Friday, November 22, 2013

What I Learned From a College Athlete

I remember the first time I heard the statement. Coming from a young man so alive, caring and entertaining. But a man of few (if any) words when it came to talking about his sport, his accomplishments, his abilities. At game time, he simply said, “Time to represent.”

Sure…it was time to represent his school in the game. But, I knew he meant so much more by the statement.

Each time he experienced success on the field, he immediately shifted the spotlight to the One who had given him the opportunity and ability to play. Each failure he experienced on the field, he took and quietly dealt with…trying to discern the purpose for it in God’s bigger picture for his life. He brought “humility” to life for me.

When he said those 3 words, I knew he was representing more than his school to the thousands of fans watching.

Recently, I’ve become keenly aware of the lesson he modeled for me. And how painfully short I fall of following his example.


Something has been eating at me for months.

Several years ago, my church was exploring the possibilities of relocating and building a new facility. I remember there being a lot of discussion about which part of town we should choose. Many felt we should move to the heart of the new development in town. Some suggested moving near the major highway running through town. Some mentioned that we should choose a spot with a high elevation…making the church visible to the town. Most agreed that we needed to establish a presence in the community with our new facility. Our visibility was central to most of the discussions.

We built the 15+million dollar building on a high point in the city and attached a gigantic steeple in a special steeple-raising ceremony. Church members arranged their lawn chairs on the church grounds for a front row view as a crane lifted the steeple into place. The job was massive…taking nearly all day. The local TV station was present for coverage of the ceremony. The congregation was joyful.

The steeple…highly visible…allowing the church to be easily spotted by those who were searching…making an unspoken statement to the city that God and His people were alive and well…drawing the eye heavenward.

The steeple. Representing our faith to the community.


Fast forward 7 years. I can say without a doubt, we accomplished our goal of visibility.

I see the steeple when I pull out of my driveway each morning. I see it from the school parking lot while I wait for my son every afternoon. I see it when I walk to my car after shopping. I see it from the highway. It seems to be “in my face” all the time.

The irony.

It serves as a constant reminder of brokenness, hurt, deception. Not exactly what we had in mind.

At the steeple-raising ceremony, one of the ministers was interviewed and this is what he said:

"This is marking a very significant time for us and setting the steeple on this new facility puts the finishing touches on the outside of the building when we've got a lot of work still to do inside.”

I doubt he realized how much truth there was in his statement.


So I’ve been thinking of the young college athlete.

Few words.

No pomp.

“Reppin” with his actions.

I prefer his way of representing…over the steeple.




Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gaining A Perspective vs. Regaining A Perspective

Nearly one year ago, I sat completely broken before the pastor. The events of the previous year had taken a devastating toll on the families of several of our ministers who had been publically slandered and accused, threatened into silence and forced out. And now it was taking a serious toll on my own family as we watched their pain…helpless to change the momentum started by a few, but fueled by the apathy of many.

The pastor asked me a direct question. “What do you want to see happen?” I felt it was a straightforward and fair question. My answer went something like this: “The men who publically spoke the untruths about these ministers to groups of Sunday School classes need to be held accountable for the hurt they have caused these families. They spoke the untruths publically, so someone in leadership needs to publically address the situation with the congregation and separate the truth from the fiction. Someone needs to put these rumors to rest and restore the reputations of these ministers. We need to apologize, as a church, to these families.”

I’ll never forget his response. He said that what I had just described could never happen because “this church does not have the organizational capacity”. I sat stunned. What do you mean? I asked him to clarify more than once. I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I reacted with tears…anger…hurt…disbelief. In an attempt to help the words penetrate my resistance, he just kept saying slowly and clearly over and over, “Listen to me…this church does not have the organizational capacity to look at this situation and do what you are suggesting.” I kept saying, “No. This church has the capacity to do whatever it wants to do. It may choose not to make this right, but it’s not because it can’t…it’s because it won’t.” He mentioned in that conversation that the church had “violated its own values” in its actions the previous year, but still insisted that the church was not capable of addressing the hurt and slander in the transparent way I was suggesting. I remember looking at my husband at that point and saying, in tears, “Here we go again.” We had been through this before and I knew where I was headed with the refusal of the church to acknowledge the truth about what had transpired and address the hurts it had caused and allowed. Disillusionment…I was on my way.

My mind was racing. How could we…the congregation I loved and trusted…claim that we did not have the organizational capacity to act in a Biblical manner? What the heck was organizational capacity anyway? More religious jargon…more veiled church speak.

Then, the pastor addressed my broken state. He expressed his concern for my wellbeing, my marriage and my family. He suggested that sometimes we need to step back from a situation in order to regain our perspective. He recommended that I step back from the church for a bit until I could regain my perspective. I believed he was suggesting this action out of genuine concern for me and I knew I needed to heed the advice.

Looking back, I find it interesting that he (and several others) suggested that I step back from the church or find another place to worship…for my wellbeing…rather than addressing the problem at that church openly and honestly with the congregation and working toward reconciliation. I wonder if they were hoping that I would step back, regain a perspective that was more in line with theirs and then return as a compliant sister? Or were they hoping I would simply step back and take my female emotional mess somewhere else?

I did exactly as he instructed and stepped back from church. In the months since, I’ve walked through some dark days of questioning and doubts. And I’ve gained a new perspective rather than regaining my perspective. They are two very different things.

Let me be honest. I can be pretty sarcastic, but I want to be clear here. I mean this without even a hint of sarcasm. Even though I didn’t necessarily agree with his rationale, I am truly grateful for the pastor’s advice/permission to step back and give myself some time. I’m seeing the world from  a whole new perspective and it’s slowly completing the picture of faith in God for me. I’m seeing the positives, as well as, the negatives of the way I’ve “done church” for so many years. I doubt I could have ever gained this larger perspective without taking his advice.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Silence Hurts

There are a couple of things I’ve always hated. Darkness and nighttime. As far back as I can remember, I’ve dreaded dusk. I dread the fall when the days get shorter. I don’t like cloudy days. I don’t like dark home interiors. I want lots of light, lots of windows and lots of white…all the time. Just ask my friends who are perplexed by my decision to have a mostly white home with a family full of boys.

A couple of days ago, I ran some errands in town. The weather was miserable…wet, cloudy and slightly chilly. As I was driving, I suddenly realized that I didn’t feel as down as I normally do on dreary days. In fact, I felt pretty comfortable. Then I began to realize that something else was different. I wasn’t feeling the nausea and anxiety I’ve felt too often over the last two years. I had an “Aha Moment”, as Oprah would say. “Oh my gosh! This is how normal people feel nearly every day.” All day long, I mulled it over in my head. What has changed?

The next day a friend shared a video with me and it all began to click.

I hope you’ll take the time to watch it even if it’s uncomfortable. Ash Beckham’s point about our closets (however different they may be) and the stress of remaining in the closet spoke deeply to me.

Ash Beckham

Ironically, I think “my closet” has been silence itself. For a lot of my life, I’ve been mostly silent about the pain and doubts I’ve experienced. At times I’ve remained silent out of fear. Sometimes out of embarrassment. Sometimes out of the desire to prevent others the pain I knew they would have to confront if I spoke. Sometimes out of my longing to appear normal. And other times I’ve been intimidated or guilt-tripped into remaining silent.

The last two years have been some of the most painful I’ve experienced. The pain has been amplified by the fact that the hurt took place, once again, inside what I believed to be a safe haven…the church. The deception, the apathy, the abuse of power, the lack of grace, the secrecy…it all became too much.

Unfortunately, my experience over the last 21 months convinced me (again) that we have created a culture of “appropriate” sharing in the church. Some things are appropriate to share, others are not. And the truth becomes extremely inconvenient if it doesn’t fall heavily in the “appropriate” category.

The video hits home:

“All the closet is is a hard conversation.”

“Coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary and we hate it and it needs to be done.”

“In our lives, we all live in closets and they may feel safe…or at least safer than what lies on the other side of that door. No matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live.”

“If you’re going to be real with someone, you’ve got to be ready for real in return.”

“If you want someone to be real with you, they need to know that you bleed too.”

Here’s the part that I KNOW FOR SURE:

“Not having those hard conversations can go on for years and your body just can’t handle that. Chronic exposure to adrenaline and cortisol (stress) disrupt almost every system in your body and can lead to anxiety, depression, heart disease…just to name a few. When you do not have hard conversations, when you keep the truth about yourself a secret, you are essentially holding a grenade.”

Over the last 21 months, I spiraled slowly into depression as I wrestled with the “appropriateness” of remaining silent and the “divisiveness” I was told I would cause if I broke the silence. I was holding the grenade. My days began to look different. I barely slept and the church trauma was already on my mind when I opened my eyes each morning. There was no relief. My body began to rebel. I gained 20 pounds yet felt nauseous nearly all day every day. My heart raced and I sweated through my clothes at the mention of the church or at the sight of the building. I had a flare up of back pain that lasted for 8 months and became so intense that I resorted to physical therapy. I wrestled with the diagnosis of IBS. I slowly stopped meeting friends for lunch or attending parties and weddings. I rarely left the house except to go to work or grocery shop for my family. I was sad…deeply sad…most of the time. At one point, I confided to my husband that I was so emotionally and physically tired that I was struggling just to get out of bed and make it through the day. I began to understand why some people can no longer find the strength to live with the pain. This was terrifying to me, but I was too exhausted to worry about it. I was numb. My love for my family and my resolve to stand by those being hurt by the church kept me hanging on. And my belief that God would somehow help me through gave me just enough strength to muddle through the darkest days. Day after day, I watched as ministers’ families were being slowly devoured by a church culture that valued preserving the image of our church in the community over speaking the truth about problems and attempting to reconcile. I so desperately wanted to stop the momentum and prevent the damage, but there was no stopping the train. I watched it bulldoze right on through leaving destruction as far as I could see. I wondered if I would ever feel normal again…if I would ever experience joy again…if I would ever be able to shed my coat of cynicism and anger…if I would ever trust again.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting this week. I realized that not only do I feel differently about the cloudy weather, I have also begun recently to turn the lights down low in the evenings and enjoy some candlelight rather than keeping every light in the house on until bedtime. In addition to my favorite white interiors, my pinterest boards are filling up with pictures of dark cocoon-like interiors of steel grey, natural wood and black trim. Friends are stopping by more often and I’m enjoying their company. Why? What’s changed?

I think it’s this: I’ve broken the silence. I’ve “risked the ocean” and found grace. I’ve been to the depths of depression and  survived…by finding a voice. I came out of the closet of silence. I spoke about my hurts and doubts. I confronted the darkness. Some people discouraged it and some questioned the appropriateness of writing about such things on a blog. “Putting that out there isn’t  going to change anything or fix anything. It won’t make you feel any better.” I was afraid they were right, but it was something I felt I had to do. For me. For others who are still living in the closet of silence and trying to find the courage to step out. Writing has been a purging of sorts. And it feels scary, but good. It feels so much better on “paper” than trapped inside slowly devouring me from the inside out.

Although the pain is still present, I’m beginning to feel a gratefulness for the sifting that has taken place in my life. I’m no longer quite as worried about what others think of me. There was a pivotal moment 21 months ago when I chose to step out of the closet of silence despite the consequences. It was a bit unnerving…knowing that some relationships would probably never be the same again. Knowing that some would disapprove of my actions and question my character. The beauty has been the flip-side: The relationships that weathered the storm and finally broke through the wall I’ve built over the years to protect myself from further hurt. The sense of self respect I gained from doing the hard thing and having the hard conversations. The ability to ask questions about my faith…openly, honestly and without embarrassment or guilt. The friends who were not scared off by the real me.

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