Monday, May 12, 2014

But God...

It was awful.  Life became awful instantly.

"Harry" wrote a letter saying that he would communicate with our team, "but when you are prepared to".  We began to think about them.  Whew...  our team are people we love.  We have been "family" for ten years or more.  Only "Tom", the new interim leader is new.  How were they going to cope?  We worried about them...  worried..

You see, we had discipled this team.  We had taught them and walked with them for twelve years.  During that time, we talked about openness, honestly, transparency, and accountability.  As we began to struggle, we did not hide this from our team, but openly asked for prayer. We encouraged them that as Christians, we can be open with our weaknesses and we will honor and care for each other.

And now this...

We worried that all that work would be lost.  That they would say, "See, this is what happens when you admit your problems...."  (Sadly, that is exactly what happened, and they swore never to tell any leadership if they struggle with anything!  That broke our hearts.)

We prayed.  We waited.  Then, we mentioned something about the prayer meeting the next day... ... and "Tom" must have wiggled in embarrassment.  We got a text from him asking that we don't come to the prayer meeting as "Harry" and "Dick" would be there to tell the team.  They flew in and drove in to tell them...  so much for the "but when you are prepared to"!  Wow.  We really hadn't expected that they would go back on their word about telling them with us when we were ready.

We did not want our team family to hear it from them, so we did the rounds and visited our families.  We gently broke the news, we reassured them that we were ok, that we would go on, that we had things to do, that we would still always be friends, always be there for them.  And we sat back and took the brunt of it.  To a man, they broke down crying.  They objected.  They said that they would quit too out of protest.  They said they refused to work with "Tom" anymore, and would come with us.  We smiled at their love and support, but gently reminded them for whom they work... the work is not about us, nor about them... we work for God, and we serve these people.  They can't just leave and abandon the people they minster to.  For the sake of those people, please stay.  Don't be upset on our behalf.  We are ok.  We will be ok.  We will still be here, still your friends.  Please.  Do not take it out on the leadership.  God is still in control.

We wrapped our arms around them and comforted them.  We invited them to our house for a birthday party - to remind them that a team does not relationship make or break.  We held them while they sobbed.  And we went back home to lie exhausted in bed and stare at the ceiling.  We had been lied to, and we had been asked not to come.  The next day was an odd day.

Then we were to meet with "Dick".  "Dick" was upset with the decision saying he had no part in it and was very angry about it.  He did not agree with it and wanted to fight it.  We discouraged him from doing so.  How could we go back even if we were invited?  We would be working under leadership that did not prove trustworthy. God is in this, even if it was done wrong, and it is time to take time to heal, and then move on.

Over the next days, "Tom" began to try to talk with us.  We had little to say to him.  He wanted to reassure us that he was really our friend. We declined a on-going friendship with him, and asked him to let us quietly finish out the time, get things ready for transition, and we did not want to discuss issues.  He insisted, and got very defensive and said, "Why are you still going to dinner with Dick, then?  Dick is just as much part of this decision as I am?!"

We said nothing, but left quietly.  We did not come in the next day.  We had told him that we did not want to talk, and he walked through a door and insisted on talking.  We told him we did not want to talk about it, and he sat down and talked loudly anyway.  He would not respect boundaries, so we did not go in the next day.

Two people... two statements.  "Dick" said the he didn't know about the decision until we did.  "Tom" says Dick was part of the decision.  Both statements can not be true.  Someone is lying.  Maybe more than one someone.

We're tired of it.  We are really not ready to be part of any team with leadership like this.  We'd been taught values like transparency, trustworthiness, and care of the wounded.  Values we did not see in any of what had occurred.  So we were ok with being done with them.  We could not stay under such leadership anyway.

What to do instead of go to the prayer meeting then?  We decided to begin the phone calls, to start with a few good friends, move to the churches, and begin informing friends.  We had already written a prayer letter about moving into a time of transition and praying about God's will forward.  So we began to phone.

The first person actually phoned us when he got the letter.  His response was, "Praise God!  I was praying you'd leave that mission soon.  They have not taken care of you at all with what you have been through!"  He asked us to come visit him as soon as we can to just be heard and to have a break.

The second was a member of a mission team.  He used to be with our mission for years, but has moved on to a large church's mission care team.  His response?  A slow sign, and saying, "Pfff, yes, I know (mission name); they just do not understand member care at all... sigh.."  He listened for about an hour and referred us to a place that may be able to debrief us and help.  We researched the debriefing place.  It looked good.  We also researched another one someone had told us about.  It also looked good, but neither had room for awhile.  So we planned to go to one, whichever worked, and kept phoning.

We phoned another church and they said, "We know how important member care and counseling for those who have been through tough times is.  We have a department to deal with that here, and a counselor who has a practice but does work for us.  They gave us his number.  When he phoned, he listened, and groaned.  It is hard for them to believe that we have been through all that and received no care for it, but only blamed for the symptoms.  He also listened to our daughter's symptoms, and get another person in his office involved.  We will be able to work with him, and our daughter will have a child specialist to work with.  That will be sooner than the debrief.

We phoned another place I had got off someone's blog.  It is only a rest and recuperating retreat, but we signed up for that.  We need a rest.  That is also coming up soon.

We phoned another church.  Now with the plan in place, the churches have been very supportive, very understanding, and willing to help.  Several have kicked in towards the cost of the debriefing retreat.  They are expensive, and our mission will not assist us in any way towards that.

Slowly, slowly, as we began to talk to friends, supporters, and churches, we felt loved.  We had been rejected, but now we felt accepted and cared for.  We felt hope.  There were places and people who understood what we had been through and were willing and able to deal with it.  Something held deep inside us began to relax.  We felt hope.

We still worried.  We still had that threat over us...  that if we said anything bad, they would cut our support...  But as we talked more and more to churches and supporters, we began to relax.  You see, we are NOT supported by our mission.  We raise our support.  It is sent through our mission, but it is not from them or to them.  It could be sent somewhere else.  Besides, supporters are not very excited to hear that the money that they give to us is being used as a threat against us.  So we began to relax.  We are still supported by people who care about us.  These threats have little value.

The only thing we worried about is that one of them said that all this was coming primarily from our home church.  We were surprised.  It is not characteristic of our home church at all.  Then we thought back to Tom saying Dick was involved and Dick saying he didn't even know.  And we wondered... are we being told the truth?

We wondered what to do.... If they were behind it, we have to walk carefully... but they may not have been told the truth, or even our point of view.  No one had listened to our point of view yet.  What had Tom and Harry told them to get them to agree to such a thing?!  But how to find out?

We decided that we would begin with the truth.  That we are struggling.  And why.  So we began with a detailed letter about all the trauma of the last 12 years, all the deaths, each one, one by one.  Each crisis, one by one, and our response and our emotions of it all.  To say the least, it was a long letter.  And when I was almost done, the computer glitched, and I lost it all.  I cried.  I sat and cried.  It had been so hard to write.  So I began again.  It took a week the second time, and then we both read it and edited it.  Then we sent it.  And then we tried to sleep.  Neither of us could.  We lay awake, we dozed, only to wake to terrible nightmares again.  We dragged through the next day.  We had not realized the emotional impact of even just writing it all down at once.  It took us almost a week to normalize, and we did not stop having nightmares until a friend asked us to help clean and paint a house for them.  Then only sheer exhaustion and the ability to get away from "work" and do manual labor helped us sleep.

So this is where we are.  Still communicating with churches and supporters.  Still taking time to heal.  We have not put the official word out that we will be looking for a new ministry, but some people have gotten hints of it, and job offers are dropping in.  If we said we were looking, they would pour in!  My husband is a hot commodity.  We are not in the least worried about what we are to do.  We are just wanting to make sure we look for that what at the right time, and now is not the right time.

For now, we are focused on two things - we have a ministry still, outside of the team we were working on.  We can give more time to that now.  And we are focused on healing.  That is top on the list - take time to heal.  Actively seeking out people who can help with that.

Ironically, we didn't speak up before about the fact that we had no help to deal with trauma because we didn't want to speak bad of our mission.  We didn't want to admit to the outside world out of a sense of loyalty that not only were they not even there for us during a trauma, but that they did nothing to care for us afterwards.  Things have changed.  Now we ask for help.  If that reflects badly on the mission agency because churches ask, "Haven't your mission done any of that sending you to debriefing and care?", that is not our fault.

So, while this has all (and still is) been an awful thing to go through, we are seeing that God still is.  He is still there, and He steps in.  People fall short, but God....  God is a different story.  And God is having His people step in.

So we have moments where we are encouraged.  And moments when we still feel stunned and hurt.  But we know that the stunned and hurt feelings will subside over time, and the encouragement will grow.  We look forward to the future changing some, but we hope those will be good changes.  In the middle of it all, we are doing well - I think it has been a relief to begin to talk to each other about how all the trauma and stress has affected us instead of trying to be brave for each other.  It has also helped that we no longer have to try to pacify leadership above us with (especially with their warped views).  We feel a sense of freedom.

(I stop and think back to a time my parents were with a mission for a very short time.  They served under a team leader who they thought was having an emotional breakdown of some sort.  She decided that she would make all the decisions for people under her, including what furniture they would buy for their houses.  She insisted that my parents buy single beds.  Why?  No one knows.  They only lasted one year under her and returned broken.  Control carried too far.  This mission we are with is not that mission, but there are things that are similar.  My father told us years ago that we should get out of this mission because it seemed that our immediate leadership was damaging our relationship...  he said, "I don't know why, but they seem intent on driving a wedge between you too."  We did not believe him - who would do that?!  But looking back, we wonder if we should have listened.  My father felt so passionate about it that he even told our home church pastor.  I doubt he believed him, either, but perhaps we all should have.  My parents took time out after their experience of bad leadership and went back into missions with another group and are still doing well.)

And, in the future?  Well, both of us have had an interest in member care or years - mostly because we had to do it for our small team when we realized that there was no one else to do it for them. And because we saw the value of it (even if we didn't get it ourselves).  So we have this desire in us - but we say to ourselves, not now, now take time to heal - to go into that type of a ministry, or at least a ministry that has both member care as well as other work...  but those are dreams for when we are ready to look at what next, and we refuse to do that yet.  Take the time to heal, and then move on.  But one thing we know - we will not move back to our former team, even as much as we love those we served with on our smaller team.


Joyful said...

Thank goodness your saga with the "former" ministry is almost done. Now you can go on and heal and work without all the shackles. God bless. xx

stephanie garcia said...

I am so thankful to read of the counseling and rest opportunities that are opening up to you. What a healing blessing these will be. Has your home church responded to your letter?

Ellie said...

We're thankful for these opportunities, too. Our home church will have a meeting this Wednesday, and will discuss our letter then. However, today we got a card from our prayer group and they said the letter had been read to them and they are very supportive of us. I hope the missions committee will be also. One problem is that our pastor retired and we have a new person we do not know well who is making decisions. So we don't know who voted with Harry - the new, the old, or who? We also don't know what Harry told them... his view of the situation is not the same as ours, and perhaps they took his at face value without hearing from us. Well, now they have heard from us, and we are waiting, hoping, praying. We hope they know us and understand what we are talking about. We think they will. They are sensible people who know us. Harry barely sees us twice a year and barely knows us at all. We think that people who know us will hear our letter and it will resonate with them.

Ellie said...

Ok, good news - our home church responded and will fund a debrief time. However, they put an odd sentence in their letter saying they have more questions and expectations which they will talk about later. Have to admit, after the month like we've had... that makes us very nervous! But we are trying to be positive.

And very good news coming in on other fronts from other supporters. One bluntly said, "Well, it is very clear that God is leading you away from (mission organization)! That is actually exciting to see what God has ahead. It's true. We're excited, too... just that we're healing first.