I grew up in a religion that had all the answers. We had the truth restored. We had the special anointing of God to bring in restoration of the early church in Acts. We were it…so we believed. But we had some hard ideas about people and their allegiances to one another. We discredited friendship because that would be “knowing one another in the flesh.” We rejected our family, because family only “brings tribulation”. And if someone left the church? We shunned them. We said they had “lost their vision” and “left God”. It was better for the person who never entered our church than the one who had “tasted the good things of God and rejected them.”
As a child I didn’t understand the concept of shunning. There was no reasoning that the person who I could talk to the week before was now dangerous to my salvation. I just knew that people I loved, looked up to, relied on were there one day…and then they were not. And if I asked where they went, I was told to not ask. Not talk about them. For a child it was very confusing. It caused me to worry that my family would leave church and I’d be left alone. Leaving that church was one of my biggest fears…because I’d lose the people I loved and knew.
I remember the pastor’s son. He was my big brother. My buddy. He played the drums…and I LOVED the drums. I’m sure he had something to do with my teenage attraction to all the drummers in the churches. I thought him funny and I looked up to him. And then, one day, he was gone. I was told … We don’t ask where he went. We don’t talk about him. If we see him, we don’t talk to him. Leave him alone. I cried. Because I didn’t understand why the boy who sang songs with me, who jammed with my father at band practice, was now gone. I just knew I’d never see him again. More people left. The twins, my age, closest thing to friends I had. The pastor’s daughter, who I adored. My grandmother. My aunt. My cousins. People came and went. And I stayed there. Never understanding how people were there…then gone…and we would never see them again.
Then one day he left. The pastor. He left and ripped a hole into the fabric of our church. Again in typical fashion we didn’t talk about it. Yet, I wanted to talk about it. I was scared of him. I had nightmares that he’d take me from my parents and I’d never see them again. Night after night after night. I was so confused. How could I be scared of someone and not want them to come back…and yet be desperate at the thought of never seeing them again? The adults did the best they could to protect us from the fallout … they pretended nothing happened. We were not allowed to know the truth. We were not allowed to talk about our feelings. We were just left with a church without a pastor. And in this system…that meant we were vulnerable to have a wolf enter and steal us away.
Somehow I survived the years between his departure and the year the new pastor closed the church and we moved to California. I learned to stuff my feelings…my fears…my thoughts deep down inside. I learned to hate the pastor who left and fear those who left. I began to protect my identity in Christ with all I had. The world became my enemy and I was safe only inside the walls of that church.
Then I found myself on the outside. I was one who left. Now I was one who was shunned. I responded as most people who grow up in a cult respond…I fell apart. I returned to the church, a sister church, in Oregon. Yet, it wasn’t the church that drew me to Oregon…it was Abba. I just didn’t know who he was at the time. I was now an adult and disturbed to see the shunning still happened. It still made no sense. But I didn’t question, at least consciously, the teachings. I didn’t question things that logically made me scratch my head. I didn’t question the nagging voice that told me, basically, “The Emperor has no clothes.”
I stayed until Abba told me to leave and then I left. Once again, I was on the outside. Only this time I spent no time looking into the place I left. I looked out. Out to see the landscape ahead of me. And I was surprised at how vast and how wide it was! I was scared, but I knew that Abba was there. Calling to me. So I walked away from the place of safety into the place that I once feared.
Eight years. Eight long years of changes have brought me to this weekend. I found myself sitting with the boy who played the drums, underneath a tree, staring at the words, the name of the girl who lost her fight to cancer. And as we talked, two wounded children, now adults, were connected together in a way that only Abba can orchestrate. As we talked, and our souls rejoiced together, a spark of healing began. Forgiveness. Of the one who I blamed. Responsible for so many evils in my life. A man who was just as wounded by the system as I was…as his family was…and I realized that Abba had orchestrated a series of events, so unbelievable, to get us to that moment under the tree…so that I would finally let go of something that is holding me back.
I’ve struggled with my faith the last year. I’ve struggled with accepting that the place I was in was not a healthy place. I’ve listened to others who say that the man does not deserve forgiveness. I’ve held on to fear of a man who cannot hurt me. And I looked at my friend, feeling the presence of his sister, and heard a resounding, loud…”LET GO…Let love heal.”
And I drove away from there, tears in my eyes, realizing that the years of separation from someone I loved had been restored.
And I can’t begin to tell you the conversations that have happened since that moment…less than 48 hours! Seeing that not only have I been healing…he’s been healing…and there’s a bunch of us that have been healing. We may have been hurt and wounded, but Abba is healing our wounds, restoring us to love and preparing us to unleash a torrent of love on those we know and have known…and I just sit here amazed and in awe.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when Abba pulls back the curtain and gives me a glimpse of the beauty he has prepared…but I am.
So thankful that the healing continues.