Getting past the reality of my 15 years in an Evangelical church culture that I let control my life hasn’t been easy. Finding the gems in the experience has taken me awhile but they are there. The year that my body completely broke down was also the year where I began to ask some very deep questions about my…self which for me, was a brave move. I started to read books from psychologists (Christian ones, of course) and I began to learn that I had so absorbed the literal Christian message of dying to my self and not having a will of my own that I lost…me. Author Leanne Payne in her book Healing Presence gave me a perfect word picture for this time in my life. It is of a person bent down as they face another to the degree that they have no will of their own. And from that place, I began to stand up but before I could stand, I had to understand my bentness and how I had landed in the broken place I was in.
I began to realize that in my heart there was a cavern of self doubt so large that all it took for me to surrender to someone else was their belief in me and their offering to me a way to success. In high school I felt incredibly lost. I had lived in the western part of the US until I was 12 and our family moved to northeast Nebraska where assimilating into the culture proved to be very difficult for me. I now realize that I’d lost my sense of place in the world. I have also come to understand that when you come from a lower income family with a father who is so driven to succeed, your life is constantly changing and on the move. We’d moved five times in four years and though it was quite an adventure at times, it was often confusing and chaotic for my internal world. This is a part of the American Dream that many don’t realize exists. My father finally found his professional calling and became very successful. He is a brilliant and resilient man. Married to my mom who is equally brilliant but in a very different way, the two of them figured it out and are now enjoying a wonderful retirement. They have blessed my life in many ways and I’m very grateful for that but their success set the achievement bar very high for my brother and me. In the years I grew up, sons went into the family business, girls found something else to do. I found Evangelical Christianity.
I was attracted to the new idea that Christ was a man who rose from the dead after having died on the cross for my sins. It took little or no effort at all to believe that I had sins enough to make my life unacceptable to God. The transaction of accepting Christ by saying a prayer that included admitting my sin and asking him into my heart with the promise that it would restore and direct my life made total sense to me just like it did for multitudes in the late 70’s. As my family’s life was absorbed in the business, mine was absorbed in this newly discovered faith using my natural leadership skills to become a disciple of Christ. A disciple was someone Jesus chose out of those who followed him and was therefore a very important person assigned to carry out his work on earth after his resurrection. To imagine that I could be one was very centering and empowering. I set my sights on becoming the absolute best one he ever had.
This commitment blessed my life in a million ways. It gave me a place in the world where Sunday after Sunday I could experience the love of sincere people who enjoyed my company. The pastor of the church became a safe harbor and much loved person in my life. His sons became my good friends. My way of having fun became a morally acceptable way without the pressure of alcohol, drugs and sex. In every way this little Baptist church was a shelter for me.
As a result of what I learned there and from the Bill Gothard ministry, I actually thought through what kind of person I wanted to marry. I actually wrote out a list of qualities I wanted in my husband at 16 and waited until I found one who fit the bill. After having just celebrated 30 years together, it seems to have been a good move. I suppose you could say that my list allowed me to enter dating and marriage consciously rather than as the result of an unplanned pregnancy. I was quite willing to become an Evangelical version of a nun if that would have been God’s will for me so I wasn’t in a huge hurry to settle for just for the sake of settling. When Dean came along, I literally checked off the things on my list.
Dean and I were both adventurous young adults and the life of an Evangelical Christian in the late 70’s was quite the thrill. With the goal of reaching THE WORLD for Christ, we learned so much about that world and its people. At present Dean and I love being in any environment (including Abbot Hospital in Minneapolis) that is full of diversity. We love interacting with those other than we are and the seeds of that love were planted in our lives as Evangelicals.
In the eighties we settled down and started our family in the middle of the church that split off from the Baptist church. It was our entire life. To this day our kids recall how we “lived” at the church. We experienced community in a way that very healthy and supportive. Our daughter was born three months early after my water broke at 13 weeks. To this day, I look back on that miraculous time as one where God spoke to me in my need and gave me faith to believe that she would live. The odds were less than 1%. Crazy and serendipitous events took place one right after the other and made it clear that this child was intent on being born with God’s help to get her here. Unfortunately, zealous Christianity, was not enough to ensure that her miraculous life would be an easy one. She has suffered much as a result of that traumatic experience. Her life brought with it deep questions, questions that would ultimately lead us away from this expression of our faith.
There is a lot more I could write about and of course, I am writing for my own self more than anything. As the realities surrounding Bill Gothard’s ministry hit home for me, it brought with it real clarity as to what the cornerstone of my personal faith’s dysfunction actually was, what things I chose to believe that set my life up for the physical breakdown I had experienced. Though I had let go of a lot of it and put it behind me for a long time, moving back into the Midwest and especially to a town where Evangelical Christianity is a mainstay has forced me to rethink it all over again. I still passionately believe in God but what that looks like from here on out is wide open. I only know that at 53 it is just fine to be me and to be who I am.