As we are about to close the books on another calendar year, I wanted to reflect on my year and share some of the beautiful and gut-wrenching things that happened.
I left my home in November of 2016 to return to my parents’ home to help care for my step father, Ralph, who at 92 was declining in health. As he continued to decline, my role became more and more intimate. I spent many days listening to stories, helping him dress, eat, and move from room to room. A tender side of me opened in ways I did not know to be possible. When he passed away in April, I had no regrets. I will miss him terribly, but I know I have done right by him.
During this time, I took classes and got my certification to be a personal trainer. I learned wonderful things about the human body, how to care for it, and how exercise impacts our structure and well-being.
After Ralph passed away, my main concern was for my mom and helping her get connected to seniors in her community. I dragged her to card games and water aerobics. She loved both and is now supported, in her grief, by a community of peers.
In May, June, and September I traveled back home. In May, I spent five days each with two of my best friends from college. At Michele’s, I visited the State museum, dug for sapphires, and visited a brewery. Michele took me to a brewery even though she does not drink. I had one beer and took pictures. At Gayle’s, I stayed at her under construction, retreat center, which is situated in the middle of her family’s 25,000-acre ranch. Every morning I looked out and saw deer or cattle. I needed that solitude to write, reflect, and rest.
In June, my mom, sister, and I traveled back north to bury Ralph’s ashes. We traveled through southern Utah’s red rock terrain, visiting national monuments and parks. My friend Jon Paul and Abby were travelling across country and visiting Southern Utah at the same time, but we missed them by a few days. My sister drove us through the back road at Monument Valley, which was like off-roading in a Mercury. When she made it up the last climb out of the valley, a whole bus load of tourists gave her an ovation.
At our home town, we stayed with my sister’s friend, Joan. It was the first time I got to know her, though they’ve been friends for 30 years. We found comfort petting her cats and dogs, and one night we were surrounded by clouds shaped like UFO’s. She let us take over her house for a week; such generosity I will always remember.
We held two services. At one, the neighborhood children, now all grown up, shared stories and Ralph’s friends and coworkers openly wept. For me the best story was the girl, now grown up, who said, “He was the first man I felt safe around.” The second service included military honors, which I had never experienced before. Somehow, those three volleys of gun fire seemed the perfect way to honor the life of a man, who I called dad.
In September, I traveled to Spokane, at the generosity of my friends, Heather and Shane. We went for walks, ate food, drank a little too much wine, and visited a spa, where I was treated to a massage. Outside their home, I watched the Blue Angels practice for an air show. I felt the thrill of them rushing overhead, their diving and lifting in coordinated flights. I walked around barefooted, letting the grass tickle my soles.
Abby and Jon Paul were still travelling, and from Spokane, I texted them, asking, “Are you near Spokane?” They were one day out. The next day, they picked me up in the RV and I rode with them to Idaho, where we had spaghetti dinner in a park. After dinner, the children were trying to catch gold fish(!) in the stream that ran through the park, and their daughter (not their sons) succeeded in catching one with her bare hands. It was a delightful end to a short but lovely visit. With a hug, I was off to spend the night with another old friend, Lisa, at her cabin by the lake. We shared stories by campfire.
In 2017, I also helped re-roof my parent’s home. It was not easy getting on a roof at my age, and moving shingles around, but it had to be done. In June, I went back to my birth name, and retired the name I had taken on in 1999. I didn’t start working again until October, and although Arizona is not my home, I have enjoyed a multitude of beautiful sunrises and sunsets this past year. I found amazement in seeing 60-70 vultures flying and sunning themselves for a few weeks this fall, while they migrated.
During 2017, I continued blogging (30 this year) and tweeting (1000 + Tweets) and using Facebook to share the message that healing from spiritual abuse is possible. I started a book club in October and we plan to reconvene in January, branching out to do art projects and read internet articles. Through my work, I have made new friends; one of them, Maribeth, provided me with life coaching, and I have now signed up to take the coursework to become a wellness coach. We both hope to use the training to coach people who are recovering from spiritual abuse. I have a feeling that she and I will become allies in the work.
Please excuse me as I digress for a minute, and I hope it won’t trigger you if I quote the bible for a second, but it relates to why I am sharing my year.
In John, Chapter Six, Jesus asked his followers, “Are you thinking of leaving me?”
“Where would we go? You have words of life,” replied Peter.[i]
So often people think that they must stay where they are, even if it is spiritually abusive, because they cannot imagine life outside of where they are. I have shared my year because this is life. This kind of year, the normal and the difficult days, make up our life. Life is messy and beautiful. None of the friends I mentioned in this blog were known to me at the time that I left the group that spiritually abused me. I have now had their friendships for 25, 15, or 10 years.
Life did not regress into chaos because I left. Life turned into something beautiful, and that speaks to the healing that has occurred. I am grateful beyond measure that I left, and I am grateful beyond measure, for my new friends, for eyes that seek and see the beauty all around me. I am filled with the grace of friends who loved me enough to care for me throughout this year of loss and grief. I am joyed that I can learn and discover, and pursue new pathways for employment. Being able to study anything and everything is a gift.
If you are thinking of leaving, or have barely left and feel hopeless, just give it time. Seek to see the beautiful things. I count all I have lost as rubbish, because of what I have gained. Don’t give up; the first little bit is the worst. Then life gets better and better, even when there is loss. In 2018, may you know you are loved, may you enjoy the little moments, and may your eyes be opened to the good. Use your freedom to make new friends, go on adventures, and learn new things. Peace to you.
[i] This verse, John 6:68, is ripped from its context and is used as a thought-stopping passage in the group I grew up in. The intent is to prevent people from leaving. It scares people into staying because they think there is no life outside the group.
We are currently seeing spiritual abuse played out in the National arena. I am tempted to identify this as spiritual-political abuse. It goes to the heart of the idea of spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is a fight against unseen forces and is embedded in the belief of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. If one sees him or herself on the side of good, then he or she can use their belief to justify anything that is thought to be part of the fight. The problem is, the “fight” is often based upon one’s opinion.
Spiritual warfare allows one to employ any means necessary to win, including unethical means. Here are examples:
Lying: Calling truths lies, and lies truth; withholding information; and attacking the integrity of people who raise questions in order to prevent access to relevant information.
Justification: Willingness to vote for a “Christian” candidate, even if there is evidence that person has a history of sexual abuse or harassment, bigotry, or of racism.
Dismissing: Refusing to consider evidence; Outright denial of science; Belittling education and educated persons.
Banning: Prohibiting contact and communication with anyone perceived to be a threat.
Controlling the use of words: Using vocabulary to define who is in and who is out; Inciting hatred and fear through words; Prohibiting entire Governmental agencies from using words.
This week we learned that the CDC was given a list of words that they are no longer to use: Diversity, Fetus, science-based, vulnerable, evidence-based, transgender, and entitlement. For several days I have thought about why. Why ban words? I believe this was done to help infuse an Evangelical Christian perspective into how our Government operates. It is spiritual warfare brought into politics, and as such, is spiritual-political abuse. I believe these words were banned because they do not fit into the Evangelical agenda being promoted at the highest levels of our government. Here are my initial thoughts about why the words were banned. It would do us all good to reflect on how banning words contributes to the power and control that is necessary in spiritual abuse.
“Diversity” is offensive to Evangelical Christians because it promotes acceptance and respect for all people. However, Evangelicals cannot go there without treating people of other faiths as equals. They can never learn from someone from another faith. Nor can they allow for diversity of sexual love. They must stay within strict and literal boundaries that were set in the stories told by nomadic people thousands of years ago, because they see it as fighting for the family that God “ordained.” Evangelicals are not interested in love and respect for all people because they view all others as people who will soon be destroyed (when Jesus returns).
“Fetus” is banned because Evangelicals are pro-life, meaning pro-birth. They cannot consider any other outcome than two cells that joined, dividing until a natural exit from the womb occurs. There is no room for gray in their thinking. It is all or nothing. If the mother is ill, or the cells are compromised, who cares?[i] The “baby” must be born; and baby is the only acceptable word to use, so fetus must be banned. Abortion is not an option and is part of the evil that must be fought in the cosmic battle.
“Science-based” is a threat because science has proved many biblical errors. Science also offers commentary that human activity is harming the planet, but this must be dismissed because it contradicts the belief that the universe is in control of a Universal Sovereign, God Almighty. Surely human pollution cannot harm the planet if God is in control.
“Vulnerable” speaks to our responsibility to help one and protect each other, but for Evangelicals, God is the ultimate protector and those with vulnerabilities should apply more faith, or call on God to help them. And when your hope is in a heavenly reward, there is a belief that all will be made right in the next world. There isn’t much concern for here and now because soon every knee will bow to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and people will get what they have coming to them.
“Evidence-based” is used when distributing funding to make sure there is accountability, that the money goes to programs that work. Evangelicals are immersed in purity culture and encourage their children to remain abstinent. We know based on evidence, that these concepts do not prevent unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but by banning the words, perhaps it will open up Federal funding for church programs to use Federal funding to promote these feel good, Christian programs.
“Transgender” is opposed among Evangelical circles because there is a focus on God’s plan and purpose, and a belief that there is a God-ordained order. Men are men, women are women; each has specific roles within the family. Being opposed to science contributes to a lack of willingness to learn about the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity; there is no concern for the science that helps explain hormonal and genetic differences that may influence gender identity. Instead of seeing variance as normal, variance is seen as sin; if someone is sinful, they become part of the cosmic struggle, not a neighbor to love as oneself, but as an enemy to be destroyed. Evangelicals have no desire to understand or to have curiosity because they are already satisfied with the answers they have.
“Entitlement” speaks to many things, but so much of Evangelicalism buys into the idea of God rewarding the faithful and punishing the wicked. There are verses lifted from Scriptures that lead to calloused attitudes toward people in need. For example, if a man doesn’t provide for his own household, he is worse than an unbeliever. Even Jesus said, “You will always have the poor.” There is the mentality that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and take care of themselves, but this denies systems that oppress. It ignores the ways that racism and sexism (and many other isms) are used to keep people in power, while denying opportunity to others.
A prosperity gospel has arisen that has replaced the teachings of Jesus. The belief is promoted that God wants everyone to be rich, and you have to plant a seed of faith; People should rely on Jesus to provide their needs. “Entitlements” imply unearned favors. They are not viewed as safety nets. In the Evangelical world, people have what they have, based on their love of and relationship with the Lord.
We should all be concerned with spiritual-political abuse. It is shaping our country and even the language we use. Spiritual warfare leads to manipulative, unethical behavior. Freeing ourselves of the damage of Evangelical or other forms of controlling religion, requires a fierce new kind of morality. It requires willingness to consider science and evidence, and to uproot deeply held convictions when necessary. It requires humility, the courage to stop seeing oneself as superior to everyone else. It may require us to work to solve problems rather than waiting for the day.
It will ask much of us to shed toxic beliefs. It will be painful and upsetting, but what emerges is curiosity, freedom to love others unconditionally, the ability to pursue dreams and the freedom to not know. It is the liberation that comes after transformation and wrenching free of one’s cocoon. Letting go of Evangelical beliefs will lead to true freedom.
[i] My aunt was deathly ill with ulcerative colitis, and was having an abdominal x-ray when they saw a skeleton. An abortion was suggested to preserve my aunt’s life, but she would not take that option. A baby boy was born, but the birth taxed my aunt’s system and six months later she died, leaving her six children without a mother to raise them. This is the kind of circumstance where there are no easy answers, but people outside of the situation often hold black and white opinions.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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