Peace Be With You

My new husband goes to a nice little community church. He would never pressure me to go along, but I could tell he wanted to introduce me to his friends there. How bad could it be? Hubby isn’t religious, so the church can’t be too dogmatic. He goes to remember his mother and to see people he cares about. I hadn’t stepped foot in a church service in decades, but I’m not scared of them. I strive to be open-minded, not judge-y or hard-nosed. That’s what I never liked about churches in the first place.

I can handle it. Right? Oy.

To be fair, this church is friendly. I was welcomed warmly. People of all stripes are welcomed here, which is as it should be. I can clearly see the value of gathering together to show gratitude, to participate in peaceful rituals and to sing, combined with a sense of working for the greater good. Members get together to hike and knit and eat. These activities bring a wonderful sense of belonging and contribute to the community at large in valuable ways. Loveliness.

What surprised me was the familiarity of the messages printed on the service sheet. Crucifixion, condemnation of the “wicked,” rapture, virgin birth, creationism, a lesson on finding a capable wife to run your household-wait wtf really?, believers shall prosper but others will not. Us and them, body and blood, sacrifice, sanctification, holy spirit, almighty father, Jesus Christ, lord god holy, holy, holy. What was I expecting? Church is still church.

My skin crawled as the congregation chanted prayers in unison. My head pounded as I tried to reconcile the words on the page with the truly lovely people surrounding me. Do they hear the underlying messages of the words they are speaking? How can they say words out loud without thinking about their meaning? Or do they believe?

I couldn’t do it. I fled.

Out the back and down the steps, I found the bathroom and then followed my nose to a full, unguarded coffee pot. I took (stole) a cup and a handful of creamers. As I gently pushed the church door open and eased it shut behind me, I was met with a face-full of sunshine and fresh morning breeze. First fall leaves skittered down the quiet street as I settled onto a rickety wooden bench tucked in the weeds of an overgrown patio. Steamy sweet coffee warmth filled my nose. Why can’t this be church?

Tension left my body. I will never escape my literal mind. The hellfire trauma of my childhood is best left undisturbed. My very much smarter than me husband goes to church because he has always gone, takes what he needs and leaves the rest. I admire his ability to do so, but I cannot join him there.

After church we got tacos and took the dog for a hike in the woods where we saw some amazing wild mushrooms and a turtle. All is well with my soul.

woods.jpg

 

 

 

WHOOP! an announcement

Hey, Hey! I just signed a publishing contract. My memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, will be out on April 4, 2019. I am THRILLED, to say the least.

My heart is full of gratitude for this journey and for all of you who have read along and reached out. I have a hell of a lot of work to do between now and then, so if anyone wants to write a guest blog for me, shoot me a message.* There’s a free book in it for you!

This is the only known picture in existence of my happy dance:

P1177725.jpg

*I’m serious about the guest blog offer. I am open to posting deconversion stories of others.

Girls Walks Out of a Bar, a memoir

Big hard questions are making my head spin. Why is it that the importance of the separation of church and state isn’t discussed all the time, loudly? Where is the discussion of balance between the fundamental right of religious freedom and protecting children from the zealotry of their parents? When does religious freedom turn into abuse? Where is the line? How do we talk about this stuff and not end up fighting about politics?

These questions give me brain buzz and I have no answers, SO how ’bout a book review, instead?

YES.

Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith is the current favorite on my nightstand. I heard Lisa speak at the Hippocampus Writers Conference a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to read anything she had written.  Turns out her book is a memoir about her addiction to alcohol and cocaine while holding down a job as a high rolling NYC attorney in a big fat law firm overlooking Times Square. No easy task. She managed to hide her struggles not only at work, but from her closest friends and family. Her honest portrayal of that grim reality is gripping, horrifying, messy. She does not spare the reader, which is why I like her.

Do we ever really know what is going on with those around us?

There is a moment in the book when she blurts out to her friends, “I think I’m an alcoholic.” They are at a party, as usual. Everyone is drinking, as usual. Her words are met with resistance.

No one asks, “What makes you think so?” or “How can I help?”

Her admission is met with denial by them all, except for the one guy who wouldn’t meet her eyes. I bet that guy agreed and didn’t want to say it or maybe he was thinking, me too. The other friends… hmmm… they didn’t want to hear it? Perhaps their own fear of having to change overcame a desire to reach out. Maybe they were thinking, you can’t be an alcoholic because that means I am too.

Who knows? Lisa doesn’t blame her friends or try to explain their reactions, but left the scene hanging to replay in my head.

Happy ending! Lisa gets help, kicks her habits and is now a sobriety speaker to the legal community, where addiction struggles are rampant. Her courage to reach out for help, risking her career and reputation cannot be overestimated. Everything was at stake. She did it and I am proud of her and for her, even though she is technically a total stranger.

I highly recommend Lisa’s book and personal presentations, as well.  She can be found on Twitter @girlwalksout. No one asked me to write a review, by the way. I really do love this book.

As for the other stuff, maybe we can help each other along the twisted path if we pay attention, reach out in love and acceptance instead of fear and resistance. What if we aren’t afraid to be curious and ask an honest question or two and then listen to the answers? What’s the worst that could happen?

gwo

 

Isolation

I’m thinking about isolation.  Not what you do on a Sunday morning? Just me?

Several recent conversations with my sisters and my mother have reminded me how isolated we all were from each other in years past.  The stage was set within our family for absolute obedience and we were a perfect storm of noncommunication.

Firstly, the cult of Pentecostalism required isolation from the world in general, effectively taking away any context for normality.  Intrinsic to that religious culture is the submission of women to men.  Women cannot hold positions of power or have a public voice.  Their submission must be evident in behavior and appearance.

But you know that.

Add in an ambitious, power-hungry, sexually frustrated narcissist on a mission from God with a public persona to protect and we have a family of women who were not allowed to talk to each other.  Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were forbidden and didn’t know how.

When crises came around, we were already in a state of silence.  By the time my teenage fallopian tube exploded (see Close Call for the story) and I was near death, we were all perfectly trained. All Dad had to say was do not speak and we didn’t.  Our silence went far beyond lying to church people who would judge him for having a wayward daughter.  He didn’t have to tell me not to speak.  I hadn’t spoken out loud in my family for years and was not about to start.

Mom knew I was sick but was not allowed to visit me in the hospital, nor to comfort me afterward.  Dad told my sister that Mom didn’t know what happened to me and not to tell her, so she didn’t.  My sister was the only person who spoke to me during my six weeks of recovery following surgery.  I sat home alone with no one to blame but myself. My other sister was told nothing at all.

Silence filled our home, the air too thick to breathe. Not one word was spoken between mother and daughters nor sister to sister about the fact that one of us had a tragic, terrifying, near-death experience.

Thirty-ish years later, with the threat of Dad’s wrath long gone, we talk.  Now we know what we were forced to deny.  Now we say the words.  Now we are free to love each other.  And breathe.

Dear Neglected Blog…

My book, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, is coming along, slowly but surely.  Turns out I had to learn how to write a book first.  Thanks to Cami Ostman and the writers of Memory to Memoir I have gained  invaluable support and feedback on this strange trip.

The recent surge of online truth telling, specifically the #MeToo, #ChurchToo, #RaptureAnxiety and #EmptythePews threads on Twitter have astounded me.  There are so many of us.  PTSD, anxiety and depression abound in the ex-evangelical community.  Seems like a good time to tell my story, even if it’s just another voice in the crowd.

If you have one, please tell yours, too.  One thing I have learned is to give myself permission to write it all down.  Edit later.  But get it out.  There isn’t anything that can’t be faced on the page.  Trauma, like evil, loses its power in the light.

Joy, Love, Peace and Merry Christmas,

Ronna

Tony says…