Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Separated by Miles

531 miles - 8 1/2 hours
That distance is pissing me off right now. I'm wishing for a machine that will let me travel at the speed of light.
When I last posted, my sister, her husband and their three children were visiting. We had a great time. It was so much fun - one of the best visits we have had. The kids got along great, weather was great and we had a blast.
Sister got to see Munchkin's first soccer practice. She watched Bugaboo while DH and I took Munchkin to back-to-school night. It was great being together. We talked about how we really wish we lived closer. But I am not moving up north and she isn't moving down south so apart we stay. We planned our next visits - us up there for Thanksgiving and them down here for New Years.
Saturday I got a call from my sister that her husband was being rushed to the hospital. He had been found unconscious in his house. When he regained conscsiousness he complained of chest pain and head pain. BIL is 38 years old with no family history of heart disease. Lots of tests have revealed no answers. He's had some minor (to the doctors, although it sounded major to me) surgery, which didn't explain the problems he is having. There are still no answers.
My niece and nephews started school this week. So far they've had sitters every morning and evening. My Sister has been rushing back and forth to the hospital. She is supposed to start back to work herself (school system job) this Wednesday. I can hear it in her voice that she is exhausted.
It's just my sister and I. My mom sure isn't going to do anything to help - except call a zillion times a day and ask a zillion stupid questions. BIL is estranged from his (wacko) family too. Sister, like most abuse survivors, is very hesitant to leave her kids with just anyone. So having to find last minute sitters is pushing her anxiety through the roof.
531 miles - 8 1/2 hours separate us. I can't do anything about the mileage but I sure can cut down the 8 1/2 hour time. I'm waiting on call to see whether I hit the road or not.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trying to Raise a Normal Child

These past few weeks have been filled with lots of new things, adjustments and changes. Munchkin has finished summer camp and started first grade. She also started soccer through our local YMCA rec league. My sister and her gang came to visit for several days.

Munchkin was invited to a birthday party for a friend who had been in her kindergarten class. It was to start at a pottery place and then the kids were going back to the girl's house for a sleepover. I initially said Munchkin could only go to the pottery place. She is 6 - no way is she old enough for a sleep over with parents I barely know. Between the invite and the party I had the chance to interact with the mom (divorced) a few times and get to know her a bit better. I decided to accompany Munchkin to the pottery party. Then I drove her to the party house and let her swim and get into her pajamas and stay until 9 pm, at which time I picked her up. I even left her there by herself and didn't stay. She was the only child not sleeping over, but I still wasn't ready to cross that line yet.

Last night was Munchkin's first soccer practice. I was not impressed. I've been around rec leagues a time or two. I know how disorganized things can be. I wasn't expecting a miracle. I did expect the coach and assistant to introduce themselves, at least to the kids, if not to the parents. I did expect them to teach some basic skills to the kid, rather than just line them up and tell them to kick the ball into the goal. I also expected all the kids, boys and girls, to be given equal chances. This is a 5-6 year old, co-ed, introductory league. The asst coach was full of himself. Also a "scream at his kid to do better" type. After awhile the line of kids got closer to the goal and he was yelling at them to "move back." But then he looked at Munchkin who was next in line and said, "oh here you can come closer. We'll let girls kick closer since they can't kick as far." He then turned to the coach and snidely, but loudly said, "guess that is politically incorrect." Me and my big mouth, as well as my big-mouth sister, said loudly, "Yes it is." The asst coach just rolled his eyes. Munchkin then kicked a great kick right into the goal. So we stood up and yelled, "yeah, you go GIRL!" I fumed all night long.

Today I called the rec director and told him what had happened. He told me that only two people had signed up to be coaches and both of them had never coached before. He said that might explain the disorganization and the lack of teaching. He was going to contact the coach and offer some tips. He also said that all players get to play equally and if there were further chauvinistic comments to contact him. So I'm giving it one more shot. Disorganization I can tolerate. A new coach who isn't the best at teaching kids, I can help with. Chauvinistic remarks are not tolerated and will force me to go "mama bear" on you.

Tonight is the "back to school - opening night" at the church we've been visiting. We're not quite ready to join. But I want Munchkin to get involved in a Bible study activity and this church has a great kids' group. I have talked with another parent whose children attend. I have found out that the teacher of Munchkin's age group is a teacher (and therefore background checked by our state). And Munchkin is at an age where I can ask, and she can answer, about how things are going. So I'm thinking about letting her join. What I'm not ready to do is leave Bugaboo there. He's not quite 2 and can't tell me what happens. He's also not tolerant of strangers right now and has quite a bit of stranger anxiety. It took him 3 days to warm up to my sister and he sees her pretty frequently.

So what does all this mean? It is an example of the constant struggle I have between over-protective Mama Bear mode and loosey-goosey, let my kids do whatever they want mode. I know I will always tend toward the over-protective side and I'm okay with that. But I also don't want my child to be too restricted. This is a tough balance to keep and I'm not sure I'm always making the right decision. I feel good about the stance with the sleep-over. I feel a bit uneasy about the soccer and wish I had pushed harder for her to be on a different team. I think me and this asst coach might be having some words in the future. But time will tell and lessons will be learned.
If you are an abuse survivor, or if you grew up with over-protective or under-protective children, how has that shaped how you raise your own children? Any tips or advice?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For Sale - Humans - human trafficking

Human trafficking is modern day slavery. It is the fasted growing criminal enterprise in the world, and generates billions of dollars per year. Victims are coerced or forced into sexual activity or labor. It includes pornography, prostitution, bride trafficking, and large scale sexual abuse of children.

One trend we are seeing here in my area is a huge increase in the number of children forced into prostitution. There have been large sting operations in the newspaper documenting a few successful attempts to infiltrate these groups and arrest the ring-leaders. However, for every success, we know there are large numbers that go undetected. We have learned of large groups of middle school girls that leave after school on Friday and are shipped through 3 states, forced to have sex with large numbers of men or to pose for pornographic pictures, only to return home Sunday night or Monday morning, in time for school. Families of these young girls are told they have no choice - either they let these girls go or risk being killed. With one gang, their focus were on families here illegally. The family feared being deported and this fear was further used to force cooperation

When people think of human trafficking, they think of immigrants, usually here illegally, being forced across state lines. That is sometimes the case, but not always. The biggest misconception about human trafficking is that it only involves the poverty stricken and immigrants. The truth is that human trafficking doesn't discriminate. It targets males and females, old and young, poor and rich. The Polaris Project is one organization combating human trafficking. It is named after the north star that guided slaves along the underground railroad toward freedom. It's website features testimonials from some survivors.

How many of us can relate to Dawn, from Canada, who says:

My name is Dawn and I am a daughter, sister, mother and contributing member of society. I am also an abused and molested child, former drug addict and prostitute. My life started out fairly normally up until my parents divorced when I was six years old..............................I have often heard men say that I had a choice, and I did, it was either work as a prostitute or starve to death because it is illegal in Canada to work at 12, not to mention that no one will hire you if you have no address and are only 13 or 14............................I got into prostitution at 16 when my girlfriend told me she could help me make enough money for a hotel room and living money. She had an older friend who liked to have 'parties' with several young girls and I could come if I wanted to. I would make a few bucks. The 'parties' involved several older men looking for sex with young girls…. at the first one I slept with 4 men and made $400.00 but I felt ashamed and remember crying while these men had sex with me. These “parties” continued for a long time....................The road back has been long and hard for me. I have had many defeats and some pretty nice victories as well. It has taken me close to 11 years to really feel as though I have come through the majority of the fire. And on the really hard days I miss my former friend...cocaine. But I know that is not the way. I have so much to lose, a wonderful family, good job, academic career and so many other thing. For the first time in my life the good out weighs the bad. I feel proud and lucky that I am still alive today to tell you my story. So the next time you see a woman on the street try to think of where she has come from before you judge.

With the increase in "sexting" how many young teens will be able to relate to Theresa, another survivor of human trafficking who says:

The late-night calls began when Theresa Flores was 15. In 1980, before everyone had a cell phone, the private phone that Flores' parents had installed in her bedroom was a luxury. But it nearly proved her undoing. Minutes after getting a call, Flores would silently slip out of the house, cut through the backyard and get in a car waiting at the curb. She would then be whisked away from her home in an affluent Detroit suburb to homes and hotels, anonymous places where she was forced to have sex for hours with strangers. "I can't describe to you the feeling of terror. No child should ever have to know that kind of fear. I didn't know what I was going to have to endure that night, for how long, or if I was going to come back home." What started innocently with Flores' infatuation with an older male classmate turned to date rape caught on film by some of the rapist's friends. They used the photos to blackmail the girl into sexual slavery that lasted two years and involved hundreds of men.

For more survivor testimonies, see here.


After reading these accounts, especially Dawn's, I realize perhaps how close I came to meeting a similar fate. How many abuse survivors did whatever they had to in order to escape the abuse, only to fall into worse situations? When I read accounts like these, I realize that I am fortunate in many respects to have survived with my life, even as difficult as that life is sometimes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Big Brown Blob

On my kitchen wall hangs a huge calendar. It is the desk top calendar type with big blocks, which I fill with writing. Each family member is assigned a color. At a glance I can see who is going where and who has what going on. If the calendar is filled with "orange" (husband's color) then I know I need to fill in with some "purple" (my color). And there definitely needs to be a good emphasis of red (family color).

When I was a little child, I learned that blending all the colors together made a big brown mess. Bugaboo loves to "cow-ar" (color) lately and most of his paintings end up looking like a big brown blob.

My life feels a bit like a big brown blob right now.

School starts soon. My life feels a bit on hold as we await the all-important notice to find out who will be Munchkin's teacher this year. She's also signed up to play soccer. We find out teams and practice nights at the end of this week. So my already rainbow colored calendar is going to be even more filled when I add in all those items. Hunting season starts soon and lots of orange is going to be creeping into the calendar soon. Because Husband is still working second shift (and that won't be changing any time in the near future) his hunting all day Saturday will really be cutting into family time. All of this puts more stress on me who already has all the stress of the children after work/school in the evenings. Juggling the calendar and making sure we aren't overbooked is my responsibility, and I typically do it well.

Perhaps all of these impending changes explain the rising anxiety I feel. The jittery feeling that wo
n't go away. The tightness in my chest and inability to catch a full breath. Perhaps it has to do with the doctor's appointment reminder call telling me about Bugaboo's doctor's appointment which I had completely forgot and which is not at all on the calendar. (how did that happen?)

In the past I would have some sense of security in church. I knew that on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings I would be seeing much of my support network. People that I could just walk by and get a pat on the shoulder or a hug. People that can joke with me about school starting and the school supply rush. Those encounters two times a week kept me going. I don't go to that church anymore. Several of the people I considered friends have "unfriended" me on facebook. I miss my twice daily dose of cheer and pick-me-ups.

I don't do well with chaos and uncertainty. I have found myself redecorating and reorganizing my house. We disassembled the crib and reorganized furniture between the kids' rooms this weekend. I have purged old documents and all the dollar-store crappy toys that seem to accumulate. All of this is an attempt to find some sense of normalcy and organization, at least in my physical surroundings.

But there is something else out there. I can't put my finger on it. I know a lot of this "Thing" is the uncertainty that has resulted from leaving my church. But that doesn't explain the increase in panic attacks and intrusive pictures/memories that keep popping into my head lately. I don't know what that comes from.

I figure if things are much better next week after I have learned and planned for the school routine and schedules, then it is probably just back-to-school stress. If not, then I need to dig a little deeper. There is this nagging voice in my head that says there are some undealt with issues/memories trying to surface - but I keep beating that voice back into submission.

Monday, August 16, 2010

10 Things a Man Can Do

A Call to Men is a national organization addressing domestic and sexual violence prevention and the promotion of healthy manhood. A Call to Men holds men
accountable for the prevention of domestic and sexual violence. They often team up with women's organizations like Rape Crisis centers. On their website, they have a list of
10 Things Men Can Do In Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention. I thought it was great so I wanted to share it here.

10 Things Men Can Do

1. Acknowledge and understand how male dominance and aspects of unhealthy
manhood are at the foundation domestic and sexual violence.

2. Examine and challenge our individual beliefs and the role that we play in
supporting men who are abusive.

3. Recognize and stop colluding with other men by getting out of our socially defined roles, and take a stance to prevent domestic and sexual violence.

4. Remember that our silence is affirming. When we choose not to speak out against domestic and sexual violence, we are supporting it.

5. Educate and re-educate our sons and other young men about our responsibility in preventing domestic and sexual violence.

6."Break out of the man box"- Challenge traditional images of manhood that stop us from actively taking a stand in domestic and sexual violence prevention.

7. Accept and own our responsibility that domestic and sexual violence will not end until men become part of the solution to end it. We must take an active role in creating a cultural and social shift that no longer tolerates violence and discrimination against women and girls.

8. Stop supporting the notion that domestic and sexual violence is due to mental illness, lack of anger management skills, chemical dependency, stress, etc… Domestic and sexual violence is rooted in male dominance and the socialization of men.

9. Take responsibility for creating appropriate and effective ways to educate and
raise awareness about domestic and sexual violence prevention.

10. Create responsible and accountable men's initiatives in your community to support domestic and sexual violence prevention.
If you are interested in this group, check out their website. One of their latest missions is to get 5,000 men to say No to violence against women. Click this link here to add your name and become one of these men.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fully and Irrevocably Terminated

I'm working on preparing orders from last week's court hearing. I just typed this sentence and it jumped off the screen at me -

That the parental rights of the Mother be and are herewith irrevocably terminated in and to the minor child Jane Ann Smith; those being all the rights and obligations of the Mother to the minor child and of the said minor child to the Mother arising from the parental relationship hereby being fully and irrevocably terminated.

What a powerful statement to this child. Jane Smith (not her real name obviously) is not yet three years old. She doesn't understand what is going on. She knows that she was hurt as a baby. She knows that her mother left for "work" over one year ago, leaving Jane in the home of her purported grandmother. The mother never returned. After some time had passed, the Grandmother needed to take Jane to the doctor and so she called Social Services. Genetic testing revealed that the person that is the Grandmother's son is not the biological father of little Jane. No one knows who Jane's father is. The Grandmother decided blood wasn't any thicker than water in this case and she was going to keep Jane. The termination of Mom and (now unknown) Dad's parental rights were necessary so Grandmother can adopt Jane.

It was a simple hearing. The Grandmother showed up. No one else was there. No one objected or contested. I presented enough facts for the court to find there were grounds to terminate rights and that it was in Jane's best interest that it be done. After I finished, the Grandmother filed her petition to adopt.

Such a simple court process. I came back to the office and was typing the Order. What powerful words.

All the rights and obligations of the Mother to the child arising from the parental relationship are fully and irrevocably terminated

If you are a survivor of parent (or parental figure) abuse, then you know that your parents abused the parental rights they were given. They didn't deserve them. Through their own actions they terminated their rights. They refused to undertake any of the obligations parents should, especially the obligation to love their child and keep them safe.

As a child you don't know understand all the rights, responsibilities and obligations a parent should have. You just know your parents aren't keeping you safe. They are hurting you. They just aren't acting right. Even young children have an understanding of right and wrong. It takes a long time for children to understand consequences, and even when they do, it is mostly other people imposing consequences on them.

I remember wondering when my parents were going to suffer consequences. Here I was trying to grow up and do right. I was constantly reminded that bad actions (and even sometimes not-so-bad actions) had consequences. When was someone, anyone, going to impose some consequences on my parents? On my abuser?

I didn't have a grandmother-figure that came in to save me. My relatives all took the "blood is thicker than water" mantra to heart. They kept quiet, circled the wagons, and told me to keep quiet and respect my parents. They sure weren't taking any actions to protect me or to see that consequences were appropriately meted out to my parents.

When I typed that paragraph above, it was powerful. I don't take joy in drawing the big red line between Jane and her parents. But I do take a sense of satisfaction in imposing some consequences on her parents. And I did take great joy in helping hand up the adoption petition.

I'm wondering how many of us would find satisfaction in writing our own termination order. You could you know. I previously drafted my own divorce decree. It was really powerful. If you think you'd find it helpful, feel free to borrow mine and adapt it accordingly. Take a try at drafting your own Termination Order too, if you want. Words can be a powerful thing. I felt that today. And sometimes taking words and using them for your own healing is a great and powerful thing too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Take my Baby - excerpts from the job

"Don't take my baby.........don't take my baby........you can't take my baby...."

I've been doing a bit of work in the abuse/neglect arena of social services. I swore up and down I wanted no part of this area of law when I started in this job. But then I began to miss the courtroom and trial work. I missed the excitement of trials. I started attending juvenile court and helped out with some research and such. I became more and more involved. Fast forward to today when, in the interest of "cross-training," I am handling the child welfare docket once per month.

I am enjoying this work immensely. I know that there is no way I could have handled these cases even one year ago - definitely not in the midst of those three years of intense healing. Now, however, I am working to achieve a balance between legal objectivity and panic-induced over-awareness. It hasn't been a perfect balance, and it continues to be a struggle, but one worth fighting.

Recently I observed a case. I watched a stone-faced mother sit in court and tell the judge that yes, she was still living with the man that the court found to have sexually assaulted her ten year old daughter. I kept staring at this mother. The social workers hoped that hearing all the facts at trial would get through to this woman. But it did not. Getting the mother involved in a non-offending parent therapy program has not helped. The mother showed up in court this time proud that she had completed all the items on her check-list - substance abuse assessment, psychological evaluation, non-offending parent therapy. The Judge point-blank told the mother that it didn't matter how many boxes she checked - until the Judge could be assured that this child would be safe in the mother's home, the child was not going home. Not just this child (the victim) but all the children (the two siblings too). I wanted to stand up and cheer, "Go Your Honor!"

In another case where the boyfriend is accused of molesting a young girl, the father was brought to trial from jail, where he is serving time. He sat next to the father of this girl's brother. Both men are serving time. I saw the men whispering. I saw the looks they were shooting to the mother and her boyfriend. I needed to discuss some matters with these men and ask them if they wished to be transported in for further hearings. They adamantly said, "yes." My surprise must have showed on my face. These men have no chance of being reunited with their children or of playing any meaningful role in their lives - both are serving long-term sentences. One of the men remarked, "I'm gonna be here to listen to the trial. If I find out that man hurt that child.......well I have friends on the outside. And I'm already serving one life sentence for murder. Another won't matter." The man speaking wasn't even the girl's father, but rather the father of the brother. The daughter's dad said, "Let him [boyfriend] get in here. He'll be taken care of." I couldn't help it. I smiled. I nodded. That man stood a notch higher in my eye.

Today was my first hearing where I requested a child come into foster care. The mother isn't an overly terrible person. She is just clueless. She lacks all motivation. Even the filing of this action against her didn't spur action. Perhaps the child coming out of her care will help. I heard her wailing behind me, "Don't take my baby......" It wasn't as hard to hear as I thought it might. This child deserves a better chance. He deserves to go to school the entire year and not miss half the school days because his mother can't get up on time. He deserves to learn to read and write, and have a parent who does more than sit him in front of computer tutoring programs.

I'm expecting some tough times as I take on more in this area of work. I have made it clear that I do not want to handle any serious sexual assault cases or any cases where children are testifying. That wouldn't be good for me - or the case.

This isn't what I pictured myself doing. But I'm feeling good about it. I feel like I'm making a difference.

At our staff meetings, awards are given out to nominated employees for going "above and beyond." One of the social workers was nominated based on a letter sent from a former foster child. The child wrote, "Ten years ago I told you that a bad man hurt me. You believed me. It made all the difference in the world. Thank you."

I don't want thanks. But I do want to make a difference. Fighting through the healing process is letting me do that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Church Saga - I've been doing it wrong

Many of the comments have asked about the pastor. It is so hard to know what is true and what is not. I know many of his stories are exaggerated. I did not know by how much until we started doing some fact-checking.

What I do know is true is that there was a horrific church split from which my church (now old church) was formed. The pastor was accused of manipulation and being overly controlling. We now know that those accusations are probably true. However, the way in which the split took place was not appropriate. I was not there. However, some of those in my group were. The church called a meeting and invited all members, even those who hadn't attended church in years. There was a public meeting with the pastor and his family present. He was voted out - a close vote with a margin of less than 10. He and his family were then escorted out.

There were tape recorded conversations and even rumors of bugged offices. It was a horrible situation.

It's common knowledge that the pastor is paranoid. Everyone knows it. The pastor admits it. I always assumed it was from the church split. However, his family and those that grew up with him, say the pastor has always been that way. So I'm really not sure what caused it. I know that he is delusional because of his paranoia. He will do things out of his paranoia in attempts to take control. He makes up stories and lies. What is astounding is that he then believes the lies - so he can look you in the eyes and lie straight to your face. I truly believe he could pass a lie detector test.

I realize that my faith has been intertwined with my church. To some extent that is not a bad thing. However, it becomes a major problem when your church leader is not a godly person.

A friend sent me an article entitled "Is your Pastor a Cult Leader?" At first I laughed. But then I read on -

While many of today's evangelical pastors don't reject the foundational Christian doctrines such as the virgin birth, the trinity, the resurrection and salvation through Jesus Christ alone; they do however exhibit some of the following characteristics that are common to cult leaders.
1. Specially appointed by God (our pastor claims to be "called" by God. Not unusual for a pastor to claim. However, he sometimes says it happened at age 12, sometimes at age 15, and sometimes other ages. He can not give details of his calling and has never talked about his own faith profession).

2. The cult's adherents often expound the virtues of the leader and seek to cover the leader's sins and wickedness.

Some of the 'virtues' espoused by the defenders of today's cult-celebrity pastors include:

1. Attendance has increased under his leadership
2. Giving has increased under his leadership
3. He is a very gifted speaker and communicator
4. He is attracting and appealing to a younger audience that has been missing from our church
5. He is so personable
6. He is a strong leader (numbers 1, and 2 are definitely claimed by the pastor. He is seen as "attractive" although in a used-car salesman type way. He married a woman who inherited a LOT of money. So he wears very expensive suits and drives very expensive cars. He has the air of someone who is important).

3. Entangling Organization Structure: The less truth a movement represents, the more highly it seems to have to organize itself; the absence of truth seems to make necessary the application of the bonds of fear. Cults often demand total commitment by their converts to an organizational involvement that entangles them in a complicated set of human restrictions, giving the impression of passionate and often irrational devotion to a cause.

Many of today's cult-celebrity pastors rule with an iron fist of threats and intimidation. Some of these pastors don't like to be involved in the intimidation themselves so they leave it up to some of their deacons, elders, associate pastors, or ministry representatives. (absolutely. The pastor has no respect for organizational structure or rules. He completely ignores bylaws and rules that the congregation has established. If you dare question him, he reverts to rule 1 - he is called by God or accuses you of breaking confidence. But he does not take action himself. He hides himself in his home and calls himself "above" such worldly things. Instead his minions are the ones calling meetings and taking action for him.)

Biblically-minded Christians are often completely astounded by how committed the sheep will be to their cult-celebrity pastor. Even in the face of irresponsible, immature, unethical and even illegal activities by the pastor or ministry leader, the flock will passionately defend them with arguments and excuses that are completely irrational as they disregard the truth that stares them squarely in the face.

Those that question the pastor or ministry leader are guaranteed to be admonished by him and his leadership team to cease their criticism or find another church or ministry organization. (this is where we find ourselves now) Indeed this is kind of control and manipulation on the part of the leadership entangles many of the church-goers or followers because they don't desire to give up their freedom of speech, conscience or convictions. Neither, do they desire to leave the church in which many of them were raised, married, dedicated their children and even held funeral services for their parents and/or grandparents. The church members indeed find themselves entangled by fear that the truth with banish them from what they have come to love dearly ' the church.

This fear of banishment is what I've struggled with. I've come to realize that I'm "doing" church wrong. I've been so caught up in church that I've forgotten that I'm called to a relationship with God - not a church. And I'm not finding God in this church, and haven't in awhile. So for me and my family it is time to leave.

This week every member of my small group is resigning all positions of authority. We are seeking new churches. We have also committed to trying to meet for a Bible study, realizing that that our lives have been wrapped up in church. Just for my family, Husband often taught a Sunday school. He was also a deacon. I oversaw many of the children's ministries and was in charge of the toddler nursery. I was also a trustee. I taught a Bible study this past year. We've both attended a Bible study each year. So one weeknight a week was individual study. Wednesdays were fellowship and church. Munchkin's friends are church friends. Our babysitter is a church member.

I'm struggling now to keep myself in my faith because of the anger and sadness with church. And struggling with whether I need to get that issue figured out and resolved before I find a new church -- or whether finding a new church is the key to those issues.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Church Saga - twisted up

Dealing with the church drama came at the same time I weaned off all depression medication. I still have a prescription for xanax but committed to not taking it for anxiety more than 2x a week (I sometimes take a half at night to sleep).

So here I am, med-free, with emotions all over the place. I've never cried so often or so much. I've punched pillows in anger, thrown a whole Sunday newspaper of wadded up paper, and yelled into pillows. I've also laughed uproariously with this group of 11.

This Pastor has been like a father-figure to me. Aren't pastors supposed to be? When I finally allowed myself to see the impropriety of the meeting with the pastor (
here) I was upset. My emotions and feelings were totally validated by seeing the concern, and even anger, of those around me. I was angry that the children's policies committee was supposedly voted out. I was angry at how the situation with Mitch was handled. I knew the pastor's take was that I was being "too sensitive." It helped that those in my group didn't see me as over-reacting. It felt good to be part of a group that was supporting each other. It was so healing to see these strong men lead their families in making decisions. To see these men meet together and then go confront the pastor. To feel protected by this group. To be a part of Godly women who met to pray while our men were out fighting for us. It was a great feeling of safety.

The pastor refused to return phone calls, emails, etc. Canceled a meeting. So I drafted and sent a resignation letter. It was professional. I wrote one that was several pages long and very emotional. I then redacted everything personal. I kept it to just the facts. Several other people resigned. Suddenly the church was without teachers for 1st through 6th grades; 4 deacons, 3 of 5 trustees and almost all the tellers. Rumors began to stir and our phones again were ringing.

Through it all, the group stayed together and refused to engage in any gossiping or rumor-mongering. If someone contacted us, we kept to a very brief version of the facts.
The pastor's defense is that his actions in deciding who should be deacon (ignoring the will of the congregation) was made in confidence with only the deacon leadership. Instead of admitting wrong, he claimed some pastoral privilege and shifted the focus to the deacon chair in breaking confidence by telling others. He called this chairperson (my friend) a "Judas" and a "liar" and a "master manipulator." Instead of dealing with the issue of Mitch and the policies, he was intent on keeping things quiet so no one got uncomfortable and left.

A church member, sensing a huge church split, suggested mediation. So one of our couples met with the pastor and a mediator. I expected the couple to contact all of us after and update us on what happened. After an entire day went by, we got an email from this couple that there had been an impasse and that it was time to move on and put the past behind us.

My emotions were again in turmoil. I was being told to cover things up, exposing things were wrong, and to put the past behind and move forward. All of these messages are ones I heard throughout my childhood. I'm trying to sort through all of these messages and determine what fits where.

I wonder if every crisis and big event in my life will step on my toes like this and get twisted up in the emotions of my childhood? If all of life's emotions will be filtered through events of the past?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Church Saga - why we left

There was this incident where I was disappointed by the pastor. I had trouble believing that this guy was the same pastor who had acted so firmly before. In talking with friends it became apparent that many others were concerned with different things going on in church. Many members were leaving without explanation.

Eleven of us met to talk and pray. We started the meeting with prayer and with a piece of paper. On the paper we were asked to list the top 3 issues we thought existed. Each of us listed honesty, manipulation, and deceit. Obviously not qualities you want in a church leader.

As we discussed specifics, we became more concerned. We realized just how few people who had helped found this church less than 15 years prior were still members. This group committed to make sure we focused on facts and not rumors. We decided to spend time making sure we had the truth in front of us. We would then decide what to do with it. So we called people, read church documents and got back together. What we learned was outstanding. Bylaws were ignored. Financial policies were violated or just ignored. Deacon elections were manipulated so that strong-willed people were not permitted to serve. Then there were the outright lies to cover all of these issues up.

We researched the Bible and determined we would act in accordance with Biblical standards. Since the deacon chair had already tried to discuss the issues with the pastor, we decided two additional men would go with him. It resulted in the pastor storming out of his office and yelling at these men in the parking lot.

The pastor then refused to take calls, return emails or even make an appearance in his office. He claimed that the "parking lot debacle" had "gotten physical" forgetting that he was the only one yelling. He organized a meeting of all deacons, except the chair, my husband and another one he suspected of being in cahoots with us. The purpose was to "vote out" the deacon chair for daring to discuss any church business with us. Our phones rang off the hook.

In all of this, two interesting things happened. When describing a meeting I had with the pastor of the Mitch incident, I mentioned how the pastor acted odd. He asked to speak with me and we went to his office. When drafting church policies, he told me he never, ever met with females alone in his office. I had never met with him alone in his office. On this day, he took me in his office and shut the door. In my profession I have met with many male clients in offices. So I was fine with this. Until he walked over to the window that faced the parking lot and shut the blinds. He said, "I don't want people to see us meeting." Then instead of sitting in the chair behind his desk or in the two armchairs facing the couch I was sitting on, he sat next to me on this 2 person couch. That struck me as odd. He was sitting back, relaxed. I immediately scootched forward and turned sidways.

Alarms went off in my head but I kept pushing them aside because I became so focused and mad about what was being said. I didn't think much of it later because I was still so mad about what was said. It was only when mentioning this off the cuff, that it struck me just how inappropriate this was. My husband and the other men in our group were really mad. My husband wanted to go give the pastor "what for."

Our group also chose to tell the others in our group about Mitch. The same gentleman who had gone after that sex-abuse couple, who is the same man who was blackballed as a deacon, is a hot tempered man. He was furious. Everyone else was trying to calm him down. I didn't want to see anyone get hurt. But I did like seeing him get mad. It was healing for me to see a man get mad about something like this.

The pastor refuses to admit he did anything wrong. He, and some of the church members, believe he should run the business of the church as he sees fit. Our group disagrees and think that a church who organizes itself as a "priesthood of believers" with bylaws and policies, ought to follow them.

I never thought leaving a church would be so emotional. But it sure has been.