Is It Real?

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I was but a tiny girl.
I peered around the corner at my mother, sitting in the kitchen.
The ashtray overflowed with ashes as a pillar of smoke rose from the center.
Beer cans were scattered across the surface of the table.
Her eyes met mine for five seconds – long enough to pierce my soul with fear.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

She sat in the rocking chair, tears trickling down her cheeks.
“Mommy?”
I placed my hand on her hand and turned my empathetic face up to hers.
She shoved me, knocking me to the floor.
I knew I must have done something wrong.
It was my job to keep her happy, and she was not happy.
But she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Nineteen. An adult.
No job. No college. Just obedient toe kissing.
Baking. Cooking. Cleaning. Teaching. Parenting the young siblings.
Twenty-three.
No job. No college. No dating. No parties. No hanging out with friends.
Just more obedient toe kissing.
Wearing homemade dresses. Dedicating my young years to domestic “ministry”.
“It’s for your protection,” she said. “It’s God’s design for girls.”
And she said “I love you” last night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

“Giving the world a new approach to life!”
Follow these ten steps.
Drink these seven basic principles and drown in them.
They look like Biblical righteousness from where you sit in the stadium, but really they are chains of slavery.
Beat yourself over the head with these 49 character qualities.
And remember that grace is you doing what you’re supposed to be doing… perfectly.
Dating is fornication. Once attracted, you must marry.
Hook, line, and sinker… I swallowed it all.
But God said “I love you” in John 3:16.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Long eyelashes. Hazel eyes. Best friend turned something deeper.
Engaged just 2 weeks after realizing it’s more than friends.
Married 4 months later.
We did it right. We were righteous.
Courtship trumped worldliness.
We waited to say “I love you” until we were promised to each other.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Eleven and a half years of total dedication.
I made myself everything I thought he wanted.
Always quick to forgive. Very slow to judge.
Everyday I strove to trust and give the benefit of the doubt.
Shove the paranoia to the back burner.
Smile.
Hug.
Kiss.
Believe the best.
Ignore the warnings.
Say “I love you” every day and every night.

Is this love?
Is it real?

Go to work.
Leave work.
Walk in the door.
Hang up the jacket.
Kiss the wife.
Whisper, “I like us.”
Chat over dinner.
Sit in the living room with the computer, ipad, or phone.
Tuck kids into bed.
Watch TV.
Get intimate in bed.
Fall asleep.
Repeat.
He said “I love you” tonight.

Is this love?
Is it real?

I thought it was all love.
I thought it was all real.

“You mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder.”
Reality shattered. There is no fixing it. There is no healthy, loving relationship.

“Your over sheltered life has your thinking and belief system in complete turmoil and bondage.”
Reality shattered. Protection from life is psychologically harmful.

“There is no new approach to life. The greatest approach was given 2,000 years ago through the life and death of Christ.”
Reality shattered. There is no man who has “new revelations” from God.

“All your striving to be perfect has made you resistant to His amazing grace.”
Reality shattered. There is no doing what’s right, because it’s right… perfectly.

“I’ve spent our entire marriage trying to escape you. I don’t think we should have ever married.”
Reality shattered. There was no best friend. There was no “us”.

“Working late again.” Coming home smelling like perfume. Texting pictures back and forth. The list goes on.
Reality shattered. The words “I love you,” “I like your body,” “You’re beautiful”… they mean nothing. Just empty words to hide a lie.

There is no love.
Nothing is real.

But then He whispers.
He shows me that grace is not a list of rules to keep. Grace is Him looking down, loving me just where I am, and wrapping me in Christ’s righteousness.
He shows me that He is a good, good Father. Always providing. Giving good things. Holding. Hugging. Listening. Always patiently listening.
He shows me that His heart knows brokenness. Betrayal, deceit, abuse, devaluation… He’s felt it all.
He shows me that being human means always questioning. It means blood and tears. And He’s ok with that.
He shows me that He is the God who sees me… ME… in the midst of crap I never asked for.

This is love.
This is real. This is the only reality. It will never shatter.

My Broken Hallelujah

lineGod, I’m not even sure where to begin. Do I start at the beginning, in the middle, in the right here and now, or with my hopes for the future?

I have nothing… nothing to hold up for myself to say, “THIS…. This is my good. This is the part of me that got it all right… that knows where it’s going… that knows what to fervently embrace and run with.” Instead, I’m here… wandering in the fog of confusion, surrounded by millions of voices yelling at me, forcefully luring me to come to them and follow their path.

But I’ve tried so many paths. At impressionable ages, I was led down twisting trails, told what to believe and what to strive for. I left these pathways for one of my own. I wasn’t going to let someone else choose my way. I would find it on my way.

Sometimes I was sure I was getting somewhere good, but most times it was just way too foggy to even see where I was going.

You see, I’m broken… so very broken. I’m broken in my mind, in my heart, and in my soul.

I was taught that you wanted me to follow long lists of rules to be holy. I was taught that a position of authority was a free pass to blissful manipulation. I was taught you needed me to meekly submit to this type of authority before you would truly be pleased. Until then, I was rebellious and deserved to be stoned.

I came to see you as a manipulative God, ruling your subjects from your royal throne, laying down law after law and withholding love unless they were followed. I strove everyday to be able to hear you say, “This is my daughter. She is holy because she holds my standards high in her heart.”

Then came the slow realization that these standards I strove for were not even your own. They were standards set forth by a man, claiming to be your favorite minister. They were standards enforced by the authority positions over me. And I could never, absolutely never, uphold these standards perfectly.

Then I did it! I broke away from these chains wrapped around my ankles. I was free… free from the chains of legalism. And you began your work of healing. You showed me that you love me, no matter what.

But as these fallacies and half truths have slowly been picked out of my mind and heart, they’ve left holes… holes that need to be filled with truth. And I don’t know where to get this truth, God. How can I ever trust another teacher? How can I read your word and hear just you and not the words of others?

I need you to take my broken pieces. Sweep them up, every sliver, and piece me back together in the image of Christ.

Sort through the twisted wires of thought patterns in my mind. Untangle them and connect them correctly.

Fill in these holes with you and your truth.

I come to you broken, Father. I love you. I trust you. I know that you are sovereign and full of grace.

Here’s my broken hallelujah.
Your Daughter

A Metaphoric Nancy Drew, Pt. 2

Metaphoric Nancy Drew pt 2

*This is part two of the series, A Metaphoric Nancy Drew. You can read part one here.

 

“Nessa Brach?”

“Yes, this is Nessa,” she had answered, wondering who the caller was.

“Don’t trust him, Nessa,” the voice warned. “He’s not good. He’s pure evil. Get away from him as soon as you can.”

“Who? Who’s evil?”

“The Leader. Dr Landon.” By now, the voice was panicked. “Stay away from him.”

She heard a rustle and then silence. The caller had hung up.

Nessa sat on her bed staring at the wall for what seemed like an hour. “Well, that was weirder than snow in July,” she thought.

She pulled her laptop onto her legs. Maybe she could look up the number the call came from. Then she could find out who called.

211-123-4567. Andrew McCoy.

But the caller had definitely been a girl… maybe around twenty. McCoy. McCoy. Why did that sound familiar?

A door slammed downstairs, and she could hear the clip, clip of her mom’s high heels across the kitchen tile. Mom would know. Nessa slid off her bed and scurried down the stairs.

“Hi, Mom. Here. Let me help you with the groceries.”

Her mom looked at her in surprise. “Thank you.”

Nessa smiled as she slid the loaf of bread into the bread drawer. “Mom. Who’s Andrew McCoy?”

“He used to work for Dr. Landon. Why?”

Nessa opened the refrigerator and slid the jug of milk onto the top shelf. “No reason,” she lied.

“You know,” her mom continued. “His daughter Skylar was Dr. Landon’s secretary a couple years ago. I guess she started ‘loosing it’ and accused Dr. Landon of some nasty things, so Mr. McCoy resigned to take care of his mentally sick daughter. I don’t think anyone has heard of them since.”

Nessa thoughtfully poured herself a glass of Coke. “Mom, why did Dr. Landon take an interest in me? I didn’t  even know the Institute existed until I came here from Dad’s a year and a half ago. I wore clothes Dr. Landon would never approve of and listened to music that he deems evil. Why did he ask me to be his secretary when Aubrey left six months ago? Why me? And why did Aubrey leave anyway?”

Her mom stopped unloading groceries from the last bag and looked Nessa in the eye. “I don’t think all that matters, Dear. What matters is that the Good Leader saw great potential in you. He changed you for the better. You were so depressed and rebellious before you met him. He saved your life, Dear. That’s all that matters.”

There it was again… the “you owe the Good Leader your life” line. Nessa raised her glass slightly. “Thanks, Mom. I’m going upstairs to study.”

She was glad her mom didn’t ask her what she was studying. She had plenty of research to do, but it wasn’t for any of her college classes. She had to find out more about Skylar McCoy. This research project just might be more interesting than a jar full of fireflies to a six year old boy.

 

Read more from this series:

A Metaphoric Nancy Drew, Part One

 

*photo credit

A Letter to my Pastor

writingDear Pastor,

Five years ago our little family was in need of direction and healing. God lead us to you and to the church family you shepherd. You probably don’t know that the words God spoke through you and the circumstances (both good and bad) that were taking place within the church were like stiches sewing together the rips in our hearts and in our marriage.

Your words and your leadership added water and sunlight to the seed of faith within us… the faith that God truly is 100% sovereign in all things… ALL things… even when it doesn’t make sense. The faith that God is not a list of rules and do’s and don’t’s that’s thrown for a loop when we mess up… but rather a God who is in control of all things and who works all things for good and for His glory.

Yes, it’s been five years. The rips are healed… though there’s still some light scars. The seeds of faith have sprouted and began reaching high toward the heavens.

And yet, I’ve never said much more than “hi” to you. You don’t see our family at Sunday school early every Sunday morning. You don’t see us on Wednesdays and Sunday nights. In fact, we’re probably present only about 70% of the time on Sunday mornings.

Why? Why are we ghosts flittering in the doors barely seen and back out again before anyone notices? Short answer… I don’t know exactly.

Long answer… it could be any of these or all of them…

I can’t speak for my husband, but me… I’m scared. Scared of committing myself to a thing… a church… a group of people… a leader. I’ve seen the danger of cult like religion. I’ve seen people who love Jesus place their hearts in the hands of the leader. I’ve seen these people lose their love for Jesus as their hearts turn to stone. They faithfully follow the standards of their group’s leader and judge those who do not. They religiously read their Bible. They claim to have revelations from God, but they are conclusions of their own. I’ve seen these people, and I’ve been one of them.

I love God with my whole being. I’ve sought Him like a crazy person these last five years. And what I’ve found has taken my breath away. I’m scared that by committing to the church… to faithful attendance… to participation in Bible studies… to fellowship with other believers… I may lose this personal thing I have going on with the God of my soul.

Then there’s the fear of people… the fear that I will be found guilty of something… I’ve no idea what. I may be judged. I’m more of a black tea person who likes to percolate the deep concepts of life. Small talk… getting to know you talk… it’s hard. I stumble over my own words. It’s like I can give an entire speech on the incredible sovereignty and grace of God in the workings of life, but I can hardly manage to ask a genuine “how are you?”. The friends I have managed to make at church tend to leave about the time we get past the up front hellos. I’m scared to lose another friend.

I also have this strange fear that any time I even smile at a man in church, I will be found guilty of flirtatious behavior. In the religious circle in which I spent all of my teen years and half of my twenties, speaking as a friend to the opposite gender was just not right. People were punished for it. In those so important years when normal people were learning how to appropriately interact with the other gender, I practiced the standards of looking the other way when a man or boy my age walked by. I did not smile. I did not speak. And when I did, I always felt guilty. How can I comfortably interact with my family through Christ with this weird fear and false guilt always at the front of my mind?

Then there’s just the plain old fear of commitment to anything other than my family. I get easily overwhelmed with life as a wife and mother. How could I possibly join another family and the commitments that go along with it? Could I really give? Do I even have anything worth giving?

It’s just easier to not to…. to not commit.

So in case you were wondering… there it is.

Sincerely,
The little lamb that slinkers past you on the way out the door

 

*photo credit

The Necessity of Christian Organizations… Or Not

pewsI’m a little bit on the disgusted side right now with Christian organizations. The Sovereign Grace Ministries lawsuit sickens me to the core. I seriously cannot even think about it without feeling sick to my stomach. I am also very aware of many scandalous incidents within the Institute in Basic Life Principles. The number of pastors and Christian leaders in this country’s history who have led secret lives of thievery, adultery, and molestation is embarrassing.

But even those organizations that are not (knowingly) harboring these critters under their rugs are susceptible to power fests. This is where the true dangers lies, because it’s the force of power that enables the organization leaders to prey on their followers.

Somewhere in the ministry building process, these leaders begin to realize that people are hanging on their words… that people are trusting them… doing what he wants them to do. They love him, they respect him, and they trust him with their very lives. Oh the things he could get them to do. Why he could present them with a long list of standards they must hold to in order to gain his approval and the “approval” of God. He could choose his own theories and theologies and convince his followers they are truth.

Very soon the ministry changes from a place of help and healing for the hurting to a place of manipulation for the desperate. It steals the individual identities from its followers and instills some twisted form of spiritual Zombie in them. And as we all know from freaky movies, once you get the people in Zombie mode, you can get them to do anything…

Make your name globally known…

Give you all their money…

Provide you with sexual gratification…

Promote your products…

Sign away their lives to servitude…

Give you their children…

Really, the options are limitless.

As I contemplated these realities, I thought to myself, “It’s too bad Christian organizations are a necessity.” Then I stopped. “Or are they?”

What if we Christians reached out to our own local brothers and sisters? What if each us held out our hands to the hurting, disillusioned, and needy that are within our own realm of influence? What if we were the hands and feet? What if we were truly the body of Christ ministering His grace to those around us. What then?

What if we loved God with all our hearts – truly loved Him… not rules, not religion… just Him. What if we soaked in the lessons of life along the path and shared that wisdom with those around us? What then?

What if we were ok with not being famous? What if we were ok with only reaching the people in our own neighborhood or town? What if we were ok with not personally reaching the entire world? What then?

Would this country… this world be better off that way? Would that be enough? Could we do without the organizations?

Just a thought.

 

*photo credit

The Writing of a Love Story, Part 2

chocolate

Be sure to catch part one.

 

One Sunday evening, as I sat in the dining room with my roommate, the director of the training center came up behind me and whispered in my ear, “I need to see you in my office when you’re finished.” Immediately, I felt sick to my stomach. I managed two more bites, then realized I was too sick to stuff more in.

I looked around the dining room for Michael. Just a smile or even a look from him would put my nerves to ease. But I could not find him. I quietly excused myself, cleared my dishes, and slowly made my way to the director’s office.

“Hello, Samantha,” he said, without looking up from his computer. “Take a seat.”

I sat down in the leather chair positioned in front of his desk. He cleared his throat and turned toward me. By this time, I felt as if I would vomit right there all over his shiny polished desk.

“It has been reported to me,” he began, “that you and Michael have been carrying on a secret romance and meeting for secret dates every week.” He paused, waiting for my reaction.

I don’t think my expression changed. I continued to simply stare at him, unsure of what to do with such a ludicrous accusation.

He leaned forward, placed his hands on the desk, and folded them in a sort of praying fashion. “You know the rules here. There are to be no romances. Any romantic relationship should be developed only with your parents overseeing eyes.”

I had heard enough. “Sir. Michael and I have not been secretly dating. We gather supplies each week at the same time to give us a chance to just talk and be friends without someone condemning us. It’s the plain and simple truth.”

He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Samantha, THAT’S dating.”

I leaned forward and looked him in the eye. “Now let me get this straight. If my friend, Bridgette, and I were to gather materials at the same time every week, so we could talk and just be friends, we’re dating?”

He pushed himself back from his desk. “You know what I mean, Samantha. Now go pack your bags. You’ll be leaving Tuesday morning. I’ve already called your father.”

There’s was nothing left to do, but stand up and leave his office. I went to my room, but I didn’t pack. My roommate came in after a while, and I told her everything. She cried with me and said she’d pray.

The next day, Monday, I was relieved of all my duties. I had nothing to do but hang out in my room and pack. I cried a lot.

I’m not sure what made me do it, but I went down to 208 at 7:00. I hadn’t seen Michael since Saturday evening, but I guess I was hoping that somehow he would be there too.

I walked into the room and looked around. There was nothing in there but paper and boxes and shelves upon shelves of supplies. I made my way to the long waist high table in the middle of the room. “Now what?” I thought. I didn’t want to leave, but what was the sense in staying?

I leaned forward, folded my arms across the table and buried my face. I knew that going home was going to be awful. I would have to face the silent anger of my father and the sorrowful disappointment of my mother. I just needed one more hour with Michael. I needed his strength.

I felt a hand on my back, and I quickly jerked my head up. There he was in all his handsome glory. Michael. Relief washed over me like a welcomed wave. For a moment, we didn’t speak. We just stood, receiving comfort and courage from each other’s presence.

“Where have you been?” I finally asked.

He took my hand and held it tightly. This was the first time he had ever displayed affection for me. I wasn’t sure what to do. Everything I had ever been taught about the defilement of affectionate touches from the opposite gender ran through my mind. I wanted to pull my hand away, but the need for him was too great in that moment.

“I was called into the director’s office Saturday night,” he answered. “I was told that I would have to leave the training center by Tuesday morning. Apparently, they disapprove of our friendship.” He paused and smirked mischievously.

“I left that night. I called my uncle who lives nearby and stayed with him. He gave me a job on his construction crew. Today was my first day. I borrowed money from him to buy a car. I will continue to work for him until I can pay off the debt. I want to get my own apartment too. No one knows I’m here tonight, but I just wanted to see you one more time.”

He pulled his hand from mine and sat in a nearby folding chair. My empty hand felt cold, and I shivered. “I called my parents last night,” he said as he folded his hands nervously. “They were not happy.  My father told me to end my rebellion and come home. He said I needed to serve my family and forget about you. When he realized I was not changing my mind, he said he and the church would pray that God would bring me out of my backslidden mindset.”

He stared at the shelves of colored paper until I broke the silence. “I fly home tomorrow morning. My dad is going to be silent and angry. He will treat me like I’m not even there. My mom will cry and sulk. They think I’ve sinned, but I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Neither of us knew what to say. He stood and took a step toward me. He looked into my eyes, and this time, I did not look away. There was a good 12 inches between us, but the burning pull was irresistible. I just wanted to be in his arms. I wanted to lay my head on his chest and know that everything was going to be ok. It took every ounce of will I could muster to keep from flinging myself at him.

He reached for a small box of chocolates on the table. I hadn’t even noticed it before then. He held it out to me. “I wanted to give you this before I leave,” he stammered.

I took it from his hand. “Thanks,” I whispered.

He quickly leaned forward and gently kissed my lips. “Only God can write a love story,” he whispered. “Don’t let anyone else dictate yours for you,” He turned away from me and walked out of the room. I thought that was the last time I would ever see him.

I slowly made my way upstairs to my room. I opened the door and stepped inside, sighing with relief that my roommate was not there. I walked to my bed and sat down. I wanted to cry, but there were no tears left.

I was not hungry for chocolate, but I opened the box anyway. Inside I found a CD and a note.

My Dear Samantha,

Please read these Bible verses and listen to this song. Call me if you feel as I do. 123-123-1234.

Love, Michael

Listed below were several Bible passages. I pulled my Bible off the nightstand and onto my lap. I turned to the first passage and read the story of how Eve was created for Adam. I flipped to the next and read about Jacob and Rachel. Then Ruth and Boaz. And on and on. Love story after love story. Each of them different, yet each of them orchestrated by God.

My roommate still had not come in, so I put the CD into her player. I didn’t know who sang the song, but her voice sounded young and confident.*

Elevator buttons and morning air  Strangers’ silence makes me want to take the stairs  If you were here we’d laugh about their vacant stares  But right now my time is theirs

Seems like there’s always someone who disapproves  They’ll judge it like they know about me and you  And the verdict comes from those with nothing else to do  The jury’s out, but my choice is you

So don’t you worry your pretty little mind  People throw rocks at things that shine  And life makes love look hard  The stakes are high, the water’s rough  But this love is ours

And it’s not theirs to speculate  If it’s wrong and  Your hands are tough  But they are where mine belong and  I’ll fight their doubt and give you faith  With this song for you

So don’t you worry your pretty little mind  People throw rocks at things that shine  But they can’t take what’s ours  They can’t take what’s ours

The stakes are high, the water’s rough  But this love is ours

*Ours by Taylor Swift

I went home the next morning. I talked with my parents for hours that night. I told them about everything that had happened while I was in New York. I told them how Michael and I had questioned and put to test every principle the Advantage Teaching Institute was built upon. I told them how I had liked Michael since the day I first met him. I told them how I never knew he felt the same about me until he kissed me. I told them I was going to study hard, pass the GED, and then attend college. I told them I was going to get a job to pay for it all. Most importantly, I told them that I loved them, but this is what I had to do.

They were sad that I questioned all that I had been taught. They were mortified that I let a man kiss me. And they were outraged that I would work outside the home and go to college.

I called Michael the next day and every day after that. He gave me courage to resist bondage. It would have been a lot easier to simply submit and continue in the conservative, quiet life my parents felt was right. I needed his strength when my parents kicked me out of the house. I was told not to return again until I let go of my rebellious streak. I needed his acceptance when I was shunned by everyone in my parents’ church. Those who did speak to me simply stated they were praying for my soul.

Eight months later, I was on my way to New York again. This time as an independent adult, headed for the college life experience. It felt odd, but so freeing.

Michael and I kept our 7:00 Monday dates for the entire four years of my college time. I got a job at the local newspaper, editing articles before they were sent to the press. Michael continued working in the construction industry with his uncle. He took a few classes on the side as well.

I graduated as valedictorian of my class. I invited my parents, but they did not come. They could not support my decision to live away from home and further my education.

Two weeks later, Michael and I were married. It was a small wedding with local friends and family. Once again, I invited my parents, but they did not show up.

We’ve been married now for 10 years. We have three very adorable daughters and one handsome baby son. I am ever so grateful for a box of chocolates, a kiss, a song, and a God who writes unique love stories.

 

*While this story is written in the first person, it is entirely fictional. Any correlation between this story and the stories of those raised in ATI (Advanced Training Institute) is entirely intentional.

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