Tag Archives: church

Our Most Recent Church Small Group Endeavor

untitledIt had started snowing by the time we got to the house. It had rained all day, and there were weather warnings for the night and next day. Since Chris and I are both Midwestern, and most importantly, the car was Midwestern, we weren’t super worried. At least, not about that.

We were trying a new small group for the first time. It was connected to Chris’ church, and there were going to be food and games. I was relieved, because it meant I didn’t have to share anything too personal and deep, which it something I have a tendency to do when someone asks me. The last small group we had gone to, I had essentially relayed my whole story with depression, which fascinated the small group leader, like he had never met someone with depression before. He was perfectly nice and appropriate and everything, but I felt really on the spot.

So, I could easily avoid the life history if I wanted to. I started to get really nervous when we went to the door. I could hear children’s voices. When we rang the doorbell, a gaggle of kids opened it. Neither Chris or I really knew what to say. “Hi, we’re here for the small group” didn’t seem quite right, given our audience. The kids screamed, “People are here!” and then proceeded to close the door.

“Just go in,” I told Chris.

“They’re holding the door shut,” he replied.

Oh no.

After an agonizing minute or so, an adult human woman opened it. She had a baby tied to her chest and was extremely pregnant. She had an odd look (at least, I thought it was odd), like she was expecting us to try and sell her something.

“Is this the church small group?” Chris asked.

“Yeah! Come on in!”

We all introduced ourselves and went to the kitchen, where more introductions occurred. I quickly deduced that they were all dads, and it was their brood who had tried to shut us outside. For her sake, I was glad they weren’t all the kids of the woman who opened the door, but that meant that Chris and I were currently the only adults in the room who were not parents. Well, us, and the young guy whose zipper fly was down. I spent the next ten minutes or so trying to make my body as small as possible so kids would stop crashing into me, and sending a telepathic message to Chris to signal to Zipper Fly to zip up. I was not successful in either.

A few more people came, and with them, children. I became more and more uncomfortable. When it was time to eat, everyone stood staring at the food for what felt like an eternity, not wanting to go first.

“This is very Midwestern,” I murmured to Chris.

When we finally ate, Chris and I went first, because we were “the guests.” It was subtle, but then I realized that we were the only ones considered guests. That felt weird. I asked if we were all going to eat at the table in the room next door.

“Sit wherever! Make yourself at home!” the man of the house said.

Okey dokey.

Chris and I went to sit at the table and waited for the others to join us. No one came. I could see them, standing in the kitchen and eating. If I was someone else, I would have gotten up and went back into the kitchen, but I was not confident in my ability to hold a plate and eat. The kitchen was small, and with all the adults and assorted children running around, it was pretty much assured that I would drop my food everywhere.

Eventually, someone did come out. We had a painfully awkward conversation about where we were from, stuff to do in Oregon, and believe it or not, pressure cookers. I became absurdly enthusiastic sharing my knowledge, as if I was a salesperson for the Instant Pot. Another person came out and stood by the table. More painful conversation. All the while, two kids played with their fishing game at the table with us, lightly arguing about who had caught what fish. Eventually, both adults left because their kids needed food/help with the bathroom. I did not expect them to return.

At this point, I had checked out. We had not even reached the “game” portion of the evening, and I was dreading it. But I wasn’t going to say anything. Chris already knew how picky I was about people, so I wasn’t going to be the jerk and make him leave. To my surprise, he said he was going to make an excuse about work, so we could leave. We took our plates to the kitchen and Chris made his announcement. It triggered a few questions about what his career, and I realized that in our two conversations, they had always asked Chris what he did, but never me, even when the opportunity was right in front of them. We had only started talking about pressure cookers because Chris had brought up my freelance writing on my own and my newest project. I chose to not see it as sexism in action, but rather an indication of just how bad people are at talking to each other. The man of the house said we should come back another time.

“Definitely!” Chris said.

We got in the car and I declared that I needed hot chocolate. As I sang along to the radio, I noticed Chris had not spoken. He didn’t speak the entire drive, and even forgot where we were going, so we went to a different Dutch Bros than usual. When we got home and changed into our comfy clothes, I asked him if everything was okay.

“I’m just disappointed,” he said.

He didn’t talk much the rest of the night. I realized that the reason I didn’t feel anything about the bust of an evening was that I didn’t really expect anything. I knew what it was like to feel incredibly uncomfortable (and unwelcome) somewhere. I’ve been to my share of youth groups and churches, and had anxiety long enough to know what it feels like when an entire house seems to want to expel you from its walls. Chris isn’t that way. He’s endlessly gracious about people and optimistic about every situation he goes into. I sometimes think I would like for Chris to have a rough time somewhere so he can relate to me more, but seeing him so disappointed and quiet…it kind of broke my heart. I wanted him to be chatty and goofy with the dog. I wanted him to be himself again.

I think we should start our own small group. No kids. Read interesting books. Go do volunteer work. Be intentional about building a spiritual community that questions and builds up. I would sign up.

5 Things Church-Goers Should Know About Former Church-Goers

1. We don’t want to be invited to church

The reason we aren’t going to church is not because someone just hasn’t asked us yet. We’ve already been there, we know what it’s like. I have this thing where I go to small groups (I’ve been to, like, two) and see if the people are actually invested in people, or just getting people to the church. The first group was structured around the sermons, so right off the bat, it’s clearly intended for people who already go. For one of their outreach things, they went to a grocery store and handed out gift cards, but also included a church business card. It was a PR move, not a service project. It wasn’t about building relationships or meeting a real need (I’m sure people appreciated it, who knows what their stories are, but if the church really wanted to make the most impact, they would not have chosen a grocery store in one of the wealthier areas of town), it was about drumming up attendance. So, long story short, don’t invite us to church. Invite us into your lives. There’s a difference.

2. We didn’t necessarily stop becoming believers when we stopped going to church

When someone stops going to church, there’s an assumption that they’ve lost their faith. However, that is not necessarily the case. A person’s faith can actually become stronger when they leave church, because they’ve realized their convictions are not hinged upon going to a building every week, and that staying in a place where they don’t belong is harming their faith. I’ve never stopped loving Jesus.

3. Church PTSD is a real thing

Yes, someone’s experiences at church can be so bad, they start to manifest PTSD symptoms. People have been physically assaulted at church by church leaders, they have listened to damning sermons, they have been betrayed and abandoned by trusted mentors, and so on. That is trauma, and trauma has consequences. Going to church feels dangerous. It’s not like I can should just shop around or that I haven’t found the “right one,” it’s that the whole concept of church, the rituals, the decor, the music, the language, reminds of me all the bad things that have happened. Anxiety kicks in. Panic. My body is literally telling me to run.

4. We still want a community

It’s really hard to find a shared-faith community that is not a church. Right now, I’d say it is impossible. While the concept of “church” literally makes me want to throw up, I still want to find the people who love Jesus, but are having a real hard time justifying it. I still want that spiritual “mentor” of sorts, who I feel knows more than me, but still asks the big questions and doesn’t act like they have all their shit together.

5. We want to talk about why we left church

I guess I should really just say “I” want to talk about it. I’m sure there are lots of people who don’t want to talk about it. I just know that it’s kind of a weird moment when people have asked what church I go to, and I say that I don’t go, but Chris does, and they don’t ask why. Sometimes I offer a slew of reasons unprovoked, but they don’t dig deeper. They probably don’t want to be nosy, but at the same time, if you’re a church-goer, you should really be interested in why people are leaving the church in droves. The worst that could happen is the former church-goer saying, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Image source: http://www.sbts.edu/blogs/2016/05/06/should-i-leave-my-church-8-critical-questions/

being shamed

Today was hard, in a way that’s kind of hard to explain. Someone decided they needed to unfriend me, but that wasn’t enough. He needed to message me and shame me, blame me, for the unfriending. I’m not close to this person. At all. In fact, he’s contacted me before about my beliefs, saying that because I call out certain politicians/pastors/public figures, I’m not a good Christian. Apparently, I stand for nothing, because I don’t stand on things the way he would like.

Even though my life is unchanged by this person unfriending me, it rattled me. It especially disturbs me when people in ministry do things like this, and it serves to harden me even further against “church people” and the church in general. This leads me ask several questions:

If he had known that “churchy” phrases and certain language serve as triggers when they’re used as weapons, that they can make me feel sick to my stomach all day and derail my thoughts, would he have chosen to write differently?

If he had known that these kind of encounters are actually very disturbing to me and I’ve written extensively about how these sort of out-of-the-blue accusations about the state of my faith, would he have started out his message with, “I know this won’t phase you at all”?

If he had spent any time at all getting to know me as a complete person, and that I don’t actually spend all my time “mocking” Christianity (which I actually never do, just institutions and people I believe misrepresent it), would he have decided I haven’t actually “strayed from the straight and narrow,” but that it’s all just part of being young, having questions, and working through challenges?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is that he was completely inappropriate, hurtful, and intent on shaming me. If he hadn’t intended that, he would have just unfriended me and said nothing. Unless you know me, know my struggles, and have made any attempt at all to connect with me, you don’t get to tell me what I’m doing wrong and make statements implying that I’m spreading darkness. That need to shame, to accuse, is not from God. It’s not coming from a place of love, because God’s love does not seek to bring on guilt.

This person said that he “felt sorry for me.” I feel sorry for anyone else who has to experience this kind of treatment from someone who claims to be in position of spiritual authority, because apparently if I don’t agree or comply, I’m not worth bothering with in his eyes. Apparently, I can’t even be tolerated.

I won’t miss that kind of treatment. I want a life full of love and understanding, even in the midst of disagreements. I will keep fighting for that, and I know I’m not alone. God does not shame me, so I feel no shame. I’m free from that.

 

To The Brokenhearted: Being a Christian with Depression

My first Kindle ebook is now available for purchase on Amazon. It costs $4.99 and is enabled for lending on the Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get it on your computer or smartphone using the Amazon Kindle app. Here are some instructions:

http://jeanienefrost.com/discount-ebooks/how-to-read-an-ebook-without-an-e-reader/

I hope some of you check it out!

http://www.amazon.com/Brokenhearted-Being-Christian-Depression-ebook/dp/B013HPUO00/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1440533993&sr=8-1&keywords=to+the+broken+hearted+being+a+christian&pebp=1440533995385&perid=1CJ7SKS136KKVP032WFT

I wrote a book!

So, I wrote a little book called “To the Brokenhearted: Being a Christian with Depression,” and it will be coming to Kindle very soon. I’m using their direct publishing service, and I’m super excited for everyone to check it out. It’s about my experiences with depression and anxiety, specifically as a Christian, and the lessons I’ve learned on how to deal with symptoms, people who deny mental illness, and so on. I have an author page on Facebook set up: https://www.facebook.com/eshubertyauthor

“Like” me and stay tuned!

With Unexpected Speed

I did not expect to be dealing with all this so soon.

I had recently passed my two-year anniversary and was looking out the car window at the blur of fields and barns. Occasionally we would pass clumps of trees, but they would fly by so fast, it was like they had never been there at all. When I tried to focus on a small detail like a single branch or house in the distance, it would immediately bleed into the oddly-linear hues of gray, green, yellow, brown, and blue. My mind was wandering. It had only been two years since I signed a piece of paper, said goodbye to my dog as he left for his new home with my in-laws, and woke up a married woman. In a lot of ways, it seemed like yesterday. However, it also seemed like forever ago. In those two years, me and my husband have dealt with mental breakdowns, horrendous medication withdrawals, a crisis of faith (ongoing), employment turmoil, sexual identity questions, loneliness, relationship doubts, and looming financial challenges. I was not naive when I got married. I knew all this and more was part of the deal; I just didn’t expect it all to happen so soon and so quickly.

Isn’t marriage supposed to have a honeymoon period? You know, that brief time when everything is rose-colored and you’re just happy to wake up next to your person every morning? I’m not saying I’m unhappy to be waking up with my person, but there was never a time when that happiness wasn’t mixed with anxiety and questions chewing on my brain like termites.

Is my unemployment a burden to this clear-eyed, optimistic, occasionally goofball-ish man I’ve yoked myself to?

Will the pharmacy screw up my medication again and disrupt my entire week with crippling muscle pain, headaches, and frantic doubts about everything? Are those bone-shaking doubts just symptoms of an unstable mind, or legitimate concerns I should be listening to?

Should I have gotten married when I did? Am I too young and immature? 

Will I ever be in a place to have kids? Do I even want kids? What happens to us if I don’t want kids? 

Even before we got married, we were faced with having to give up our dog Yoshi and the distinct possibility he would never be adopted. Thankfully, Chris’ parents took him back to Indiana with them, but that raises its own issues, like feeling the self-inflicted internal pressure to make enough money to get a place where we can take him back.

Do other married people have these problems? I’m sure they do. And I’m positive that couples have faced worse unemployment, worse debt, worse mental illness, and so on. I want to always be aware of the privilege I have, but I’m selfish and self-pitying. I see other couples with Instagram-perfect lives and go between feeling glad I’m not a fraud, and then furious that we’re not them. I see other couples having or planning babies, and I’m flabbergasted that they aren’t freaking the f*** out every minute of every day. I envy identity/orientation confidence. I envy white-picket fences and Tuesday date nights and dishwashers. But mostly, I fear.

I fear I will never be happy at the same church as my husband.
I fear 9-5 jobs and “work shoes” and imperfect bosses.
I fear eternal debt.
I fear little pink capsules and inefficient pharmacies.
I fear loneliness because I don’t dare get close to other women.

I fear God and His timing, which is so unlike our own, that to Him nothing is “unexpected, “too soon,” or “too late.” 

Heartbroken by the Church

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 3.50.08 AM

I’ve known for a long time that I’m bitter about the Church. The last church I went to consistently went through a lot of big changes very quickly and left me feeling abandoned and betrayed. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a bunch of little things. I was disappointed in the direction (or lack of direction) I felt the church had. There was a lot of division about things like worship, prayer, and leadership. People left. People got hurt. In the end, it just became a building.

It isn’t just the one church I’ve been heartbroken by. It’s the Church. I’ve always had trouble with the Christian community and feeling like I fit in. Youth groups and Sunday school were agonizing for me on a social level. I never felt spiritually challenged or like issues that I was facing (like depression and anxiety) were being addressed at all. It seemed like curriculum for teens was based on gender stereotypes and the idea that young people have no attention spans or interest in depth. It didn’t really change as I got older; so many small groups for women met during the day and centered around motherhood or crafting. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, but it is limiting. It just serves to confirm my long-held anxieties about not fitting in.

Those anxieties have gotten worse. Politics has been the defining battleground between me and the Church. I’ve discussed this a lot on my blog, about how religion and politics become one and the same, about how I’ve been personally attacked by people I trusted just because I don’t agree with their ideologies. These are fellow Christians. These are fellow Christians who do not see a problem with either directly or indirectly questioning my devotion to the faith based on my political beliefs. I may disagree strongly with conservative Republican ideas and question why people agree with them, but I would never- and have never – judged someone’s Christianity based on those ideas. It is a repulsive attack. I know I’m bitter about it. I know that holding on to bitterness hurts me, but I’m not holding on to it intentionally. It has become sort of this weird shield against getting too close to being disappointed by the Church again. If I expect people in the Church to judge me, I won’t be surprised. I don’t know how to find the balance between not getting hurt and not being bitter.

I’ve also been heartbroken by all the people in the Church who don’t say anything about the attacks against people who have different political beliefs. These are the people who don’t stand up against ostracization and subtle segregation. These are the people who think that ignoring someone’s beliefs is the same as accepting them. For me, my political beliefs are directly influenced by my faith, and I want people to know why and still respect me and see the value of our differences. I’m practically desperate for that acceptance. I think it’s why I’m so insistent on still dealing with people who have shown they aren’t going to open themselves to new ideas, who see my beliefs as dangerous or ungodly. I still want a church family, after everything that’s happened, but I’m terrified. I can’t tell who is going to be responsive to my beliefs or who will shut me out, either because they think I’ve strayed from the faith or because they just don’t want to deal with the conflicts of iron sharpening iron. There is no defining characteristic of that sort of thing. And in my experience, churches are more likely to be filled with the kind of people who would attack me, so is it any wonder I’m really cautious?

But I’m also really lonely. I thought it was possible to stay strong spiritually without any help from other Christians, but I was wrong. God help me.

Is It Ok For Christians To Get Angry?

When I say angry, I do not mean miffed. Annoyed. Upset. I mean angry. The kind of angry where your face gets hot and steam shoots out of your ears.

I say that it is.

If you have experienced abuse, you can get angry. If you’ve suffered a deep betrayal, you can get angry. You can get angry about anything. To say that you cannot, is to censor your feelings, which are very often justified. Getting angry at Mark Driscoll for leading a church that has been exposed as spiritually abusive towards many people, especially if you are one of many who has been spiritually abused? Justified. Getting angry at all those priests and pastors who have recently been accused of sexual abuse in the state of Minnesota? Justified.

Anger is a lot like grief. In fact, in psychology, it is listed as the second response to grief. People saying all “the right things” does not help. When you experience grief, so many people are there with their two cents: “It’s part of God’s plan. He never gives us more than we handle. I’ll pray for you.” It feels like you are not allowed to rant, you are not allowed to get out that out. If you stay silent, it simmers. It brews. It poisons.

People, Christians included, need to be allowed to get angry, to ask God, “Why?” The entire book of Job is dedicated to one man’s rantings and ravings. His friends try to help, but they just make things worse.

In the end, it’s Job and God. That’s where healing really begins. Anger needs to be healed, just as grief does. And it only happens between an individual and God. People, with all their wise words, their scolding, their attempted empathy, all fade into the background. That’s where anger can turn into something else.

Forgiveness.

Going Back to Church

So I went to a church this past Sunday. 

Whaaat?

I know, I know. I haven’t been in an actual church since Christmas and I’ve been fighting against Chris’ hints for a long time. To be honest, most of my reasons to not go to church seem better than his reasons to go, but I’m biased towards myself. And most of my reasons are fear-based, and when has fear ever led to an ultimately good decision in spiritual matters? 

The first thing I did was research. Going into a church blind is like going into a social group without any knowledge of who is going to be there, at least for me. I want to know something about the church before I go. Is it geared towards a particular denomination? Is it going to be huge? Heading towards a big change? What is the staff like? In doing research, I discovered one church that described itself as “progressive” and politically-liberal, which got my ears perked up, but something seemed off, so I did more research and found that this was less of a church and more of a group of “spiritually-minded” people who used the life of Jesus as a “guide.” I may be pretty liberal, but my spiritual life is defined by my belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that the Bible is God-breathed. All of my big problems with Jesus and the Bible are related to how people interpret these two things. 

It seems shallow, but how a church’s website looks is pretty important to me. If it looks really outdated, odds are the church is very traditional and doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to get new people into the building. While there is a place for churches like that, they aren’t for me. I want a church that is in the world, (though not of it), and committed to reaching out to the unchurched and burned-out through the language of my generation. At the same time, I want a church that is also committed to caring for their flock; a lot of churches are so focused on outreach and growing that they don’t have the resources necessary to deal with the problems their current members might have. 

That is what made me interested in the church we went to. They have ministries for both outreach and “inreach.” Their website was clean and attractive, and they have four campuses. The one we went to was small, but not so small that it felt awkward. The speaker was a stand-in because the head pastor is on vacation, but there was enough there to get me interested in coming back. I just want a church that doesn’t make me angry with its message, or really bored. There are the churches that drive a hard right political line, and then those that just mask any opinion at all and are so concerned with not creating controversy that they don’t talk about much of anything. I don’t need a church that’s liberal. I just need a church that doesn’t try to judge me or shut me up because I’m a liberal. 

That’s a hard thing to figure out. It takes a lot of time. My fear is putting a lot of energy and time into a church and then find out they expect everyone to picket Planned Parenthood with them or something. My usual strategy has been to avoid all churches altogether, but I can’t do that forever. I want to have friends that share my spiritual beliefs. A church is pretty much the only place to find that. So I’m taking a risk. Erg. 

 

Image source: 

http://htlutheran.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/feet-walking.jpg 

This One Time At Camp…

Image

I was not a camp kid. All I wanted to do in the summer was rollerblade, eat off the grill, and sleep in. However, because my parents wanted us kids to have the normal number of childhood experiences, we did go to a few campy (ha ha) things.

The most “camp” experience we probably had was doing one of Concordia’s Language Camps. It was an overnight, lakeside, week-long excursion where we would learn German. I think they found out about it because two of our friends were doing it and my parents decided it would be less traumatic if we knew people. Evan and I were not pleased. The camp was for beginners, but the staff only spoke to us in German and if we stared at them long enough, obviously not understanding, they would dramatically act out whatever they were trying to tell us. We had to sing loudly (in German, of course) before they would let us into the cafeteria. Every day was full of small group activities, singing, crafts, etc. We woke up every day at the crack of dawn (or so it felt like). It was, to this day, the longest week of my life. All I wanted to do was go home. I actually attempted to dehydrate myself so I would get sick and be sent home, but that didn’t work out. Being at camp may suck, but being sick at camp is worse.

It wasn’t all bad. The high school girls who served as “counselors” were really nice. One of them would sing us to sleep with Jewel songs she played on her guitar and they would talk to us in English at the end of the day so we didn’t feel completely disconnected from everything. The other girls in the cabin were friendly, I just didn’t have any of them in my small group I spent all day with, so that was a bummer. At the end of the week, they set up a dance for us with German techno music, and it was not as awkward as one might expect. Still, there was nothing quite like the euphoric joy of driving away and heading back home to cats and homemade hamburgers and reading.

My other two camp-like experiences were not actually in the summer (one was in the fall, and I think one was like right at the beginning of summer, maybe) and were both church-related. The first was with a big church and was a weekend with a zombie theme, because Christians are supposed to die to the old self, and live in the new. Pretty clever, I know, and that’s not totally sarcastic. The stage where all the sermons were was set up with tombstones and cut-outs of people in the various stages of life and death. The talks were all pretty interesting and I wished I could have just done the worship and message part of the weekend. The parts where we were supposed to “fellowship” were what spiked my anxiety to its peak. I felt so awkward that it physically hurt. I knew most of the girls in my group decently well (one of whom actually just married my cousin, I hadn’t seen her since that weekend probably so when I met her, we kind of stared at each other with that, “I know you, but I don’t know how…” look) but not well enough to actually feel comfortable with anyone. I knew their names, but literally nothing else about them. I felt like they were all best friends and I was just on the outside. When everyone who came to the event had this huge game that involved running around and catching people (I literally have no idea what it was, this is what I assume it was based on the war paint boys were painting on themselves), I wandered around the woods until I found another girl sitting in a swing so we just swung in silence until order was restored. Spiritually, it was a good experience. The last night the main speaker did an exercise where we would walk through a coffin that was set up vertically, representing coming back to life in Christ, and I started weeping, something that had never happened before during a church event. Socially, it was horrendous.

The next church event was part of a much smaller church and with a youth group I felt more comfortable with. I don’t remember much except that my group leader who I adored had to have emergency dental surgery because she got dry socket, and that I was almost always covered with ticks. We were in the woods. There was canoeing and some hiking and such. Socially, there was a huge outbreak of late middle-school hormones and most of the kids were obsessed with each other. There was one girl in particular who was the object of desire, probably because she was tall and blonde and was the only girl who was wearing makeup (during camping, really?), and one boy who basked in the attention of the girls from other churches. At night for one of my cabin’s bonding sessions, we had to go around and say who we liked, which I was thought was immensely stupid. Me and a couple of the other girls who I knew better literally had to say, “We don’t like anyone, but I guess if we had to say who we thought was the cutest…” It was awkward. I remember one of the girls said she chose my brother, which was a proud moment for me. On the ride back, we went through these boxes we had set up during the weekend where people could put letters or whatever, and that was an exercise in humiliation. I got like three letters, one of which was from my leader so that doesn’t count, and had to sit and listen to Tall Blonde Makeup Girl brag about all the letters she got from BfOCs (Boys From Other Churches) saying how hot she was. I was totally judging her. This weekend was supposed to be about GOD. Judge judge judge.

I’ve always thought I didn’t have anxiety until that halfway point my junior year of college where I started having panic attacks, but looking back, it’s pretty clear I’ve always had social anxiety. People called it “being shy,” but there’s a line between “being shy” and “wanting to die and feeling like you’re going to throw up when you’re around people.” I don’t feel like that anymore, so that’s a huge step. I’m able to manage my anxiety and have made a lot of good friends, something I was never able to do easily as a kid. That’s progress.