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 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

Music Monday: More Like Falling In Love

lineJason GrayMore Like Falling In Love

(Listen on Spotify or Youtube)

Give me rules
I will break them
Show me lines
I will cross them

I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives
Moves and breathes
To sweep me off my feet

It’s gotta be…

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh It’s like I’m falling in love

Give me words
I’ll misuse them
Obligations
I’ll misplace them

‘Cause all religion
Ever made of me
Was just a sinner
With a stone tied to my feet
It never set me free

It’s gotta be…

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh
It’s like I’m falling in

Love, love, love
Deeper and deeper, it was
Love that made me a believer

In more than a name
A faith, a creed
Falling in love with Jesus brought
The change in me

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh
It’s like I’m falling

It’s gotta be…

More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance

Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling, oh
It’s like I’m falling in love

It’s like I’m falling
(Falling in love)
It’s like I’m falling

 

“I don’t know, Buddy. I didn’t watch TV when I was a kid.”

He looked at me incredulously. “What? Why not?”

“Well.” I hesitated a minute. “Well, because I wasn’t allowed to.”

He giggled. “Why not?”

“Because I was told TV was evil.”

He giggled some more. “That’s crazy!”

The conversation commenced with details of other activities I was not allowed to partake in, clothing I was not allowed to wear, books I was not allowed to read, and many other things I was told was evil. A long list of rules and “convictions” enforced on me and my siblings by my mother.

Now it wasn’t all my mother’s fault. She only adopted these rules, ideas, and “convictions” because Mr. Gothard of the Institute of Basic Life Principles said they were part of a “new approach to life”… an insurance that we would be successful if we just follow God’s principles.

But here’s the thing… these rules… these convictions… this better way of life… They only brought pride and judgment toward those who did not uphold this “holiness” and at the same time a disgust and hate for my own self.

How is this holy? How is this following God’s “principles”? Did Jesus not teach “judge not”? Does Romans not tell us that there is “no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus”?

Then why did this holy life, following a higher path, lead to judgment of others and hatred for myself?

There’s a change in me… I’m not who I used to be. There’s freedom. There’s love. Love for others and love for myself.

All because I fell in love with Him. Oh, the undeserved mercy He gives. Oh, the love He pours out. Oh, the grace… the unconditional, complete goodwill of His grace.

What is there not to love? And with such love, how can the rules remain? One by one, His love has dissipated the rules and the obligations chained to the ankles of my heart.

I don’t know. Maybe there’s more left that needs to be dissolved. But this I do know. The deeper the love goes, the more of a believer I will become…

In more than a name
A faith, a creed

and it is a deeper love in Jesus that will continue to bring a change in me.

________________________________________________________________

In the conservative circle in which I grew up, contemporary Christian music was not allowed. After marrying, I began to listen to a CCM radio station. Much of my spiritual growth since then can be attributed to the many CCM artists and the songs they write. There is truth in those words and power in their music.

If music means as much to you as it does to me, you might want to check out Spotify. This music program allows you to search for particular songs and save them to playlists, allowing you to listen to your music whenever you wish. Best yet, it’s free. (It will require you to download their music program to your computer, but I promise it will not download any junk.) You can find all the songs highlighted in Music Mondays at the Recovered Identity Spotify playlist.

 

*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.

Photo Credit

The Writing of a Love Story, Part 1

chocolateThey were but three simple things… a box of chocolates, a kiss, and a song, but they changed my life forever. I was nineteen the fall I traveled to New York City, fresh out of homeschooled high school and ready to transform the world’s population into conservative legalists.

My parents had arranged for me to serve at the Advantage Teaching Institute’s NYC training center, working with delinquent teens. I was to teach them how to live a superior life by applying the seven basic principles of life as dictated by Mr. Gobert. Having been a member of ATI since I was old enough to read, I knew these principles inside and out, as well as all 49 accompanying character qualities and their definitions.

I had only been there a month when my assigned delinquent threw a question at me that I could not answer. “How does Mr. Gobert know that there are seven principles in life? What makes him the expert on life?” She went on to complain about all the Bible study assignments she had to do, but I was no longer listening. My mind was stuck on that one question, “What makes Mr. Gobert the expert on life?”

That evening, in the dining hall, I sat across the table from Michael. I had liked him since the day I arrived. He was tall and broad and styled his dark hair with a bit of a spike in front. Though his personality was fun and laid back, he was also mature. He seemed more man than any other 20 year old I’d ever met. But I was very careful not to let on just how much I liked him. Interaction between guys and girls was frowned upon at the training center.

When everyone else had left the table, and it was just the two of us, I cleared my throat. I knew I had to pick someone’s brain about my delinquent’s question. I thought he would be a good one to ask, since he wouldn’t take my questioning too seriously, but would also offer a load of wisdom.

“So…” I began. “My delinquent asked a question today that got me thinking.” I waited, unsure if he even wanted to talk with me.

He looked up from his plate and smiled. My heart nearly skipped a beat. “And what sorta question would that be?” he asked.

I lifted my glass and took a sip of water before answering. “She asked me what made Mr. Gobert the expert on life,” I half-whispered. I looked around to make sure no one had heard me then continued. “And it just caught me by surprise because I didn’t have an answer. I’ve never questioned Mr. Gobert’s wisdom. But I’ve never thought about what makes him the one with all the wisdom.”

Michael ran his fingers through his hair. I loved it when he did that. It made me want to reach out and run my fingers through it too.

He looked into my eyes as if he were trying to read me, and I quickly shifted my gaze. “Do you really wanna know my thoughts on that?” he questioned.

I looked up and nodded my head. He pulled a pen out of his pocket and scribbled something on his napkin. He slid it over to me, then stood and gathered his dirty dishes.

“208. 7:00” is all it said.

An hour later, I entered room 208, which was used as a supply room. Michael was already there, going through stacks of colored paper. “Hey!” he said, looking up at me with that heart stopping smile once again.

“Hi!” I answered.

“You should probably gather supplies for tomorrow’s delinquent projects.” He winked, and I began to dig through the marker box.

We spent over an hour “gathering supplies” that evening. We talked about Mr. Gobert and his principles. We talked about the authority structure he teaches. We talked about the lack of individuality within ATI. We talked about things that would have had us locked up for a week of Wisdom Searches, had anyone heard us.

As I lay in bed that night, I replayed every word of our conversation. All these years I had been taught that we were to obey our parents, no questions asked. My parents possessed unquestioned wisdom because they believed and lived every word of the all wise Mr. G. We held to high dress standards and limited our contact with the opposite gender all in the name of moral purity. We sacrificed educational quality and refused college in the name of seeking wisdom first.

Suddenly, my beliefs were being challenged by very sound reasoning. Suddenly, God was no longer a deity who spoke through Mr. Gobert, but a personal, loving Father who wanted to speak to me. I didn’t know what to do with all these conflicting thoughts.

After that night, Michael and I met every Monday evening in room 208. We questioned every ATI standard and applied common sense and the Words of Scripture to each one. What we found was astonishing. At surface level, each principle seemed good and true, but as we put them to the test, each one was misapplied and over glorified. We found that God was not a king with many rules to be obeyed by all, but a father who worked in each individual’s life in unique and catered ways.

Our understanding of God was not the only thing that grew over the next couple months. So did our friendship. We were closer than I had ever been to anyone. I had told him every detail of my life that I could think of, and he had poured out his dreams and aspirations to me.

We lived for those Monday night supply raids. But then, everything changed.

 

Be sure to read The Writing of a Love Story, Part 2.

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

Photo Credit

Clothing to Die For – Or Not

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This particular outfit would never be seen on a celebrity, never on a model, and most definitely never on a typical twenty-two year old woman. But when I wore it, I felt skinny and sexy. The long, navy blue skirt fit trimly with no pleats or gathers. Its hem softly brushed my ankles as I walked. The white, button down blouse was a gift from a friend and co-worker. She said she saw it at Goodwill and thought of me. I loved it. It hinted ever so slightly to my figure, thanks to strategically placed darts.

Now if you’re envisioning a tall, slim twenty something in a long pencil skirt and figure flattering, crisp, white blouse, top two buttons undone revealing a smooth chest and perhaps sparkly jewelry, think again. This was a long navy blue skirt two sizes too large. Safety pins tightened the waist line, allowing it to hang on my hips. Under the white blouse was a full length cotton slip, removing any opportunity for showing off a figure. Every single one of those buttons where buttoned tight and not a hint of jewelry was seen.

Yet when my 22 year old self wore this outfit, I felt on top of the world. I thought for sure a few of the more good looking guys (way out of my league) would notice me. I thought for sure Mr. Gothard would think I looked professional and would ask me to do something important. Of course there was the issue of random people’s hair staticly clinging to the skirt’s hem as I trailed the red carpets, and the fact that the blouse button third from the bottom would never stay buttoned, but by golly, this was the outfit that was going to change the world for me.

After wearing it two days every week for several months, I found it did nothing for me, except keep me company while I answered the switchboard in the huge, lonely front lobby.

I wore this outfit the day Mr. Gothard (for some weird and rare reason) walked through the front door. I stood, smiled, walked around the desk and shook his hand. He smiled then pointed to the ceiling. “Who’s responsibility is it to change the light bulbs?” he asked. When I answered that I had no idea, he told me to investigate. So much for an important job.

I wore this outfit the day I said good-bye to a “young man” I thought might be “the one”. Well, turns out he wasn’t. So much for snagging a man in it. (P.S. As nice as he was, I’m glad he wasn’t the one. I rather like the one I caught with my t-shirt and denim skirt.)

I kept this skirt and blouse in my closet for several years, even after pregnancies changed my body enough to never fit it again. I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought just looking at it every time I opened the closet door would make me skinny and sexy all over again.

Let me tell you though, if being skinny and sexy means going back to ill fitting navy and white, then I yell for all to hear, “Bring on the fat jeans and mommy shirts!”