Some times of the year are easier than others. Easier to deal with memories, smells, sounds of yesterday. This time of the year it is harder. Thanksgiving time was never a time to give thanks for family, turkey and football. It was a time to gather the family of God, excluding those who did not have the right vision. It was one of the rare times I left my sheltered world and discovered there were others just like me. I loved conference more than anything.
I remember my first conference in 1980. I had FINALLY turned 6 and was allowed to go with my parents. I stayed with the pastor and his wife. I remember wishing the services were not so long, but loved having the attention of the two adults I adored the most. Even when I snuck out of bed during after service fellowship, I was treated with kindness. I was ecstatic the next night when they allowed me to stay up with the adults for fellowship and I was given an ice cream bar. I returned feeling on top of the world and couldn’t wait to return. By the time the next conference arrived my life had changed. I was no longer the protected child by the pastor and his wife.
They arranged to have me stay with a single mom and her teenage daughter. I learned in 3 short days that I was too loud, too stubborn, too whiny, too talkative, just too much for God to ever do something with me. I was a mere 7 years old and I was already told I’d fail at making the bride (a concept that I STILL don’t understand well). I hated the way they’d brush my hair, pulling it into tight ponytails that hurt. When I complained they’d smack me with the brush. When I saw the pastor’s wife and I went to give her a hug I was pulled back and told to leave her alone. The lady I could give a hug to every time I saw her at home was off-limits at the meetings. I’d learn the hard way the difference between me and the minister’s wives.
It was during this second conference I discovered I was NOT the only girl in this crazy group of people. I met the “girls” from Portland and I was hooked. Despite being reprimanded for speaking with them (later I learned we were not allowed to talk to others without the pastor’s permission), I knew that I had found friends. I may have left a lot of things behind from the church, but I still have those girls as my friends.
The husband did not grow up in the church. His memories were of family and turkey and his mom’s rice stuffing (which is AMAZING) with lots of gravy. There was football and games of hoops played in the driveway. Thanksgiving was about family. He hated conference. And it was one of the first things we fought over. Every single year, from 1992 (when we were dating) to 2008 we’d fight over conference in one capacity or another. I spent most conferences pulled between church and my husband. Strangely enough, it was the husband who drug me to conferences in the end. The last one I attended in May 2008, I went because we had guests in our house and I didn’t want to explain why I no longer went to church.
The church that I wanted to be apart of when I was a little girl, the church I left my family to attend, the church where I met and fell in and out of love with the husband, the church that made and broke me at the same time, fell apart and split in 2008. And the ripples of that have affected people in this area ever since. There are people who will not have anything to do with anyone from the church. There are people who are able to fully go in and out among the now three churches and the loosely knit bunch of us who just won’t play the game anymore. There are people who moved on to other churches, other faiths. There are people who simply quit believing in God. And the church? It acknowledged some of the hurt, the pain, the reasons for what happened. In the beginning. But they don’t anymore, or at least it seems they don’t. Because now they talk about reconciliation and gathering together as one again. And it makes my heart grieve.
Because they missed the point. Again.
It doesn’t matter much to me that this conference will be about uniting back with a man who abused people. It doesn’t matter much that this conference will be about bringing God’s perfect ministry and will into the earth today. It doesn’t matter much that they think all their works, their hours serving one another and putting on charity will bring them perfection. It doesn’t matter much to me that I won’t be there. But I can’t pretend that it doesn’t hurt. The memories of what that church did to me and to my husband are raw.
The thought of going to a conference makes me anxious. I’m not sure I could even remotely get my hair into a proper bun. And my ability to not question stupid things that come out of men’s mouths over the pulpit…ya, that filter has long left my body. And I really don’t want to go and see people, and love on them and pretend everything is ok, when it’s not. I don’t want to hurt people by going, to tell them I’m there, but I’m not going to come back. I just can’t do it.
So, I just pray that they are blessed as usual. That it’s the best meeting ever for them. That they are filled with hope and joy and peace for the long journey ahead to home…wherever that is.
As for me…I’ve found home. Home with a husband who is holding my hand as we grieve and mourn over what we lost and thank Abba for what he’s given us and what he will continue to give us. Home with three amazingly beautiful children who have grown up without the church, without the rules, in a values-based environment (I have to thank my friend for that compliment) and are whole, healthy people who are discovering just who they are and who this God is their parents talk about all the time. Home with BOTH our families. After years of feeling outside, I now feel like I belong in my husband’s family.
This year we are going to sit down with his family, eat turkey, and rice stuffing and probably too many potatoes and gravy, consume the Costco pumpkin pie that was my father-in-law’s favorite. Drink. Laugh. Watch Football. And just be entirely grateful for the amount of love and grace and mercy that Abba has poured out on us. That’s worth celebrating.