the people.

Healthy - The leaders are involved in the lives of the church members. People feel supported, encouraged, and equipped.
Unhealthy - The leaders are not involved in the lives of the people unless it is centered on them. There is a pecking order where one or two get all the attention and the rest are ignored. All others do not feel important, supported, or encouraged. In fact, most of the members are never even recognized.

Healthy - The leaders equip others to serve, doing so with care and kindness.
Unhealthy - The leaders use others to meet their needs. The word "delegate" is very popular and is used often.

Healthy - The leaders have energy, love for people, and are not afraid to show their emotions.
Unhealthy - Leaders are apathetic, conceited, and show no emotion. They make others feel wrong for showing emotion.

Healthy - The leaders are genuinely concerned about the welfare of those they lead.
Unhealthy - The leaders are only concerned about having control over those they lead.

Healthy - The leaders are concerned about loyalty to the people.
Unhealthy - The leaders are concerned about the loyalty of the people.

Healthy - The leaders are accountable to others.
Unhealthy - There is no real accountability of the leaders. The leaders have absolute authority.

Healthy - The leaders are secure and they welcome outsiders.
Unhealthy - The leaders are paranoid and they are afraid of outsiders or disloyal members.

Healthy - Your personal boundaries are important and respected. You are allowed to make your own decisions and you are not looked down on or judged.
Unhealthy - Your personal boundaries are not taken into consideration and you often feel you are being taken advantage of. The agenda of the leaders is more important than you or your needs.

Healthy - The leaders are easily available and candid when YOU want to talk. The leaders value your time more than theirs.
Unhealthy - The "higher" the positioned leader, the less accessible he/she will be. Phone messages are not returned promptly (if ever), and conversations are kept to a minimum. The pastor, for the most part, is unavailable.

Healthy - You not only have the right, but you are encouraged to question beliefs, practices, and motives. The leaders are not threatened and communication is strongly encouraged.
Unhealthy - The leaders insist on total, unquestioning obedience and submission to them.

Healthy - You are allowed to ask questions about how the money is spent and the leaders talk about it openly and freely.
Unhealthy - How the money is spent is kept a secret and members are told that it is up to the pastor to make all the decisions on how the money is spent. No one except the pastor and his immediate family knows how the money is spent.

Healthy - You are allowed to make your own decisions about how much you give. You feel that you can give freely out of your generosity and gratitude to the Lord.
Unhealthy - You are manipulated to give. Lengthy sermons are given each week on tithing, resulting in you giving out of fear or obligation.

Healthy - You are not judged by your church attendance. You have the freedom to decide which services and activities you want to attend.
Unhealthy - The leaders want you to put meetings and activities before all other commitments, including family, friends, and even jobs.

Healthy - You are free to dress the way you desire and you are never looked down on for doing so.
Unhealthy - You are expected to dress the way the leaders desire for you to dress, resulting in you losing your sense of self and your personal identity.

Healthy - Freedom abounds.
Unhealthy - Rules abound.

Healthy - The leaders talk positively towards other churches and reach out to help other churches succeed.
Unhealthy - The leaders talk negatively about other churches and they are focused inward. They have an "us verses them" mentality.

Healthy - Fellowship is strongly encouraged.
Unhealthy - The leaders place little emphasis on fellowship. Activities are few and far between and the leaders are always in control of all decisions made concerning these activities.

Healthy - There is a strong sense of unity among the leaders and members.
Unhealthy - There are cliques, resulting in many people feeling left out. There is a lot of complaining and gossip.

Healthy - When problems arise, the conflict is dealt with fast and with tact, love, and care.
Unhealthy - Conflict is ignored and people are told to "get over it." The real issues are not dealt with, and the leaders go to great lengths to appease the big givers and power brokers.

Healthy - Love and grace are subjects often taught. You leave the services with a sense of freedom and affirmation.
Unhealthy - Fear, legalism, and judgment are preached. You leave the services feeling beat down and shamed into doing what the leaders want you to do. You have the sinking feeling that you will never measure up to what the leaders want you to be.

Healthy - The leaders build you up and they see you as a real person and a precious child of God.
Unhealthy - The leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate you and "keep you in line."

Healthy - You are free to "exit" (leave) the church at any time without being judged.
Unhealthy - You fear leaving, because there is a "price to pay." The price includes intimidation, labelling, and slander.

Healthy - The church and the leaders serve the people.
Unhealthy - The people serve the church and the leaders.

Healthy - You are happy.
Unhealthy - You are not happy. You are confused and you may not be able to put your finger on what it is, but you know in your heart that there is more for you and your family.

Healthy - God leads people to go there.
Unhealthy - God leads people to leave there.

I hope after reading these points you are able to smile and say, "I am in a healthy church." It makes me happy to say that I am now in a healthy church and I am growing in God's love. The church facilities where you attend may be beautiful and the appearance can be given that everything is running smoothly, but if ANY of these unhealthy practices are occurring, I encourage you to take a step back and examine things closer. Determine what it is you are really looking for in a church. You might consider writing down the "good points" and the "bad points" in terms of the church and see which outweighs the other. Look closely at the "3 C's" -communication, care, and control. Are the lines of communication open? Do you feel that the leaders really care about you and are you seeing it in action? Is there a large amount of control going on? It's important to know the truth about your church and to know whether it's healthy or unhealthy for you to be a part of it. Remember not to link God with your unhealthy spiritual situation, even though you're definitely going to need to work through some things. He is not the cause of your hurt. He wants you to be free to be near to Him and to serve Him in the way He designed it.

*Part of this information is from articles written by Rebecca Hanson and The Barnabas Ministry.