Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Did I even want to grow emotionally?" Men, Shame, and Communication...My husband, Kevin, on the blog today

My husband wrote this post for his spiritual director and Kev (very graciously) said I could share it with you. I'm so proud of the difficult emotional work he's been doing. If you've ever struggled to express yourself, or love someone with a similar issue, I hope you are encouraged by Kevin's journey.  

Before that...if you missed the series on Shame and Spiritual Abuse, you can catch up here:

Out in the Cold, by Matt Rose

Telling the Truth, by Dorothy Littell Greco

Two Kitchens, by Janna Northrup

Shame and Spiritual Abuse, by an anonymous blogger

Signs of a Spiritually Abusive System, by Kathy Jack 

Why I am Still a Christian, by Marlena Graves 

And now...Did I Even Want to Grow Emotionally? 

"For as long as I can remember, I've hated when people have asked me the question, 'How are you?' I know it's usually just meant as a polite greeting or a way to initiate a conversation, and that didn’t bother me. It was when, every once in a while, someone really asked and actually wanted to listen to my answer. That’s when I got annoyed—not at them, but at myself.

I could always navigate my way through small-talk, but when someone expected or needed me to go deeper, I had no clue what to say. Even though I knew I had a full emotional life underneath the surface, whenever I was asked to express it, I felt like a foreigner in a strange land. 

I was just trying to understand my feelings; I definitely didn’t have the skills to converse about them.   

I started meeting with a spiritual director a year ago and we began by talking about the inseparable connection between emotional and spiritual health. And it didn’t take long for me to figure out that if I wanted my spiritual life to matter, my emotional life needed to matter as well. But the question I still had to face was this: Did I even want to grow emotionally?

My initial answer was no. I mean, I’m 37 years old. I feel connected to God. My marriage and family are doing well. I’ve been a pastor for ten years, and every year ministry continues to get better and more enjoyable. I am in the process of planting a church with a great team of people. I’ve always been able to connect well with others. It’s not like I am hitting rock-bottom or anything.

But after meeting with my spiritual director, I knew that I couldn't live another day of my life with what felt like the emotional understanding and vocabulary of a kindergartner. If I couldn’t understand and express what was going on inside of me, I wondered how spiritually-healthy I really was. 

And if I truly cared about the great spiritual work God was doing in my life, I knew I had to take seriously my emotional health. Plus, why would I wait until things got worse in order to work on such a vital and significant part of my life? Why would I want to continue feeling ashamed of myself? Why wouldn’t I want to grow in ways that could potentially unleash more grace and enjoyment of God in my life and potentially in others around me?

I finally realized that I wanted to grow emotionally. Now, I'm discovering the specific ways I am emotionally-wired. I'm finding the vocabulary to describe how I feel. And for the first time in my life, I am learning how to connect with myself and with the myriad of emotions that make up my internal life.

Years ago, a friends and I hiked ten miles down into the Grand Canyon to camp at the bottom for the night. When we finally arrived, we were forced to turn around and go back because we didn’t have a permit or a reservation. Although our hike out was slow, unplanned, and exhausting, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful nights of hiking I’ve ever experienced. 

Working on my emotional life has felt a lot like that hike out of the canyon. Slow, unplanned, and exhausting. But every time I stop to notice where I’ve come from and to recognize the beauty around me, I am reminded that all the hard work has made my life and leadership even better."

What about you? What keeps you from understanding and expressing your internal life? In what ways have you found that your spiritual and emotional life are connected? 

And if you're interested, you can find out more about Kevin's spiritual director at

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Am I Still A Christian (on Church Hurt) by author Marlena Graves

If you've missed any of the guest posts from this series on Shame and Spiritual Abuse, you can catch up here:

Out in the Cold, by Matt Rose

Telling the Truth, by Dorothy Littell Greco

Two Kitchens, by Janna Northrup

Shame and Spiritual Abuse, by an anonymous blogger

Signs of a Spiritually Abusive System, by Kathy Jack 

Today's guest blogger is Marlena Graves, the author of A Beautiful Disaster, a lovely and powerful book on finding hope in the midst of brokenness. A member of the Redbud Writers Guild, Graves is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Her.meneutics, Gifted for Leadership and more. You can find her at


Briefly: Why I Am Still A Christian

Well, I’ll just dive in. I’ll try to sum up a complicated story in a nutshell, though that’s pretty hard to do. It’s about my experience with Christians who acted like devils. These supposed Christians used godless means to achieve what they believed to be God’s ends. People who heard about what happened often asked me why I was still a Christian.

The nutshell: a fundamentalist faction of a large Protestant denomination attempted a coup of our educational institution. They succeeded. They ousted the president, several vice presidents, many faculty members, and staff. Lots of trustees resigned in protest. Publicly, the perpetrators denied the purge. In private, they acknowledged what they were doing. A certain senior administrator fudged the files of my friends, and trumped up false charges against my friends—accusing them of doctrinal infidelity.

If my friends publicly spoke out about what was happening to them, they’d lose their jobs. That meant they’d lose their insurance and that their families would be in dire straits. The administration told them they could sign a non-disclosure agreement and as a result, they could keep their jobs for that year. They were paid for their silence. And they chose payment and silence because they had to feed their families.

Here were these administrators who were supposed to be spiritual leaders on campus and in their churches and, I suppose, in their families. But they lied about why much beloved faculty members, staff members, the president, and vice presidents resigned. None of these people resigned. They were forced to quit so that the fundamentalists could take over and put their own people in these positions instead.

Lies, blackmailing, bullying—I couldn’t understand how such “God-honoring men” could constantly engage in such sins and feel no remorse, no pangs of guilt. They said, “It’s the price we have to pay for purity.” Really? All of the people they got rid of were well thought of by their peers and by the students. They were upstanding and full of integrity. This coup—it was unpopular, treacherous, mean-spirited. A devil coup. 

But, of course, they were cleaning house for Jesus. I suppose they fancied themselves as Jesus cleansing the temple.

So, almost every single person above me was ousted, or left before they were taken out.  A whole department. They got rid of theologians and philosophers—another department. They either made life so miserable for them that they left on their own, or they fudged their files, or they claimed that they had to be let go for financial reasons (only to turn around and hire their own people at comparable or greater salaries). And then they started going through other departments, seeing who they might purge there. All for Jesus.

Now, many faculty and staff members who remain, those who survived the purge, those appalled with what happened to us and who are also scared of losing their jobs, tell me they are working under tyranny. Their Facebook accounts are under surveillance. Their politics and lives and friends are under surveillance.

Big Brother Christian is watching them.

What a way to live. And of course, they can’t say anything about this publicly. They can’t tell the students about the hellish work environment they inhabit. They have to put on a happy face and be very careful about what they reveal of themselves lest they slip up and be brought before the tribunal. It sounds so far-fetched, like the book, 1984. But it’s everyday reality for many who remain in that place.

It has taken me a few years to forgive the perpetrators. They destroyed a community, forced us to leave friends and a job that we loved. Because not only did they do real world harm to my friends, peers, and superiors, they did real harm to my family and me.

Sometimes I still get incredibly angry when I see their two-faced behavior. They act one way to parents of students, students, and those in their inner circle. Then they tyrannize the rest. It is a toxic environment of fear. I wonder why the coup was successful—and I know a lot of that is related to money and who knows who and the false narratives, the spin, that went forth from the power brokers. I wonder how they acted and continue to act so despicably yet without remorse.  

Why aren’t they conscience stricken?

I know that if I did what they did, or thought about doing what they did, that the Lord would make me miserable through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Then I think, it must be that I struggle with other sins with which they don’t struggle. 
We sin differently.

If all I knew about Christianity was what I experienced in that environment, with those charlatans, I might not still be a Christian.

The reason why I am still a Christian is because I know what Jesus is like. I know what loving, wise, Christ followers are like and how they live. They are the shining stars of the universe.

What about you? Have you faced church-hurt and remained a follower of Christ? What keeps you going as a Christian? 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Signs of a Spiritually Abusive System...and Hope, by Clinical Therapist Kathy Jack

If you've missed any of the guest posts from this series on Shame and Spiritual Abuse, you can catch up here:

Out in the Cold, by Matt Rose

Telling the Truth, by Dorothy Littell Greco

Two Kitchens, by Janna Northrup

Shame and Spiritual Abuse, by an anonymous blogger

Today's guest blogger, Kathy Jack, is a regular on the blog. She is a clinical therapist and has had a lot of experience working with clients who've suffered under spiritual abuse. Here, she offers signs of abusive systems and hope for victims.

Some Signs of a Spiritually Abusive System:

  • Scripture is used as manipulation.
  • There is a hierarchy system with one or two people in control or having all the power.
  • Typically, females are seen as second class and unequal to males.
  • Victims of spiritual abuse feel extreme guilt, and many times are told not to speak up about the abuse because it would “shame” the family or the church. They may be rejected entirely if they speak up. 
  • There is emotional and psychological control and power covering the entire system. 
  • There are only a few feelings/emotions allowed, and only at certain times and in specific ways. 
  • You feel as though you are losing your identity and that if you had a different opinion than your leaders, people would abandon you or shame you.
  • You experience silence from the church if you've left or been pushed out. (This silence can feel like the deepest betrayal.)

Spiritual abuse can shatter most of our concepts about God and our identities, and if you have ever experienced that type of abuse, please don't think you have to "pick up the pieces." Instead you actually have an entirely new and beautiful masterpiece to create from those pieces-- and like a Mosaic, it will be a work of art. You can have a new life free from shame and abuse.

Some Signs of Healing from Spiritual Abuse: 
(Everyone's healing journey is unique. These are just some of the signs that you are on a path towards hope.)

  • You are able to know and experience God’s love (what it really is, not how the abusive system defined it for you.)
  • You can give love to yourself and to others because you are free to be who God really wants you to be.
  • You are beginning to break the silence about the abuse you experienced or saw.
  • You are no longer controlled by abusers or an abusive system.
  • You are beginning to experience a fullness of life. 

If you think you may be in a spiritually abusive system and would like to experience hope, please reach out to someone outside of the system for help. (You can find me at Alliance Clinical Associates.

In facing your abuse and working towards healing from it, you will undoubtedly go through seasons of grief, especially as you learn to form a new identity outside of the abusive system. It will take time and effort. But just as completing that beautiful Mosaic takes time and tender care, you are absolutely worth it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shame and Spiritual Abuse, an Anonymous Guest on the Blog Today

Today's guest post is from an anonymous blogger with a powerful story. Please like, encourage, and care for her in tender ways. She has been so courageous in sharing her story today. 

Shame and Spiritual Abuse

I was spiritually abused.

It’s still hard to say that aloud.

I was born into a system; caught in church-sanctioned abuse from my infancy. Yet, when I admit that aloud, I can still feel “less than.”  I fear being thought weak or damaged or just different.

That shame – the shame of being a victim – was, and is still, terrifying.

Then there was another shame: shame for how I responded to the abuse. Shame, that I believed what that church taught.  That, as a teenager, I taught that doctrine to others. Shame, that I tried so hard to succeed in that system. And when I let down my guard, shame that I failed in that system.

Shame and spiritual abuse— The two are deeply intertwined. Spiritual abuse seeks control through shaming the victims. The silence, secrecy, and self-hatred born in a spiritually abusive system perpetuate the shame.

Breaking the silence

For years I lived in that silence, never speaking of the demeaning words of my pastor, or of the physical abuse that was claimed to be God’s love, or of the way my salvation was questioned by the church.

I remember the first time I broke the silence. I told a friend the tiniest bit – that a pastor I knew was abusing his wife. It was a warm summer night, but I shivered with fear.

Then I sunk back into silence for years. Speaking was too risky.

Only after I was removed from the abusive system did I break the silence a second time.
I was desperate, deep in depression, questioning my sanity. I sat for hours one afternoon with another woman, trying to make my mouth form words, make sound. The silence sat so heavy I did not know if I could break it. Intense shame welled up. I wanted to hide, to die, to disappear. I did not think anyone would believe me. Yet if I was to live, I had to break the silence.

That afternoon – curled in a ball, hiding my face – I made a new beginning. I broke the silence.

Ending the secrecy

Even after I began to love God—the true God— not the God portrayed to me by abusive church leaders, I still feared that telling about such abuse, would turn others from God. So I continued to hide my story.  

But God has nothing to be ashamed of. He doesn’t need to hide shameful secrets. A few people told me that, but it was a pastor who finally gave me freedom to end the secrecy. In the midst of a prayer, he apologized to me—as a representative of the church—for the sins done against me by the church. In so doing he showed me that God was not ashamed, and that I did not need to hide anything.

Leaving self-hatred

The system in which I was raised saw me as a pile of dung, and taught me to see myself in the same way. More profoundly, it taught me that God saw me as a pile of dung. I learned to hate myself.

In my early twenties I was told that self-hatred was wrong. My response: to hate myself for hating myself. I didn’t know any other way. Self-hatred was supposed to cure all sins. What happened when it was the sin? Shame over my self-hatred consumed me. And then I learned that God didn’t want me to live in shame. My response: shame that I felt shame. It was a vicious cycle.

Although I had left the religious system that had been so abusive and was trying to heal, I was so accustomed to abuse and self-hatred that I tried to beat myself into healing.

And then, these words: “Do no violence to your soul.” Those words, spoken with great compassion, reached into my heart and began to bring healing.

Each month, lying on my massage therapist’s table, I’ve learned to embody those words. I’ve learned that I need gentleness. When I experience pain or fear or even hurry, my body tenses. Only under the gentlest touch do I begin to relax, begin to heal.

And so it is with my soul.

Slowly, gently, I have learned to stop hating myself for hating myself. Even more gently, I have stopped hating myself altogether. Some days the old self-hatred flares up and I remember again: “Do no violence to your soul.”

Nine years ago, I left an abusive home. Eight years ago, I left silence. Seven years ago, I left an abusive church. Two years ago, I left secrecy. Every day, I leave self-hatred.

And shame – shame I overcome moment by moment, day by day, year after year.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Overcoming Spiritual Shame in "Two Kitchens," by guest blogger, Janna Northrup

I am in awe of the bravery of this week's guest blogger. Janna Northrup's piece on overcoming spiritual shame in her family is harrowing and lovely. I know you'll be as moved as I was when I first read it. I am so honored to share it with you.   

Janna Northrup is a stay at home mom to four children, and writes whenever she can. (She usually has more ideas than she knows what to do with.) She contributes to a fitness/well-being blog regularly, but also has blogs about travel and books. She is honored to be a member of Redbud Writers Guild. You can find her on Twitter: @jjnorthr.

Two Kitchens

I’ve tried to write this true. I’ve tried to write my justification, what has been going on in my head and heart so long I can’t remember when it wasn’t. I’ve tried to make it come out so everyone could understand that I am really a good girl, that God still loves me even if everyone I grew up with promised me He wouldn’t because I couldn’t love them the way they wanted me to.

Teenage girls are allowed to hate their mother. There, I said it. 

Sixteen-year-old girls, like I was once, are allowed to question the one who gave us birth, even if it breaks her heart. I didn’t know this, though, because it wasn’t how the economy of love ran within our walls; walls my family built to manage and maintain my mother’s happiness.

This is the story of two kitchens.

The first kitchen in my brother’s home: “Sit there,” my sister-in-law, Mary said, and pointed to the linoleum floor. The kitchen was tiny, just a square. The vinyl tiles butted up against the tan carpet where the dining room table sat.

On the sticky floor, I sat cross-legged in my pajamas. I teetered side to side to wipe off the crumbs from my legs and leaned back against the door to the cupboard under the sink.  I wondered, “What now?” The dead weight inside dropped down further into my soul and felt like it would choke me.

Mary pointed again said, “Look what you’ve done to your mother.” She moved aside and she pushed up the glasses that slid down her nose.

Across from me, on the carpet next to the table, was my mother curled over on herself crying while she picked at pieces of the carpet with her fingers.

Everywhere but there in that small kitchen, it was, “You are such a nice girl.” 

But then and there with Mom and Mary it was, “Look what you’ve done.”

I withered, sticking to the linoleum and feeling its grit.

I was cornered and saw myself right then in the broken mom, the quiet sobs, as Mary saw me—bad, bad and mean. I looked at my mother, the product of me.

Mary, her hair pulled back neatly in a teacherish bun, spoke quietly and firmly, “Ephesians 6:2 says, ‘Honor your father and mother…that it may go well with you.' ”

Honor meant love. I dreamed of loving my mom. In my dream, I put my arms around her, walked with her, sat with her and talked, she nodded and listened, she smiled her eyes at me with pride.

But, in real life, Mom cried in her bed, on the couch, at the dinner table and in the car. It was so much I had to hole up my heart from her and I knew I was keeping it away. 

I felt the shame of not being able to love her enough and it dried me up, sucked out emotion and replaced it with distance.

And, Mary said, “Can’t you see, your mom only wants you to love her?”

This was the economy of love between us. Me love her. I didn’t know that a sixteen-year-old didn’t have the experience or the wisdom to help her mom navigate her problems. I didn’t know that love was supposed to flow from mother to daughter, instead of the other way around. So, I felt the failure they said I was.

But, I too, was a girl, crying inside for the love of a mother. This woman who sat before me, tears coming straight from her broken heart, couldn’t give me love, she said, until I gave her mine.

With my back against the cupboard door, I felt my guilt up against me, defining me. I was trying to be me, to find me, know me. I watched her from the floor in the kitchen that night and breathed another, “Help me honor her” prayer.

If I try to explain that I got the good grades, did the right things, was the kind of girl some other mother might love, it feels hollow and petty and whiny and mean.

It took me most of my life to be free. It took another time in another kitchen to speak not the words she wanted to hear, but the real and true ones she needed to hear.

This time, it was my kitchen, my home. I met my mother there, let in from the cold outside and girded up the words in me that should have been said long ago. I breathed in and breathed out. I promised myself that when she cried I would tell her the truth.

Standing by the counter—up this time—not down on the floor with the dirt, I looked her in the eye and in spite of the fear and panic of being proclaimed dishonorable, not worthy of God’s favor, I said the words I had been formulating for forty years. I told her the truth.

“Mom, I can’t fix you.” I explained the boundaries of my love, that in order to preserve my heart I needed to stop trying to appease hers.

I saw in the ashen color of her face, her wilted cheeks, her doleful eyes how much it hurt to hear.

This is the story of two kitchens. One in which I felt bound again to a twisted turn of love, the other where I tenuously unlocked my heart from a need I was never meant to fill.

I write in the same kitchen just now, at the counter where I admitted my lack, and I slowly find the strength and the words to heal the years of longing for love that was both demanded and needed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Overcoming Shame by Telling the Truth, guest blogger; Dorothy Littell Greco

I am so honored to have Dorothy Littell Greco guest blogging today. She is a sister Redbud, an author, a regular contributor to many well-known publications, a talented photographer, and a friend. As I've been writing my book, Dorothy has cared for me behind the scenes through encouraging emails and prayers. I know many of you will relate the the vulnerability of her piece today. 

Dorothy writes about relationships and following Jesus in a sometimes confusing world and serves as a companion for others on their own faith journeys. Dorothy is currently writing a book on marriage to be published by David C. Cook in 2016. When she's not writing or making photos of beautiful things, she's likely to be kayaking with her husband or baking gluten free deserts.  You can connect with Dorothy on Twitter @dorothygreco, on FB or Words & Images by Dorothy Greco, or on her website,

In my mid-twenties, an extraordinarily handsome and wealthy man pursued me. He picked me up in his Jaguar, took me to expensive restaurants, and always called the next day to express how much he had enjoyed himself. While I appreciated his attention and affirmation, I felt ambivalent because I knew that I was working overtime to be the perfect date. On our fourth evening out, I made a conscious decision to share some of my struggles with fear and to disagree—ever so gently—with his political perspective. He never called again. Was this a coincidence or a reinforcement of what I already knew to be true—telling the truth is risky?

Consistently telling the truth has been a lifelong struggle for me in part because it often triggers my shame. And like most of us, I don’t like shame. As far back as I can remember, the smallest, most minuscule mistake would send me spiraling down a vortex of self-accusation and self-hatred culminating in a shame attack. I once put my pet goldfish back into his (or her) tank after my mom had changed the water—never bothering to check the water’s temperature—and cooked him. When my mom asked me if I had done this, I lied. I felt both guilty and ashamed for years.

Shame is a heavy burden and most of us go to extreme measure to avoid it. It was during the tumultuous middle school years when I learned that lying provided some traction against the vortex’s greedy pull. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “I think I’ll start lying today.” I simply noticed that pretending to be fine—even if I wasn’t—prevented others from judging or scolding me for having “unacceptable” feelings. This behavior continued into adulthood. Early on in our marriage, if I felt angry about something and my husband asked how I was doing, I would simply attribute my distant behavior to fatigue which was far less controversial than anger. Yes, I did feel guilty for lying, but guilt was far less incapacitating than shame.

This choice—to dodge shame by lying—goes all the way back to the garden. Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony with each other, with God, and assumedly, with all of creation. Their nakedness symbolized relational transparency and a complete lack of shame. We really don’t know how long the two of them enjoyed one another before the enemy intruded. (For their sake, I hope they had a honeymoon.)

Satan took advantage of their innocence and vulnerability by seducing Eve to doubt God’s goodness and faithfulness. As she weighed the serpent’s crafty words, I can imagine the angels and demons waging a fierce battle in the heavenly realms. By succumbing to the temptation and eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve altered the direction of all humanity.     
At that moment, their eyes were opened and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they strung fig leaves together around their hips to cover themselves. Toward evening, they heard the Lord God walking about in the garden so they hid themselves among the trees. (Genesis 3:7)

Adam and Eve’s reaction provides the template for humanity. We fail or sin (or others fail and sin against us), we experience shame, we cover ourselves, and we cover our tracks. Shame mysteriously attaches to our bodies and our sexuality even when the choices we make seemingly have nothing to do with this. By hiding—whether physically or through deceit—we distance ourselves from God and from others. This distance temporarily prevents us from experiencing more shame but simultaneously separates us from the authentic love and grace that we need to break free from shame’s grip.

After following Jesus for about a decade, I began to understand that lying actually contributed to my shame. I knew I needed to stop. I wish I could report that after a single confession, I never lied again—but that would be more deceit. To this day, if I fear that an honest disclosure will result in conflict or rejection, I am sorely tempted to massage the truth. (Swiftly changing the subject works great, by the way.) It’s taken me years of regularly confessing whenever I lie (even if it’s over something ridiculously insignificant) and continually looking to God to tell me who I am to gain a measure of freedom. Psalm 34 has been a great encouragement to me during this time:

 I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
     He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
    no shadow of shame will darken their faces. (Psalm 34:4-5 NLT)

The man I eventually married does not drive or own a Jaguar. He is handsome, but more importantly, he has helped me to learn the direct correlation between truth telling and shame: The truth really does set us free. This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

When You've Been Hurt By the Church: a New Series Featuring Guest Blogger, Matt Rose, with "Out in the Cold"

When I gave up on church a few years back, it was because I had been wounded several several churches. And honestly, I began assuming every church was like the ones where I’d been burned. I know better now, though, because I finally stumbled upon a church that was different. The people there proved me wrong, and they left an indelible mark on my soul.

But now that mark is all that’s left.

To say our pastor had inherited a wounded church would be an understatement. One bitter rift after another had cost it nearly 1,000 members over a decade and a half. And as more and more people walked away, we lost our focus. Our meager budget wouldn’t allow for big overhauls or flashy upgrades, but we continued to think If only we had this going for us--or maybe that thing--then we’d be desirable again.

But somehow, miraculously, this enabled our pastor to plant the seeds of something better. Rather than trying to "make ourselves up" in order to attract others, he encouraged us to simply start being real.

Instead of purchasing new paint and programs, we birthed neighborhood ministries. And unlike so many churches that require everyone to believe the same things in order to belong, our pastor helped us see that people will begin to genuinely believe when they’re first allowed to belong. No strings attached. He also saw me as a potential leader in the church and gave me opportunities to preach. I had finally found a home.  

For most of my life, I believed God was a math equation; the more I studied about Him, the more convinced I became that I was the only one who knew the right answer. Being a part of this church forced a radical change in me.

As much as I’ve learned about God after a decade of following him, I’ve unlearned more. And watching my church create something remarkable from its loss did something for me that nearly a decade of studying couldn’t: it humbled me.

As a whole, though, our historically program-driven church body struggled to see the beauty that was so evident to a handful of us. Long story short: our pastor’s family moved and it was suggested that our church merge with a local church plant that needed a building.

Merge is a generous word. Acquisition would be more fitting. Rather than two churches becoming one as promised, the weaker one was absorbed by the stronger. We were shrinking. They were growing.

I reached out to the new pastor. I knew it would be a matter of time before the two churches' differences came to light, and I wanted to know if we’d be able to create a unified future together. Things only got worse from there.

I was hoping to be assured that I could still have a place at this newly-merged church, but I found instead that the place for people like me was outside the camp. I had been the black sheep plenty of times before--the quiet charismatic, the t-shirt and jeans in a room of suits and dresses--but I had never been made to feel this badly about it. Out in the dark. Out in the cold. Away from the common table where the body and blood of Jesus were shared. 

I went from being a respected leader to becoming a complete misfit in less than two weeks.

To be frank, this season has been hell on earth for me. The community that originally taught me to love like Jesus loves has been ripped away from me. The community that loved me--me and my sometimes crazy beliefs--is gone.

Our closest friends are grieving the loss of our community as well, and several of us have begun meeting every other week in a friend's barn. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, I’m cherishing our laid-back liturgy. I’m cherishing our shared meals. I’m cherishing the conversations that are healing our wounded souls. I’m cherishing the sounds of our kids playing outside all afternoon. I'm cherishing God's presence in this unexpected place.

I still weep. I still gnash teeth. But I also savor every moment of what’s happening in that barn -- under the shade of those trees, and in my heart.

Photo by Hadessa Creative/Hadessa Photography

A South Carolina native, Matt Rose now resides in Missouri with his wife of nine years and their two daughters. When he isn't dabbling in theology books, 
he can usually be found cheering on the Kansas City Royals. 
You can connect with Matt on Twitter @MatthewSRose and  on his blog.