To Make It Real

In order to better see where I’m going, I find it helpful to remember where I’ve been. January has been such a month of remembering for me. I’m always in awe at God’s merciful grace during a rather graceless season in my life; a season where I came THIS close to throwing it all in and calling it a day. –

I can remember feeling hopelessly alone and forsaken of God. I felt disillusioned, disgusted, and disappointed in everything – only to find out that my hope had been placed not on the one who tore the curtain (Matthew 27:51), but rather the ones who hide behind them. I had learned far too much, far to quickly and as disheartened as I was by that, I was even more heartbroken to realize that I myself am no better. I looked great on the outside, but inside hid the bones of dead men.

The bones were those of the church. They belonged to the men (pastors) who would not let me join their churches when I was a child. It was in their denial of my requests that I built my walls of protection and sought to prove them wrong. In my anger and hurt, I’d built an altar in my heart to their approval. Every time the bones screamed out for attention and healing, I poured on a salve of sweetness and honey hoping to silence them.

Those bones rattled with a deafening noise that manifested itself in physical shaking and panic attacks. I suffered for years with pastor-phobia – especially if they were dressed all in black. As time went on, rather than face the bones and seek God’s healing hand, I found myself becoming disgusted by the very men I was terrified of and yet I continued on with my painted on smile and false kindness. I erroneously believed that it was these men that held the life blood of my salvation and when discovering that those that had disapproved of me all those years ago, lived no better lives than I, the holes in my heart filled with rage and the bones began to shake.

I had become a liar. You can’t really love or serve people you are afraid of, no matter how hard you try. I wanted to believe I was a nice person, full of mercy, love, kindness and grace but I had grown to hate the very people I felt called to serve. The paradox was killing me. The day finally came when I could not contain my pent-up rage and rather than be honest in it, I blew up on a sweet bystander.

It was then that I knew that I needed help.

Up until that point, I thought my motives to be pure and of God. I was a little off on that perception. It was really heartbreaking for me to discover that I hadn’t jumped into ministry to serve God, I’d gotten into ministry out of my own selfish need. I needed to belong. I needed to prove “them” wrong. To me, the little girl no church would allow to join, being a paid staff member in a church was like winning the lottery. I’m in! — Take that you hypocrites.

Never once did it occur to me that this was an issue of my heart and never theirs. Live as they may, rightfully or wrongfully; full of Grace or full of bones themselves, they are neither my problem nor my cure.

God silenced me for two years after I blew up in that church office. In that silence, he gave me music. In that music he taught me how to pray. In those two years he also gave me new friends, and a new hope in Him. A hope that doesn’t rely on anyones approval but his.

While I am no longer a paid church worker, I am today pursuing His will for my life and his heart in my soul. Once I opened the door to my internal tombs for his healing touch, I’ve found that he’s opened doors I never dreamed possible.

I’ve held several funerals for those bones over the years, and I’m sure there will be more. In the meantime, I’d like to share one of the people and the songs that pulled me through. — While my breakdown occurred in 2004, I actually had discovered The Gaithers back in the 90’s and fell in love with Mark Lowry. I’ve never met him and yet when the time was right – God used his voice (among many others) to speak to my heart.

This particular song was actually written by one of Bill Gaither’s daughter’s. It say’s a lot. Enjoy.

“I’ve seen a lot of crazy things done in your name. I know the tricks behind the magic show.  I’ve almost thrown the towel in a time or two and walked away from everything I know….”

What if the pastor doesn’t like me? Can I still join?

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14

 

I am a member today of a Lutheran Church in Oklahoma, very much a Christian and very much forgiven and beloved of God, but you know I didn’t always belong to a church.

Confession: I used to believe if the pastor didn’t like me, he (or she) wouldn’t let me belong to their church.

For you life long, church going, Christians out there, that probably comes as a shock. Shock or not, I really did believe that and acted accordingly. This false belief creates a serious dilemma. I want to be part of a faith community and this one man (or woman depending) stands (I believe) as a spokesperson for God; I’m going to have to perform and dance and lie through my teeth if I want to stay here. Not much different really than what I believed about God back then but I am ahead of myself.

My desire to belong mixed with the possibility of rejection, created a fear within me that was so strong that the presence of a pastor made my body shake.  And if they were wearing a death suit? (Black shirt and collar) I would hyperventilate. Nice hunh? yeah, I was a mess and a half. They call that idolatry – placing things or people in higher regard than God, but I didn’t know that. I just thought those were the rules. You are either in or you are out.

I used to try and hide my shaking by placing my right hand on the wall and my left hand on my hip. But then my knees would start to give and ….

To put it another way, my attempts to keep from falling off the planet, made me look like Mae West.

My physical shaking did not stop until about six years ago when I buried ten friends in twelve months. I was so devastated by my personal losses that I no longer cared if any of them liked me or not. They could all hang from a tree as far as I was concerned and like me or hate me I was here for the duration. I sat in church and cried for weeks on end, hanging on – not to their words, but to God himself.

Some faith communities require believing before belonging. Others allow a person to belong long before they really believe. Thankfully for me, by God’s Grace, we found such a community in Oklahoma.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Busted Stick Oklahoma is the very first church I ever belonged to in my entire life. Our family joined Trinity in 1993.  It was a strange set of circumstances that brought us there really. 1. My husband was raised Lutheran, therefore… 2. It was within walking distance from our house. 3. I was a young stay at home mom in a new town, thousands of miles from my old friends. I needed other women to be around and they had young mom’s there.

Not one of those logical to me reasons included my believing what they believed. I just needed to belong somewhere. I was lonely. I’m also ahead of my story here.

When I was a young girl, I tried to join churches. I would visit my grandmother in Buffalo NY and take the bus to this beautiful cathedral and just sit in awe. Back home in Michigan, I would attend festivals and youth group things at local churches and would secretly wish for more. Even though I didn’t belong to a faith community, and I didn’t know all of the fancy prayers those churches had, I knew God and I believed I knew him well and knew that he knew me.  We were best buds growing up. He was the one adult I could always talk to — and he’d listen. I liked that about him.

One day (1978) I went with my neighbors to hear Lisa Welchel (Blair from Fact’s of Life) speak at their church. There was something different about Lisa and while I didn’t understand it I knew it had something to do with Jesus and I wanted what she had. I went home that night and sat in my bed talking to God like I normally did. I told him about everything she said and how I wanted him to please – if it wasn’t too much to ask – do for me what he did for her.

(Edited to add: I had the awesome joy of meeting Lisa Welchel in 2008 when she spoke at E-Women in Tulsa. Lisa knows this story, is touched by it and allows me to share it. — I’m not name dropping here — Lisa was a teen just like me, I could relate to her and that is important)

That very week I walked to every church my little feet would carry me to and boldly sought out the pastors. Each time I’d tell them I want to learn about Jesus and could I join their church.  Every pastor said no.

The Lutheran Pastor said no.

The Catholic Priest said no.

The Baptist Pastor even said no.

My mom, who was seeking her own place to belong brought me with her to a community not far from town, asking if we could belong, and you know what? The Maharishi, said yes.

to be continued….

Let’s Talk About it: Spawn of Satan

You couldn’t pay me to be a pastor’s wife. Which is a good thing really because churches don’t pay the wife, only the husband. And even then, they don’t pay much.  I would make a horrible pastor’s wife. Really, I would. I’m too emotional. Too political. Too ADD. Too mean. I have opinions that probably don’t line up with everyone. I sin. As Anne Lamott would say, “I think things so awful that if I were to say them out loud, it would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of a cat bowl.”  Really.

I’m Job’s wife a lot of the time.

“These are the people you love and serve and this is how they treat you? – Don’t tell me God called you to this, quit, it’s not worth it! ( curse God and die basically) – they don’t deserve you!”

Yeah – I’d be a horrible pastor’s wife to be sure.

A friend of ours is a deacon in another church. Their pastor is allegedly the spiritual leader of their church, but only when he does things exactly the way they (the congregation) wants him to. If he steps out of line someone is there to slam him back across the tape.  Some people view him as an employee to do their bidding and nothing more. Fun place to be.

Our friend’s pastor has been teaching the deacons how to lead small group bible studies on Wednesday nights and one of the deacons didn’t like that, so he wrote a letter. In this letter he wrote “you are the spawn of satan and so are your children. If you aren’t willing to do your job and teach on Wednesdays than you have no right taking a paycheck from us….”

WOW. A deacon wrote that!

If that were my husband to receive a letter like that?

 Lock and load baby!

That man wants to see the spawn of satan? I’d show him the spawn of satan all right. Hell hath no fury and all.

Pastor’s wives aren’t allowed to lock and load – they have to love and forgive and cry at home. It’s not fair really – in my opinion. Yeah, I’m not good at that.

Let’s talk about it:

What role does your pastor play in your church? Are they the spiritual leader or just an employee? How would you handle a letter like this? If you are a pastor’s wife or husband reading this — you can comment anonymously if you like — I’d really love to hear from you. – email me privately if you want at deana_ohara@yahoo.com, I’ll protect your name.