The different world

And only now… after all of that… do we actually get to what I was trying to explain to someone that started the whole series.

Things are completely different on the other side of the rebellious phase.

It’s pretty much an entirely different world.

And it’s actually kind of hard to put into words.

Before was very much filled with concerns of doing the right things and learning as much as I could… but it was pretty much goal oriented, towards a goal that could never be reached and wasn’t meant to be reached.

After the breaking point, those things have never really returned.

I about killed myself trying, but I know where that path goes, and so I have no desire to entertain it further.

That’s a bit for better or worse. The desire to measure up was a great motivator to behave myself and try and do all the things that I ought to do. Things like my language and discipline were probably a lot better off under the old way.

But the sacrifice of self-acceptance wasn’t worth the gains in outward behavior.

I’m ok now with being a bit rough around the edges.

I’d rather be a christian who cusses sometimes and drinks occasionally… but who is real an honest with both herself and others… than to be a well behaved good girl who looks like she has it at least somewhat together but who feels like it’s all a show trying to fake it until she makes it.

And I’m confident that I am just as loved by God whether my behavior is angelic or awful. While he likes to see my thoughts and actions being motivated by love, I don’t think that his will for me is thrown aside when human motivations seep in.

Whether I’m covered in mud head to toe, or a child who has kept as clean as they could… either way, it’s bath time… so I’m not too fearful of puddles anymore.

Which I’m well aware draws some lines between my view of God and those of more conservative types.

And I am completely ok with that. I’ve seen the view from there, and I’d have thought the same thing. That you should still be keeping as clean as possible to be needing as little scrubbing as possible. That to do any less is taking too much advantage of his grace, to make too light of his sacrifice to give that ability.

But I also have absolutely no desire to return there.

Life is much happier when you’ve been granted the leeway to not have to always strive to be as close to perfect as possible…. when you realize that even if you jumped into a mud pit it wouldn’t be too dirty so a puddle here and there isn’t the end of the world.

Which I realize sounds pretty flippant.

And in all honestly, I still do keep relatively clean.

But not having the pressure to do so makes a huge difference in outlooks… and in perspectives of God.

And it’s not to say that I have no value at all in learning. I do.

But it tends to be much more focused towards the practical matters. Things that will actually make a positive difference in my life, or in my relationship.

I’ve come to accept that there is a whole lot of God’s logic that will never make clear sense to humans, however smart they are, and however much effort is put into understanding it. It isn’t supposed to. If it did, we wouldn’t need God.

I don’t even understand how some parts of my car work, let alone matters of metaphysics. I’m content to let that be.

I’m equally as soft on claiming that I know things.

I think a chunk of my beliefs still lean more towards agnostic… but I’ve come to realize how few things you really critically have to believe.

I have no idea whether the earth was literally made in 6 days, or it was made in 6 eras that got called “days”, or did it through the means of the scientific theories, or it was made to look like it was older than it was, or any of the other theories. And I don’t think anyone is ever going to be able to prove their side enough that there will ever be firm knowledge.

But, it just doesn’t matter. At all.

Because the point of the story is the same, no matter how the parts happened. God made the earth, deliberately.

Nobody ever asks if the Good Samaritan really existed. Because it doesn’t matter to the point of the story… whether they did, or whether it was figurative, what is to be learned is the same either way.

So it seems to me like a moot point to debate and research things that have no likelihood of changing the point to be taken.

I tend to take the route of assuming things are always literal, but I make no claims of certainty on that.

It’s more a realization that all of my critical eggs are in this basket anyway, so I might as well trust the basket with the trivial ones too. I mean, if I’m trusting him with my life and assuming what was said is true regarding salvation, then there isn’t much point in doubting the littler things.

I will battle for critical points… things like that God is who he said he is; that Jesus was who he was, did what he did, and had the ability to do what he claimed; and the way to salvation.

But I don’t care about the logistics of surviving in a fish for three days. It just doesn’t matter.

And I’m a lot happier having given up any pretense of knowledge. It’s really a less stressful place.

The return

I wish I could say I was smart enough to just give it up completely immediately at that point.

But what I went through from there was basically a process of forgiving god.

Which I know is all sorts of wrong… forgiving implies he did something wrong… etc etc etc.

But, forgiveness is pretty much exactly the process I went through… an admitting that I felt hurt by actions, but followed by a decision to essentially call a truce on the (one-sided) battle… and to deliberately choose to release any rights to nurse resentfulness over the matter.

I know, given that I’d already figured out that I’d circled around to agreeing it probably shouldn’t have been needed… but, for whatever reason, emotionally I needed to work through it a bit to get there.

But the first big test came just about a month later, just after valentines day… when the boyfriend ended the relationship, as he’d found someone that he was in love with. (3 weeks later they were engaged, 3 months later they were married… and the last time I’d thought to check up on him on facebook, they were still married and her older daughter had adopted his last name.)

In spite of not being all that in love with him, it still dealt a bit of a rejection blow for a bit… and meant having to attempt to explain his absence to my then 4 year old who’d had him around as long as she could remember.

But more than that, it meant that it was decision time. Relationships had been the big thing that I’d chased after leaving…. but what was I going to do now? Was I going to dive back into it?

It was tempting, especially knowing how much different and how much more fulfilling it had been dating without claiming christianity.

And I’m not going to say it didn’t get seriously debated.

But in the end, I had to admit that the fulfillment was always fleeting. Each new relationship only helped temporarily. And looking back over them, at the good and the bad… there were none that I could honestly say that the good in the beginning had been completely worth the expense of the effort it took.

I also realized…. that I’d been given exactly what I’d asked for… and never been happy with it.

After D, I remember thinking that I wanted to be with someone who was thrilled to be with me, and was interested in me and my life. I got the first part with a really short relationship with a guy that was so much older that he had a daughter a year older than me…. and who was amazed I would even give him the time of day… which got old fast and ended in just a couple of weeks. The second pretty much got hit head on with my kiddo’s dad, whose interest in my life went quickly into desire for controlling it and then sharply into abusing that control.

After the jerk, I remember wanting to fall in love again… to have the emotional aspect like there had been over D… and that resulted in a three month relationship in which I got my heart seriously shattered after trusting it to someone that I should have known better.

After that, I went into a direction looking for deeper emotional connection from the other person… and got it, only to discover that not only did it not help, they expected much more from me than I was able to really give at the time.

After that, I’d wanted a relationship that was just for the fun of dating without the seriousness…. and got many short and non-serious dating-for-recreation flings… only to discover that after a while, it got pretty dull, and I wanted more than that.

I found myself wanting a safe, stable, non-rollercoaster, low cost relationship. I got my engineer. No risk, but not much in the way of emotions either.

After things with him went back to being non-exclusive, I basically wanted the opposite… no strings attached, no pretense of relationship, no faking that we were looking for a relationship… and I found that like the recreation dating, it got old very fast.

This had all been during a non-praying spell. I hadn’t been praying for them… just reflecting on what I wanted and didn’t want…

But just like the list, I’d gotten what I’d asked for, over and over again, and figured out that it wasn’t really what I’d wanted.

And so, where I’d once made the decision to walk away…. this time, I made the decision that I really was serious.

The return was official.

Full circle

There were a few happenings that lead to the return…

But the biggest one was really late one night just after new years… so just about 5 years later.

I’d been dating this particular guy for just under three years at this point… but it had been a non-exclusive relationship since about 6 months in, after he’d told me that he didn’t want to remove an online dating profile because it was paid ahead and he wanted to get his money’s worth.

I wasn’t in love with the guy, and never really had been… nor do I think that he ever was with me… but he was a nice guy, and so it had basically been friends with benefits for a long time.

We never fought at all, so there was never a reason to break up… and I’d taken advantage of the ability to still date others, so it wasn’t holding me back there…

But in the past month, there had been two major incidents where I’d felt like he’d let me down in a major way emotionally.

So on this particular night, I couldn’t sleep… but he was staying over, and so as I watched him sleeping beside me, I was thinking over whether or not the relationship was really worth continuing anymore.

It was a debate that could have gone either way… and really, either way I’d have been just as on my own emotionally.

But eventually I came to the decision that the friendship aspects were still a benefit… and it wasn’t hurting me any to stay as long as I knew what to expect, or more specifically, what not to expect.

I’d known from the start that he was the intellectual sort of guy, but not the emotional sort. He was an electrical engineer… logic was his thing, not feelings.

Given that I generally go for smart guys (with some notable exceptions), this aspect of him was part of the package that had drawn me to him in the first place.

I knew what I was getting into with dating an engineer… and I knew that areas like emotional support were not going to be strong points. It’s sort of par for the course.

The analogy of choosing a game character type to play came to mind. If you pick an elf, you don’t get to complain about strength not being high…. if you pick some giant creature, you’ve got to expect that agility isn’t going to be great…

If you choose to date an electrical engineer, you know better than to expect the guy to be the best on knowing what your needs are emotionally, or to even know what he’s supposed to do to meet them after you’ve told him what they are.

He has other areas that are strengths… where his “character points” are concentrated in the game analogy… and if you want a character that’s higher in other areas, you are going to be losing strength from the existing strong areas, and really are essentially looking for the profile of another character entirely.

So, the debate had come to a conclusion.

I decided that I was ok with my intellectual… and ok with realizing that I needed to give him some slack in areas that were not his strengths and accept it as part of the profile.

Then came the nudge.. the first one I’d had in years… clear as can be…

“And yet, you can’t accept that about yourself.”

It was right of course.

But I still really had no idea what to do with that initially. There were no tears or instant turning back… it just sort of hung there… just sort of was.

The next big part came in the afternoon… I think it was that next afternoon, but it might have been a day or two.

A softer nudge came… bringing to mind the list. Remember that super long list of grievances that I’d made?

Going back over the list, I came to a realization.

Every last item on the list was something that had changed…. and that I’d made the deliberate decision that I preferred the way that it had been originally.

All of them.

Several years earlier, I’d made the decision to go back off medication. I’d figured out that having a much looser guard meant dealing with a lot more messy problems that were created when people got through that guard that shouldn’t have.

I’d figured out that the dulling of the edge on the anxiety angle meant not being as on my toes in life in general, and decided I preferred the acuity.

I’d figured out life with a bunch of hang-out level friends as a more extroverted person actually brought me less happiness than having a small but very trusted group of close friends and a wider but less connected network of acquaintances.

I’d gone from hating the intellectual side, to intentionally choosing to ignore it, and ended up right back.

I’d been thinner… and yet, decided that when it was working that hard against my body, it brought me only more anxiety, not the joy I’d expected it to be. I’d gained the weight back, plus a good deal more… and yet, I was more ok with my weight than I had been at either of the lower levels. It was the weight my body settled at with my life the way that I wanted to live it, and so I was ok with letting it settle where it wanted to settle…. even when that was right about 100 pounds heavier than at the peak of resentment.

I’d dyed my hair… I’d done treatments to it to mess with the texture… and with the exception of being a bit longer, it was back to the same as it had been before. I’d had contacts with the changes in torics making it work with my eyes, and I’d decided that I didn’t like contacts and had gone to only wearing them for dress up occasions.

The infertility? Well, less than 6 months after the list, I was pregnant… having conceived completely without meds on the first weekend I’d slept with the guy… who was someone that had assumed himself sterile as he’d tried for years to get a previous girlfriend pregnant with no luck only to have her almost instantly have success with the next guy she dated. A year to the month after I’d had that meeting with the endocrinologist, I was going to another office on the same floor of the same building for my first sonogram and ob appointment.

And after the baby was born, I’d very clearly figured out that I wasn’t interested in having more anytime soon.

Every last thing had come full circle.

And each case, it had been my own decision to let it do so.

The explosion

Pressure can do a lot to keep doubts under the surface.

But when that pressure releases… the result looks a lot like an explosion.

The relationship with D ended. Fights with us were nothing new at all, but the very first time that I was the one who was upset first proved to be the final round.

Abruptly, I found myself free. I suddenly realized exactly how much of my life had revolved around D and the church, and now?

Well, now I was free to really feel what had been stuffed under the rug.

The result was a pile of messy, bitter resentment pretty much exploding out of hiding.

A few months earlier, I’d sat in an endocrinologists office for something completely unrelated, and been told that my chemical levels were so messed up that I would likely never have children without medical intervention.

In theory, with the quiverful movement sorts of thinking, this should be a blessing on remaining childless… accepting it as God’s plan. In reality, those keeping that view generally expect large families, and expect others keeping it to have large families as well. D’s church was very much in the camp of expecting large numbers of kids.

D and I had both tried to accept it.. but the unexpressed hurt feelings had grown into a bitterness with both of us… spewing out in the final fight… that I think had a good amount to do with the decision on his side to end things for good.

I’d always had the feeling like I was totally messed up and would never be good enough.

But now I felt set up physically to be unable to measure up.

The inability to be anything but a mess mentally I could always blame myself for.. and I always did.

But physical is harder to write off as my fault… especially when I’d been trying to live up to D’s standards and was at the lowest weight of my adult life and about killing myself to try and get lower.

But the physical element that caused the most bitterness… was actually just a tiny pill.

It had been prescribed for the anxiety attacks, at the time being considered panic attacks.

I’d been told it would take up to 2 weeks to have any effect… and had been started at half of the lowest available dose.

And yet, midway through the first day, I abruptly realized that I’d had no problems the entire day.

No problems with attacks, but beyond that, also no problems with being nervous around people, and no stress.

It was like a sudden switch…. that had abruptly changed everything that I’d struggled with for so long.

In the following months, I would come out of my shell almost to the point of becoming more an extrovert than an introvert. I’d gained more friendships, pretty much effortlessly.

This would seem like a massive blessing that should have provoked nothing but pure thankfulness, and it did for quite a while.

But now… now I was able to admit that I felt like I’d been screwed up from the get-go.

How many years had I cried out of loneliness? How many nights spent wishing and praying for close friendships or relationships, to be more able to connect with people, more able to be loved? How much time had been spent, and how much heartache?

How many times had I prayed and begged for things to change… both in my fears and in the attacks… and gotten no response?

And here, mere humans with all of their stupidity could make a tiny pill and manage to fix everything for me, just like that, when for all of these years god easily could have but refused to?

I was hurt.

I made a list of all of the things I was resentful about myself… and it was a very long list. From personality things, to weight struggles, to hair color and type, to even more minor things like having too poor of vision to be able to wear contacts.

I didn’t doubt god existed at this point… but I doubted that he was on my side of things.

Maybe like the villain in a play, I was just written for the unhappy role in his storyline.

I decided I was done with that script.

If I was going to be miserable in my life within the script, then I didn’t have much to lose outside of it.

And so, I deliberately made the decision to turn away and see what the world had to offer.

Drinking seemed like a good place to start, as the bar flies always seemed to be having fun… but it took getting drunk a total of once to realize that I do not enjoy the experience at all.

But running into relationships worked very well.

To a kid who had always felt like an outsider… now having her guard dropped by medication… it was a happy new world.

When I was in 7th grade, I dropped down to the regular math class, and suddenly found that instead of being the stupidest of the smart kids, I was now the smartest of the regular kids…. and that was an awesome thing, to suddenly realize that as much as I felt like I was behind, I was actually still ahead.

That’s the best way that I can explain the effect this had. Suddenly, I’d gone from being the one who didn’t have it together from the church’s perspective, to someone that from the world’s perspective was doing pretty good.

I felt like the playing field was finally one that I at least had a fighting chance… if not even a good shot at doing well.

I went from the girl who had about 2 dates in high school and had never been kissed at 22, to dating at least one person (and sometimes more) for all but about 6 months of the next 5 years or so.

The nudges had stopped entirely, as had my prayer life. All seemed silent.

I came to start feeling like it had all been in my head, an imaginary friend that had made me feel better but hadn’t had any reality behind it.

I never went so far as to feel like god didn’t exist… but my views slid well into the agnostic realm… that humans could never know for sure either way… and felt like it didn’t matter anyway.

Christianity started to feel like a homeowners association… something that was annoyance that made your life harder personally, but that benefited you by doing to same thing to your neighbors to keep them in line. Being a Christian meant you couldn’t lie, cheat, or steal… which didn’t help you much, but the benefit came in others being Christians also not being able to lie, cheat, or steal from you.

And so life went on…

Relating and King Saul

All of my Christian life I’d felt completely unaccepted by the churches…

And now here I was in the middle of things and being completely accepted into the flow of their church… and instead of peace, all I felt was like I was a fraud… like a wolf in a sweater.

Here I was supposed to be on the verge of “having it all”, had all these people acting like I was this Proverbs 31 role model with the women’s ministry… and I felt more like a hopeless mess who would never be able to get her act together.

But it actually wasn’t the pressure from the unwanted leadership position that brought the worst of the doubts.

It was actually a bible reading plan trip through the story of king saul.

I’d been through the story before… but this time it sort of hit a nerve.

You have this guy who didn’t ask for the leadership position he found himself in… and even tried to hide when he was being put into it. I was at a place that I started relating to the guy pretty quick.

So the guy gets some very basic directions on what to do now… including being told to wait 7 days for Samuel to come do an offering.. and then…

1 Sam 10 7 After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you.

So, the signs happened. So thus, he’s been told that God is with him and to do what needs to be done.

So he heads out on his first project as king… and Samuel doesn’t show up in 7 days like he said that he would.

His men are leaving… he has just 600 left out of the 3k that he started with… the enemy is about to attack…

So, Saul does what seems to him like it needs to be done… he moves ahead since it’s past the time that Samuel told him to wait, and things are going poorly the more he waits.

Rather than jumping straight into battle, he offers the sacrifice himself to ask the lord’s favor before doing so.

To me… had I just been told in the earlier instructions to do what needed to be done and that the lord was with me…. this seems like a reasonable course of action to take in the circumstances.

Especially with it being his first task as a leader.

But instead, he gets told that he’s royally screwed up and that it’s enough that he will lose the kingdom over it to someone god has already picked out.

This seems like the dude was pretty much set up for failure from the get-go.

Like he didn’t even really have a chance… he was tossed into something he wasn’t trained for and didn’t ask for, and then massively punished when his judgement in a somewhat vague situation and on his first attempt was to go with the “what needs to be done” rather than waiting longer than he was told to wait.

And so with that, he gets cast as the evil villain against which David’s heroics can shine.

It already seemed a bit unfair.

But reading a bit more, you come to the famous parts that we know well, the story of Saul throwing spears at David out of pure jealousy as David is just sitting there playing a harp.

But there’s a part that is missing from the usual telling of the story.

1 Sam 18 10 The very next day a tormenting spirit[b] from God overwhelmed Saul, and he began to rave in his house like a madman. David was playing the harp, as he did each day. But Saul had a spear in his hand
b.18:10 Or an evil spirit.
1 Sam 19 9 But one day when Saul was sitting at home, with spear in hand, the tormenting spirit[a] from the Lord suddenly came upon him again. As David played his harp, 10 Saul hurled his spear at David. But David dodged out of the way, and leaving the spear stuck in the wall, he fled and escaped into the night.

The verses around here do mention Saul being jealous of David, and afraid of David…. but that’s not what it says caused the spear throwing incidents. How in the world does an evil spirit overwhelming someone just get left out of the common telling of this?

I get it… it seems more connectable to just chalk it up to a human emotional outburst than to blame spiritual influencing here. It’s easy to understand Saul being jealous enough to throw things… but it’s uncomfortable to discuss a spirit messing with someone enough to cause that sort of thing.

But when you are already starting to sympathize with Saul as being set up to fail… and now suddenly we’re getting into direct mentions of outside things overwhelming him and provoking his violent actions….

But even worse… is the phrase “from God” and “from the Lord”.

So, God is causing this.

First off, I’m a bit uncomfortable with God having an evil spirit to send in the first place… to me, God=good, not God=evil.

But then comes into the question…. if God is the one sending the evil spirit to make you do something, is that even a sin if you didn’t have the free will to choose to do it in the first place?

If God is causing evil actions, are evil actions then God’s will?

That doesn’t make sense in my understanding of things.

But to understand my relating more, you have to realize that within the previous few years, I’d been struggling with anxiety attacks… which were only controlled at this point in time by medication. And which feel a lot like a sudden unprovoked feeling overwhelming you.

And so, it’s even more starting to feel like Saul is just being tossed into this story and set up into the villain role…. just because the people wanted a king. But that was hardly Saul’s fault. He seems sort of an innocent bystander being used as a scapegoat.

And getting personal…. it’s starting to bring more doubts to the surface about whether God really had positive intentions for the course of my life either.

I brought these questions and doubts to D… after all, he’s supposed to be an expert in this stuff.

But doing so brought no answers.

My questions regarding Saul were written off as Saul already being going to screw up and God knew that from the start so it didn’t matter if he stacked the deck against him. (Duh, he’s human, of course he’s going to screw up…. but David screwed up too at times and he didn’t get treated that way)

My concerns about my life course were thrown back into my face as selfish. Look at all I’d been given. Even if all I’d been given was eternal life, that was way more than I deserved. Even if God wanted to use me as a human punching bag, it was still better than I was worth. I was just ungrateful and spoiled.

But the thing about doubts shamed into hiding is that they don’t go away. They only lurk in the background… which just makes things worse on the whole feeling like a fraud thing.

In way too deep

So, one evening towards the end of my freshman year, I’m bored… I start messing around on the AOL local chat rooms, and I start talking to a local pastor who was in there trying to minister to people.

I’m sick of my church, so I start asking him about his church.

Up to this point, I’d never heard of the concept of a house church happening within anywhere except in other countries that didn’t have the option to meet in open buildings.

I keep asking the guy questions… and keep getting deeper and deeper into areas that I was completely unfamiliar with.

The church was of the 3 rivers line of thought…. essentially being that there are three elements of the spiritual life that need to be kept in balance, each the domain of a different person of the trinity: God the father’s dominant element was obedience, and who was best sought through tradition and keeping to the old testament rules; Jesus had mercy, and was best learned through New Testament study; and the Holy Spirit’s area was over revelation, best learned through personal experiences.

They felt that traditional denominations focused so much on Jesus that they neglected the other two, that pentecostal and charismatic groups focused too much on the spirits domain and completely ignored the others, and that groups like catholics focused too much on tradition and lost sight of the latter two.

So it ended up with an interesting mix of elements in an attempt to balance.

I’d never heard of Christians who were not of jewish origin who kept kosher and tried to follow OT rules… or of the whole concept of raw foodism… or a lot of the prep-er style of thinking where it would make more sense not to own a church building etc. I knew of the name yahweh, but didn’t know anyone who actually used it as a primary name of god… yeshu/yeshua was completely new to me…

So it was interesting… and drew me in mostly out of curiosity more than because I believed they were right… and I became friends with the guy, at the time not even realizing that not only was he a pastor, he was actually the president of an association of about 60 similar churches.

After a couple of months of being friends with the guy, they were working on a new web strategy… the topic came up that I was webmaster for several of the department sites for the college, and he had checked them out and asked me about how I had set up one of them. (Just an image map… nothing all that fancy… )

So I offered to help them out and make the image map for their front page… and somehow I end up as part of their web team with full access to it and being brought into the discussions on changes, etc.

I’m not even attending any of their churches at this time.

So, into this web strategy came a yahoo group to help coordinate and connect between the very spread out churches…

And the guy who was taking on this project was someone who had basically been volunteered because he was the youngest member of the associations board of directors by about 15 years…. but who had never even owned a computer before this point.

So I was familiar with the yahoo groups setup, and so I agreed to help him with the technical side of things…. and thus D came into my life. We worked together… things clicked… we sort of became known as partners on the group (which took off quickly), which then sort of spread to the people who weren’t on the group assuming we were connected… which then eventually developed into dating.

D, by all outward appearances, was Mr. Perfect.

He was the association’s golden boy.

Star athlete in high school, homecoming king… both smart and charismatic… from the perfect family with his perfect brother as his best friend…

He’d become an ordained minister straight out of high school at 17 as an assistant pastor to the founder of the association, had his own congregation by age 20, been a regional director since 24, on the board of directors since 25 as the youngest member to do so by decades, and had just become the vice president at age 30. (He was 31 at this time, I was 20)

He was one of those people who everybody adored and followed to the point of darn near worshiping the man… and they had since he was a teen… (and it had very much gone to his head)

And so of course everything had to give that appearance.

He wouldn’t go to a video chain that offered porn movies in some of the other regions. He wouldn’t drink, but also wouldn’t allow anyone with him to even have wine with dinner. The man wouldn’t even speed because that would be showing disrespect for the rules of the powers god had placed over us. The list of companies being boycotted for various moral reasons was long.

Why in the heck was he dating me? The best answer I ever got was that I was “sweet and endearing”. My theory is that I was the only one patient and easy-going enough to put up with his crap.

Either that, or he was just desperate… in that world, 31 was ancient to not be married and with litters of kids already. That was basically the one thing that he didn’t have going for him.

In any case, Mr. perfect expected Mrs. perfect… and we basically spent the whole relationship fighting over that fact that Mrs. perfect is very far from who I am…. in spite of giving it my very best attempt.

So basically what I keep hearing from him is about all the ways that I failed to live up to his standards… and getting into these huge fights, always over something I’d said or done that he had taken differently than I’d meant it.

Everything I did was wrong… and everything I voiced my opinion about was basically twisted to make me look stupid.

The agreement was that after I graduated, I would move up near him and live with the reverend’s family in the next town over. If things were still going well after 6 months of dating in person, we would do a formal engagement with a ring etc and finalize wedding plans for 6 months beyond that. (I’d also agreed that I would join the church formally at that time, in spite of not being aligned with some of the out there beliefs)

But in this church…. where women were expected to be homeschooling mothers who didn’t work outside the home… everyone in the churches in my local area completely missed that memo. Everyone seemed to expect that I should have immediately dropped out and moved, because what good is college to a baby factory anyway?

I got very used to being called by his last name… introduced as his wife when I wasn’t even sure that it was even firm enough to be using the title fiance.. in general treated as leadership and roped into positions that I had no business being in “because i would be soon, so might as well begin filling the shoes”..

So I’m not even a member of the church…. and yet helping send out the women’s newsletter by formatting it, turns into writing part of the womens newsletter, turns into being in charge of the womens newsletter, turns into my name (or rather, my first name with his last name) being listed as the current womens director in the main association newsletter mailed out to all members of the various churches without my ever having anyone even mention the topic to me.

Not that my objection mattered. The same college education that I was getting pressure to consider worthless now suddenly became a reason that I looked good as a leader.

And when that failed to convince me, we got into the whole “ministers have a calling on their whole family to serve” logic. That a husband being called meant that his wife was included in the deal as a freebee.

This was a very common assumption there, and within the christian community in general… but being from the other side of the tracks, this is one that still doesn’t make logical sense to me.

If I married a doctor, nobody would expect me to also be able to treat them. If I married a lawyer, few people would expect me to be an expert in law unless I also chose law as a career. Nobody expects a military wife to fight, on the contrary, she’s usually kept in the dark about work information. I’m dating an IT guy now (interestingly enough, a former pastor) and I highly recommend not taking my advice on anything but a simple computer repair.

Why in the world would marrying a minister be so different as to suddenly require that I be a leader and an expert in that area as well, if no other area of calling has the same sort of “called by association” assumption?

So all of the sudden…. I’m stuck in this weird position where on one hand I’m being blasted for being not good enough…. and on the other hand I’ve got these people treating me like I’ve got it all together and am mrs perfect to be and expected to keep up that appearance….

And of course it all feels fake… like I’m playing a role in a play of what I think a good christian wife is supposed to act like.

I haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m doing, and I don’t even believe a good chunk of their practices…. I’ve openly admitted this…. and still just sort of got shoved into this mold anyway.

Every time I protest about this…. I basically get shamed into being a good little christian girl.

But the longer and longer it went on…. the more the doubts grew.

learning to leading

So when we moved, we moved somewhere I knew we’d only be for the summer, so didn’t bother with finding a new church.

School year started, and I got involved with a great group of real christian friends at school that I’d managed to find in the middle of the “mom wants me to be here” kids.

(Finally figured out that the kids who went to prayer meeting before school, plus the campus life meeting one day a week, and also the student lead bible study meeting another day of the week, actually might be serious. lol)

Which meant I started actually getting more into reading it after being introduced to other translations that weren’t as much of a chore… and started to realize that there were actually differences between churches and denominations and not everything was as black and white as the baptist church thought that it was.

So I sort of tagged along with a friend some weeks to the baptist church where her grandma went.. but while they weren’t as judgmental, they were almost all over the age of 70.

But I’d been burned enough to not have any desire to commit there or get involved at all. I only even went about once a month… and figured I didn’t belong there any more than I did at the other one.

So I never really got back into a church over my sophomore and junior years… and didn’t feel like I was missing anything but judgement and boring sermons that had no relevance to life outside the doors.

Senior year.
By this point, I’m co-leader of the prayer meeting, and an assistant leader of the weekly bible study.

During the year, I became friends with someone who had transferred in that year.

About midway through the year we got into a discussion of why I prefer not to pray out loud in spite of being a prayer meeting leader
(with my prayers being self-taught ending up very informal to the point of being called disrespectful, often not even being in full sentences as much as phrases and focused thoughts… almost more of a new age meditation style)

So, from this discussion, friend invites me to her church… says its assembly of god by name but follows closer to pentecostal… but tells me that’s normal there. So I go, not entirely believing her.

I can definitely say that church was never ever boring.

It was awesome at first… worship more like a concert, no hymns, crazy dancing… far surpassing the weirdness of my prayers…. and of course making the nudges that I’d never even mentioned to anyone since then seem like child’s play.

But… as much of a total difference as it was… and as much as I loved the change at first… it got old very very fast.

It was a circus.

And I still didn’t fit in… this time, from the other direction. Instead of being the out-there misfit, I was the boring introvert…who actually found herself groaning when “the spirit fell” because it meant that nothing more productive was going to be happening that day.

I was at the point where I was reading and wanting in depth deep discussion and explanations… and this was not it. At all.

Still, it was better than the dead church full of grandmas, and so I kept going until the middle of the summer… when there was a tent meeting.

If I’d thought the disruptions were annoying on a regular day, this was just frenzied chaos. Its hard to even describe.

And, of course, being a “revival”, they were baptizing anybody and everybody, no questions asked.

I almost did it…. almost. More to thumb a nose at the baptist church than out of any desire to be obedient.

But, with this sort of a place, there was a sort of expectation that when you came out of that water, that the spirit was going to hit you, and there’d be some sort of effect. Convulsions, fainting, speaking in tongues, something.

I don’t know whether I was more scared that it would happen, or just scared that it wouldn’t and I’d have no idea how to fake it… but I completely and totally chickened out…. and never went back to that church again.

I hopped around trying most of the big churches in town that summer, but never really found anything that really grabbed me as somewhere to stay.

At college, most of the groups seemed to be just the “here from obligation” kids..

With the exception of one… which was great for depth that I was looking for… but every meeting dissolved into pointless debate over some topic that was always something that would never be resolved in a definitive way… for example, pre-trib vs post-trib.

There are few things more frustrating to someone trying to find “the answer” and understand everything… than to realize that even brilliant people… with more learning than I could ever hope to achieve.. still couldn’t even figure things out enough to be on the same side of a million different issues.

The one more frustrating thing… was a “seeker friendly” church that catered to college kids. Not knowing the town, but knowing Methodist to be a more normal denomination, I went with everybody else because my friends were going there. Warm and fuzzy… but little actual bible. Just the nice and overused verses tossed in here and there to support a message that’d otherwise never have been associated with being a sermon.