Already Home

A few days ago I received a well-meaning message from an old friend, claiming they had a missive from god: Come Home. After some time in reflection, this was my response.

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Hey There,

I’ve spent the last couple of days contemplating how to respond. I don’t think you are a weirdo, I don’t think this message is bizarre. This is precisely the kind of thing I used to think or do, with regret now. It is, however, not something I would have expected from you. So I find myself feeling a deep sense of hurt and disappointment.

To be quite honest I am more Home than I have ever been. There is nothing that would entice me to return to a “father” who is alternately as penal and neglectful as he is attentive and loving. My “family” is no longer hyper critical, judgmental or emotionally manipulative in the name of god. I have found a home in people who love me for who I am right now without attempting to impose their moral code onto my life. And I am more free, more happy, more at peace than I ever was inside of Christianity; something you would have discovered for yourself had you taken the time to catch up and engage with me BEFORE delivering your arbitrary judgment. (I know it was not intended as a judgment but you cannot deny it is implicit in the message.)

I know you have the best intentions in reaching out and it is nice to know you thought of me. But I am afraid your words did not have the intended effect of enticement back to Christianity. In fact they had the opposite effect of further pain inflicted in the name of your so-called-god. And because I no longer believe in god, I’m left with the disappointment of holding you responsible for your actions. I can’t just blame “him” or hope you misheard.

I would love to continue this dialogue, to make you dinner and talk on it. I know you have good intentions and it’s your heart to love people. I’d like to try to explain why this feels less than loving.

Hope y’all are well. Stay safe out there.

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I come from a charismatic evangelical background where “words” of this nature were commonplace. I was known to give them as often as I received them. Some of those occurrences appeared to have eerie timing that fit my circumstances exactly when I felt I needed my certainty reinforced. Some of them are even documented in the archives of this blog. You may ask how I reconcile those seemingly “supernatural” experiences now?

For a while I didn’t know how to fit old stories into my current beliefs. I didn’t know how to make sense of “words of knowledge” or “prophecies” or the like. But, as is the case with so many things, the passage of time brings clarity. I now recognize the sensations of “discernment” as truly hyper-toned perception, awareness and intuition. The ability to “discern” things about people around me has actually played a large role in making me a great massage therapist. I’m repurposing those human skills of intuition that were once used to make moral judgments, channeling them now with empathy for the benefit of my friends, clients and perhaps most importantly, myself. The super-spirituality that once gave me traction in religious circles turned out to be a skill set I’m grateful for now that I can pair it with self-awareness and critical thinking. As it turns out I can trust in myself and lean on my own understanding. I was doing it all along!

Naturally this changes how I receive so-called “prophetic words,” post-Christianity. I see them for what they are: emotional manipulation on an expert level. The empath in me recognizes that manipulation is not the intent, but that does not negate that it is often the result, and the results are what matter. In the case of the message from my old friend I recognize the disappointment ontheir part that I have left the faith and the earnest hope that I will return to their interpretation of the truth. I sense their sadness over the “state of my soul.” But I no longer feel responsible to mitigate those negative emotions for them. I am sad that implied expectations will necessarily change the way we relate to one another going forward. My boundaries do not permit these type of interactions to persist.

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So, for anyone else who may be considering sending that “word” my way, I hope it’s clear you’d be better off keeping your thoughts and prayers to yourself. If the display of my life now grieves you too deeply, allow me to invite you to unfollow or unfriend me on social media. I promise I won’t even notice.

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Scars of Hope

Hope scarred me.

I was scrolling a worship leaders Instagram account tonight and saw a post where he was pleading his followers prayers for a little boy. He was “speaking life” over this child whose kidneys are failing. I clicked away to a post where another worship artist spoke confidently of this child’s healing. She said they would rest and let god work.

I hope the boy recovers. Truly, I do.

But I don’t hope for it the way I used to. I remembered tonight the way I used to hope. I would pray with a certainty that left me soaring in confidence that god would act. That full restoration would come. I would pray with certainty but also desperation as though the doors of heaven required my pounding. That kind of prayer, that kind of hope, always made my stomach drop.

For a brief moment tonight that feeling visited me. I’m often slow to recognize a flashback when I have one. As I began writing this narrative I felt myself drifting out of my body, dissociating, staring at my hands like they are some kind of alien life form. I’m writing to stay grounded.

My middle name is Hope. It’s something I have struggled to own for many years of my life. I often find myself hoping against my better judgment. I’m a romantic, an optimist, I want things to work out. The strain of charismatic evangelicalism I was a part of for over 20 years cultivated that propensity toward hope to an extreme. I would pray and focus and meditate on certain outcomes: healings, relationships restored, salvation for others, destruction of others, financial gains, demonic exorcisms… and in these prayers there was no room for doubt. As a woman my examples were Hannah, pray with persistence, Rachel, give me what I ask lest I die, Mary, let it be unto me as you will. For some things I prayed for years, faithfully.

If ever those prayers and hopes were not fulfilled my focus always turned inward. If I was not to blame for gods inaction then what was I to learn? What grand lesson would he teach me that I would be compelled to share with others as a consolation prize for their shattered hearts?

It felt false. But I had to believe. I despised anything and anyone that felt false, so to compensate for that I put my heart and soul in to believing. There was no choice. This was the only truth. I was in too deep.

There was no space for grief or pain when you were perpetually hoping and desperately praying for miraculous healing from negative and non-Christian emotions. Grief was only allowed when grieving for lost souls. Pain was only allowed when identifying with Christ on the cross. Resurrection already occurred and that was the goal. There was an unspoken 3 day limit on any kind of sorrow. You don’t need medication. Come out of the tomb. He is risen and what kind of witness are you if you haven’t? It doesn’t matter if it’s true. Come out and testify and our praise will make it feel true. It worked. Until it didn’t anymore.

It wasn’t until after I left the cult that the veil of certainty began to unravel. For the first time my prayers became self-focused. I begged god for healing for my heart and mind that were ravaged by Complex Post Traumatic Stress. My symptoms were largely held at bay by the regimented prayer routines I followed for decades. I allowed myself to grieve. I faced and embraced the pain I’d piously held off. I worked, hard, to heal. And I prayed. Still. Desperately, for the pain to cease. I prayed when I woke up covered in sweat from nightmares of horrors I was loathe to remember. I prayed when panic threatened to drown me. When I couldn’t face it any longer on my own I reached out to friends and asked them to pray, privately. I told a friend that I was clinging to god with every shred of hope in my body.

After over 2 years post-cult that pain was still raw. There’s a Proverb that says hope deferred makes the heart sick. I was hoping for healing as my heart sank into depression I tried to ignore. I dragged myself out of bed one February night and stood in the rain to attend a worship night with the aforementioned leaders. I watched them pray over members of the audience. I heard stories of supposed healings that took place that night. I felt hope and disappointment at war within me. I was tired of fighting for my healing when others were handed theirs on a platter. The veil was tearing from the bottom up. Within 6 months I left for L’abri as a final attempt to repair the damage done.

Nine months later I prayed for the last time to that god I’d given everything to. And I felt a weight thrown off. Instead of always feeling as though I was falling short of the glory of god by not grasping the healing promised, I accepted my pain for what it was. I stopped hoping it would go away by some miracle and then I made tangible strides in healing. I began telling my story instead of covering it over with sticky sweet hopeful platitudes meant to convert the unfaithful.

These days I’m much more practical about the things I hope for. If someone I care for is sick, I hope for the best outcome but I also prepare myself for the worst and plan ways to be present for the people who will need support the most. I will not be the person who “speaks life”… I will be the person who asks if you are sad or scared and holds you while we cry.

It’s been two years since I stopped praying. In the time since I’ve learned that prayer requests can be replaced by vulnerability. Telling your friends you are struggling and asking for their support is so much more difficult than asking for prayer ever was. And I’ve grown so much from learning to do it. Having my friend reach for my hand and cry for me when I didn’t even have tears was more meaningful than the most earnest prayer offered on my behalf.

I’m learning to hope again. It’s hard for me to admit I want something I have no control over bringing to bear. Hope was hollow for me for so long that I’m skittish of getting close to it. But if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that I can survive the deepest heartbreak and learn to live well again. I may no longer be able to pray but hope…

Hope is still my middle name. And it will never be cliche for me.

A Manifesto from Myself

I wrote this letter to myself a year ago. I’d completely forgotten it in an old mostly used up spiral notebook that still has notes in it from high school. I came across it a few days ago and it left me breathless and bolstered. If you need a little bolstering, this is for you, too. 

Oh, Hey Love.

A year from now you won’t recognize yourself. This year will be one of wild unencumberment. You are going to let go of so many things you never knew you didn’t need. You will learn how to stop praying and worry will disappear from your life. You will learn that you don’t need many material things to be happy. You just need people where mutual love is deep. You will let go of the god you have always known and dive into the deep unknown. You will learn how to stop treading water, float, and trust whatever current is carrying you. Because that which is beautiful is often trustworthy.

You will let go of your dreams for marriage and family and learn things about your own sexuality that make your whole life make sense. Don’t fight it. You know how fluid these dreams can be. Even if they leave, they may one day come back to you reimagined in beauty that takes your breath away.

You will watch your plans vanish and it will be the most freeing feeling. For the first time in your life you believe that you can go anywhere and do anything. You are surrounded by people who believe in you. They will make you know that you are worthy. Their love will give you wings to pursue your wildest dreams.

You will lose your hair. Not from stress this time. By choice, taken into your own hands and removed bit by bit. It will be a slow letting go of who you used to be and the dreams you used to have. Others will help you celebrate this transformation. In the absence of your lifelong security blanket you will grow secure in the fact that you are loved for who you are, not for any outward feature.

You will let go of your home, of the city you once called your own. You will know that the place that sheltered you for a time has edged you out of the nest. It will never feel the same again and you wouldn’t want it to. You’ve outgrown Baton Rouge, and it’s okay.

You will learn how to stand on your own but also how to reach out for help when you need it. You will need help. It’s okay. Reach your hand forward. But also reach it back and to either side for those friends who will need your support as much as you need theirs.

This year will be one of as many heartaches as triumphs, often precipitated by the same events. Lean in. Find the joy. Because it’s there. In abundant measures that will propel you forward.

You will become so much more yourself. And baby, you will shine.

GradSmile

The day that I graduated from Massage Therapy school

A Time to Keep Silence

I’m not sure if the news on racial divides these days is really worse than it was before, or if I’m just paying more attention because it’s happening in my hometown. It’s possible that I just can’t ignore it now because my newsfeed is full of it. I’m ashamed to admit having publicly ignored it before. Beginning with Ferguson, whenever #blacklivesmatter, #bluelivesmatter and #alllivesmatter came across my newsfeed during the last couple of years I just went on a facebook hiding spree of those I found particularly distasteful (sometimes outright racist), hit the “like” button on a few posts or articles I “supported” and moved on. I didn’t want to engage. The thought of posting something of my own and having to talk to someone I disagreed with was too overwhelming. If you are not already aware, this is a prime example of my own white privilege.

But this time… this time it was too close to home. I returned to Baton Rouge after 10 months out of the country on the day Alton Sterling was executed. I sat in front of the television most of the day, tears streaming down my face during every news break. I wept, and I watched as my Facebook newsfeed filled with passion and compassion from friends and writers all over the country… I decided to “like” and “share” without thought to who may disagree. The time for me to keep silent has come to an end. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help noticing that many of my Baton Rouge friends, both black and white, remained silent on the front of racial reconciliation. I engaged with more friends out of state than I did here. And I was so encouraged to see others, like myself, who’d previously been quiet come out in public support of Black Lives. I started a screenshot collection of their posts. I desperately wanted to see a silver lining.

But yesterday morning, something changed. At first, all I saw were postings of news reports on more violence and the deaths of Baton Rouge Police Officers. If I’m being honest, I fought numbness and forced myself to face the sadness of continued loss of life. I’ve grown weary of tragedy. But as the day progressed and I refreshed my newsfeed, I didn’t just feel sad. I started to get angry. People who have been largely silent in the face of tragedies the past few weeks suddenly found their voice, railing against “these people” in all caps. I saw profile pictures light up with blue flames and blue lines, one after another. I was reminded I had facebook connections I’d honestly forgotten were there, it’d been so long since they posted anything. I was annoyed at the convenience of their grief. How is it that they have only just had their hearts broken enough to publicly lament? How have they escaped this tearing, this wound, inflicted by injustice upon injustice, the kind that feels like torture, intended to make you scream?

Rumi-On-Silence

In my disillusionment I briefly entertained the notion of deleting the facebook app from my phone and disengaging, just to curb my growing annoyance at people I otherwise know to be kind and reasonable. But then, among the local support from the silent ones I began to see support and prayers for Baton Rouge from my friends around the country, the same ones who’ve been defending black lives with vigor. I was reminded by them that standing for justice and fighting for love is not something we do only when it is convenient to our pet causes. Lament is worthy of being heard no matter where it’s coming from.

I have to confess that the most telling silence the last few weeks has been that of my black friends here in Baton Rouge. And I know because I’ve checked their pages just to be sure I haven’t missed something. Some of them are people I have had painful, halting conversations with about exactly how it’s different to grow up as a black American – particularly in the South. They are the ones who made my blind eyes see colors as they truly are, not how I wish them to be. And while the rest of the country seems in an uproar over the things taking place in our hometown, they grieve quietly. I know, because I’ve reached out to a few of them. While I want to wail, rend my garments and scream, I watch their eyes fill but refuse to spill, demonstrating a strength that comes from years of practice I have no concept of. I echo their fears. I want to say, “This isn’t my Baton Rouge. This isn’t my city.” But when I listen to them I know that isn’t true. This has been my city for years. I just didn’t want to see it.

I was talking to a black friend last week who said she wants to do something to bring change. Talking doesn’t seem to make enough of a difference. I told her that her story can make a difference. That people like me desperately need to hear voices like hers. I told her about my screenshot collection. I told her that her voice matters. She looked back at my tear filled eyes and said, “Bekah, how are you going to tell me my voice matters when my life doesn’t even matter?”

I felt my heart crack and later, it shattered. What could I say? I could tell her that her life matters, to me. I could start there. I could use my voice of privilege to try to make others see how much her life matters. But it doesn’t seem like enough. I alone cannot make her believe a truth she has seen disputed in the blood of her brothers all her life. That night, I sobbed in the arms of my father over the injustice. Coming to believe I have a voice worth hearing has been one of the most affirming experiences of my life. Knowing that she is unable to believe the same simply because her skin is a different color, broke me. It isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be that way. I want it to be different.

For my black friends I understand if now is a time to keep silence. I understand if the weight is too much. This is a grief you cannot count on all of humanity to share. I wish you could. Like Job, perhaps you must sit in silence. I want to sit with you. But, I want to learn better from the friends of Job. If you will permit me, I will lament for you… And when your time of silence is past, I will do whatever I can to be sure your voice is heard. Because your life matters.

But so does your voice.

 

Love That Will Not Let Me Go

11254053_10153406434689261_7435853901037485899_nThe view from my balcony at Chalet Bellevue

When you come to L’Abri there are 4 questions you’ll have to answer over and over:

  • Where are you from?
  • How did you hear about L’Abri?
  • How long will you be here?
  • Why are you here?

The first few are fairly innocuous, but you find out very quickly that there is an expectation of honesty if not outright vulnerability in your response to the latter. It’s rarely one-sided, and it feels safer to speak the truth when you’re not the only one doing it.

After 11 weeks here my response to the last question is well rehearsed. I spent nearly 10 years in a christian cult which I left 3 years ago. I may have prettied up my reasons for coming here in previous writing, but the truth is that I came to L’Abri to immerse myself in community after being alienated from it for several years; to intentionally learn to live with people again and prove to myself that they are safe. I wanted to find a sure foundation to stand on. Those goals are being met, but it doesn’t look the way I thought it would.

Sharing my reason for being here dozens of times has made me reflect a lot on my time with Oikos Ministries. I didn’t see it as a cult until my friends started to leave, 6 months after I did. One of them googled the word and the similarities to our church were eerie. No one wants to believe themselves or their friends and family are deluded enough to be in a cult.

It was the habit of the “apostles” to cyber-stalk people who left the church, looking for clues of their demise. The struggles they confessed in pastoral counseling were made public and any misfortune they experienced subsequently was credited to the fact that they walked away from Jesus; walked away from us, because we represented Jesus in the earth. Tongues were clicked when families experienced trial or tragedy, people divorced or jobs were lost. We shook our heads and said, “That’s what happens…” the implication being that your life would implode when you left our church, when you left the truth.

This practice made me supremely uncomfortable and increasingly mistrusting. I knew that my own online presence was under scrutiny. I analyzed everything I posted from 10 different angles before putting it online, so fearful of a confrontation. When the final confrontation came I expressed to the “apostles” my discomfort with how the stories of those who left were handled. I was told, “If they leave the church, they’re fair game*.” When I confessed that I didn’t feel I could trust them I was summarily dismissed and they moved on to address my sister.

I didn’t leave for another 2 months after that. I was so afraid of losing my family, all of my friends, my apartment with my sister. I was afraid of being struck down by the disciplinary hand of God. I’d seen families torn apart because the loyalty in them was split between church leaders and one another. I didn’t want to take anyone down with me and see my own family destroyed. So I walked out as quietly as I could, holding my breath and waiting for things to blow up in my face.

But they didn’t. At least not for several more months and by that time the explosions were controlled and deliberate. I got my own apartment for the first time. I got a promotion and a raise in my job. I was flourishing in every external way. Inside, I was falling apart and having a massive identity crisis. Nevertheless, I did not fulfill all of the prophecies of destruction spoken over dissenters. I still haven’t.

I’m sure my old church members would read this and think I’ve gone soft, cruising my way along the wide path of love and grace. They might have a point, but I don’t take it as an insult. I am softer.

Finding freedom for me was like walking on ice. With each careful step I let go of legalistic rules about daily bible reading, drinking alcohol, cussing, going to church every Sunday, “regular fellowship”. Is it any wonder that as I unburdened myself of these heavy things I found my weight on the ice still supported?

I thought by coming to L’Abri I would somehow find greater ease in restoring the so-called “Christian disciplines” to my life and thereby experience the love of God to a greater degree, one that is acceptable to all my Christian friends. But love does not come through rules. Love comes from people. The christian cult I was in taught that Gods love is conditional. My experience of His love proved otherwise quite some time ago but it is difficult to make my heart believe.

Here at L’Abri I have encountered love that is not contingent on conditions of success or failure. No one cares what my job was. I can’t earn my way into affections through favors or exchange. This love is not trying to correct my behavior or my theology. It isn’t concerned by the things I believe or scared of the stories I tell. This love sits next to me when I ask pain-filled questions that have no easy answers. It cries the tears I can’t and tells me I am loved until I start to believe it. This love shows me my worth and makes no demands.

Love that does not want to change me, has changed me forever.

In learning to be loved, I am set free to love others in the same way, without condition. My heart is opening up. There’s nothing I can do to stop it, and I don’t want to try.

I plan to spend another term at L’Abri next year. I want to study theodicy and keep asking questions about the nature of God. But when I return home for a few weeks this December, and even when I eventually leave L’Abri on a more permanent basis, it will be with the assurance of a love that has been made real through people – tangibly. Love that isn’t composed of fancy lighting, moving music, an emotional altar call and warm fuzzies. It’s real in shared wine and long conversations, freshly baked bread, kitchen crew choruses, cups of tea and mountain views, touch without fear, tears shed and belly laughs.

This is love that will not let me go. Not ever.

Oh love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe that in thine ocean depths it’s flow, may richer, fuller be.

Oh joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.

* I have a witness to this statement.

A Lesson from Pain

I have a blister on my toe right now from a 10 mile hike I did with my sister on Sunday. Instead of rapidly improving, as I’ve always known blisters to do, it’s gotten infected. The day ended with me limping around pathetically and making a drug store run for pain relieving antibiotic ointment and band-aids.

And I’m here to tell you that hormones are a b*tch, because as I was getting ready to apply the band-aid to my ailing toe, I suddenly started crying like a little child, just because it hurt. So, naturally, what did I do? Feeling silly, I called my Poppie to cry and laugh at me with me. Being the good natured man he is, he chuckled a bit, but soothingly told me it was a perfectly good excuse to cry. He told me to put the phone to my toe so he could “kiss it” and make it better (he’s kinda cute, eh?). We joked for a bit about Rachel Fisters Blister, a favorite childrens book of ours from times past. 

I commented to a friend tonight how ridiculous it is that all my attention is focused on this toe. We noted that it’s odd how pain does that. It begs for all of our attention. My pain tolerance is particularly low, so if I’m experiencing pain to any degree not only will it demand my attention, but usually the attention of everyone around me. I’m a wimp.

But you know what? My Heavenly Father knows that I’m a wimp. And He still loves me. So often when pain is nagging at me to pay attention I don’t run to Him. I don’t want to bother Him with my stuff. I try to tough it out. But the thing is… He taught my Poppie how to be a good Poppie. If my Poppie wants to hug me and comfort me over a little hurt toe, how much more will my Heavenly Father embrace me when I’m hurting? He won’t scold me or call me foolish. There’s even a chance He allowed the pain to propel me to Him. He will provide a safe place to cry, and soothing words that heal a ruffled soul, even if they don’t anesthetize the pain.

I needed to remember that tonight. Whether I have a wounded toe or a wounded heart, His arms are always open. They’re open for you, too, dearheart. Run to Him.

Skinny Dipping in the Deep

When I said “Yes” to Naked, I didn’t have a clue where it would lead me. I knew there was much that I wanted to explore, uncover and discover. I thought I would capitalize on every form of metaphorical nakedness: emotional, spiritual, relational. Maybe that those areas would somehow leak over into the physical, boosting my confidence. I did learn a lot about nakedness in the intangible sense this year. But from the very onset God surprised me, unmistakingly leading me down avenues I never would’ve imagined for myself. In the last year my mind has been renewed and my life transformed by the truth that God calls the physical body “good.” I am forever changed, so much so that I want to write a book about my experiences, testifying to the healing and freedom that I’ve found. A few blog posts wouldn’t do it justice.

One of the more surprising things I’ve learned this year is that pornography (defined as a depiction of the sex act or obscene drawings or photographs) is not synonymous with nakedness/nudity. After extensive bible study I have found that the Lord only ever calls His created image good. His people ascribe all sorts of slanderous words and deeds to the body. But He, Himself says that it is good, a fact which never changed after the fall. And His is the perspective that I long for and want to live according to.

I think it’s tragic that the image of God has become a villain that we fight against and refuse to see. We need redemption. 

The Lord has brought some incredible people into my life from all different faith backgrounds who have come to see the same truth about the image of God. They love Him with all of their hearts, minds, and bodies, without shame. I am not alone in this, His spirit has been revealing the same truth to many and I’ve had the privilege to meet and talk with a few of them. They have helped me understand that the gospel, the good news, is even in this. We don’t have a list of do’s and don’ts or rules to follow. According to His word we have radical freedom to see His image in one another. And that’s something I can be passionate about.

At the beginning of the year I made a list of goals, things I wanted to do as part of the Year of Naked. I challenged myself to pray naked in front of the mirror, join a small group, answer honestly when someone asks how I’m doing, get a massage, visit an art museum and let the human form awe me instead of looking away. I did all of those things, and more. The list isn’t finished. There’s room for more things to be added and more to be crossed off. The Year of Naked may be over but I’m not sure I’ll ever be finished with the word.

So if you find me changed by this year, you’d be right. If I seem a little bit defensive of these truths, bear with me. Because I’m not just telling you about something I’ve thought a lot about. I’m not just running a theory by you. I’ve learned the truth about the body in the fires of experience, and the healing blood of Jesus has redeemed it all for good.

WaterstoSwim

When I waded into these waters, I swore I’d only get my feet wet. But before I knew it the water was to my knees, to my waist, and then I was skinny dipping in the deep. It wasn’t a river to be crossed once and then left behind. It was a sea, one that I’m meant to live by. And just like the water in Ezekial 47, it brings life to everything it touches.

Naked wasn’t just a word. It was a baptism.