Friday, August 14, 2015

Those Early Years

It was about eleven years ago that we moved, again, across the world with four small kids.  We ended up in one room in a stranger's house and faced the immediate tasks of finding a place to stay, settling in, and getting set up on a limited budget.  Our first house guest came shortly after, and I think he had no clue that the household only owned two towels, so the one we gave him meant that we all shared the other!  But we were happy - reasonably so.  There was so much to do!  We went from being members of a team to being leaders of spearheading a new team.  We were all settling in this new place, and we were in charge of orienting everyone while we were still new ourselves.  It was, in many ways, a happy time - working closely together with the other families, raising kids together, living life together.  But it was also a hard time.

Now that I look back, I wonder what a good debriefing coming off a difficult field may have done.  We will never know.  We walked off that field having lost a few friends.  We walked away from many of our dreams.  We walked away having confronted many of the experiences of our childhoods there, but without the ability to talk about it.  Memories.  Trauma.  Deep grief.  All these emotions we had experienced as children living in this place, and we had just come face to face with it all again.  We walked away safe, and left friends in danger.  (In fact, it was only the fact that I gave in to my husband's choice of a good-bye restaurant, not mine, that allowed us to walk away at all.  While we were eating, we heard a large explosion, and soon the news came - it was that other restaurant...)  Shortly after we moved, we lost more friends to violence over there.

It was our first months in our new home that my husband slowly began to change.  Nothing major or drastic that you would say, "This is big" or "This began recently."  It was a slow thing, hard to notice.  He began sleeping less.  That less became less and less, until he often would not come to bed until after 3am.  He wasn't doing anything wrong, just watching sports or late night talk shows.  He couldn't sleep.  He gained weight.  He became more irritable.  His temper flares that he had always occasionally had, grew much worse, lasted longer, and came more frequently.  He grew silent in-between, sitting hours without much interest in life.  At work, he still functioned well and appeared outgoing and happy, but at home, he was drained and not sleeping.

I worried.  I tried to get him to sleep, but he would lie in bed and toss and turn.  He could barely be dragged from the bed in the mornings.  He quit having breakfast with us because "it is the only time I do get to sleep."  I began to parent alone.  He withdrew more and more.  I worried that he was depressed.

I began to worry about his health.  Diabetes runs rampant in his family, and I worried about his blood sugar levels and if that was affecting his mood.  He would get extremely grouchy if food was not ready the minute he wanted it and tell me he was "shaky", but he resisted all attempt I made to get him to go to the doctor or eat better.

Finally, in desperation, I did what I now regret.  I have pondered this one over for years wondering if the choice itself was wrong or if it was just a total failure of member care.  Or both.  I went to Harry - the head of our team in the country.  They lived only two hours away, so I went over a weekend, and asked to talk to them.  I shared with them that I felt my husband was struggling with emotions after returning from our last field, that I was concerned that he may be depressed and that I wondered about the effects of untreated diabetes, and that he was being a typical man and refusing to see a doctor or counselor.  I asked if they could help by requesting that we both see a counselor or encouraging him to get a medical check up.  I did share with them that besides the depression, he was having some times of anger, and I was concerned for him because this is not like his typical self.

Harry and his wife sat and listened.  They thanked me for sharing, said they had no clue what to do, but that they would pray for me.  I left frustrated.  How could they have no clue what to do?! They were field leaders of a fairly decent size mission - surely they knew something about helping struggling missionaries?!  I never heard from them again about the subject for about four years.  Interestingly, before I left, Harry's wife was talking to me in the kitchen and made a comment that still sticks in my head, and I turn over and over at times wondering how it fits into all of this.  She said, "It is interesting how our men can be like that - all fine and all at the office, but when they come home, they are totally different and get angry so quickly.... but there is nothing we can do about it, I guess."  For years, I have wondered if that there is the reason Harry never responded to help in any way.  But I don't know.  It is only a guess on my part.

I was exhausted and disillusioned.  Keeping up with four young children, a part-time job, part-time ministry, and trying to be there for my husband, trying to guard my heart against how he would wound me when he was struggling - it all wore me out.  I wondered where God was and why my life turned out this way.  Everyone else seemed to have a perfect Christian life, and I had tried so hard and made good decisions, and my life was falling down around my ears while I tried to hold it up.  I was worn out!  I wanted God to step in and save the day.... but He was silent.  It just wasn't fair.

Finally, I tried again, and went to Dick for help.  He was my husband's best friend and confidante and mentor.  He was also our team leader from a distance.  Surely, he would be able to have some influence and help.  Dick listened carefully and then told me that if I kept a cleaner house, made better meals, smiled for guests more, and slept with my husband more that "I am sure he would be fine.  You just need to respect him more."  Then Dick did what is inexcusable - he began to talk to my husband about what I had told him and began to tell my husband that his wife was not good enough.  I wasn't good enough because I didn't fit into the culture well enough, I didn't clean well enough, I didn't do well enough, I wasn't enough.  Dick became my husband's "ear" every time he was upset and Dick began to tell him how bad I was.  My husband shared my past of abuse with Dick without my permission, and Dick decided he would "counsel" me about it.  At the same time, Dick wrote a letter to my husband and to another person accusing me of making up my history of abuse "for attention" because "if she really had been abused as a child, she would have told her parents."  His lack of knowledge of sexual abuse was absolutely astounding, and when I questioned him on it, he defended himself saying, "Well, I am from (this type of church and community) and we don't have any child sexual abuse in our community."  As well as suggesting that I had made it all up for attention, Dick also asserted to my husband that I was probably "too damaged" from my past abuse to "ever be normal" and sympathized with him that he would just have to "endure" me for the rest of his life.  Dick's logic never ceases to amaze me - either I could have made it up OR I could have been damaged by it, NOT BOTH!  But Dick also often criticized me for either being "too logical" or "too emotional".  Logic, especially in women, was seen by him as a great fault.

I have asked myself why I allowed myself to be jerked around so much by Dick and the best answer I could think of was that I believed him to be in a position of authority over us and that I had a God-given duty to be under his leadership.  I think an argument could be made for that in a normal and healthy situation of a leader over us, but Dick was operating out of his sphere of leadership and out of God's heart for the hurting, and if I had recognized that earlier, I could have stepped out to a healthy place earlier.  Dick's actions amounted to at the least great ignorance and a misguided attempt to help and at the most, abuse, plain and simple.  I did not recognize that at the time because I was in over my head with all that was going on.

I am not sure what would have happened then, but God decided to send in the most unlikely help.  A friend we had known for several years came to visit.  Seth did some training with our group, and because we were the leaders, we hosted him (and gave him one of our two towels!).  He was ok.  Quiet at times, even though there was obvious conflict in our home at times.  It wasn't until one day we were in the car, and we were all talking about traveling and life on the move.  He said that he doesn't do one thing because he struggles with a sin, so learns to set borders for himself to keep himself safe.

I was stunned.  I had only grown up around perfect Christians.  Ok, there was that list of "acceptable sins" that one could commit - irritation, impatience, frustration, the garden variety sins.  This was off the list.  He was crazy.  But it had me tipping my head to one side to listen better.  If he admits weakness..... what will he do in response to weakness in others???  Later that night, I asked to talk to him, and we began to talk.  He has a horrible habit of not staying on topic and asking endless questions, but we began talking.  When he went home, his wife wrote me, and the two of them began to mentor me.  I often think that if they knew that night what they were getting into, they would have run screaming, but they didn't know, so they stayed.

I seriously thought I had enough on my plate right then, but God didn't.  He decided that it would be a good time then to deal with the pain in my past - from abuse, from grief, and from some trauma.  I did not agree with God then, and embarked on a few months of fighting Him over His timing choices, but gave in.  I told God one thing only - if He was going to bring up my past again and ask me to work through it, then He had better take me through it the hard way, no shortcuts, and show me the way out because I had no intention of coming out alone - I was bringing other women out with me!   It still interests me that God chose to work on my healing in the middle of a very unsupportive spouse and an abusive team leader - both speaking evil over me about my identity and worth.  Years later, as I begin working with abused women, I wonder if God was trying to prove to me that He will be enough to heal hearts, even in the middle of marriages that are not nor may ever be healthy and in the middle of a culture that does not value women.  Even there, God is enough.  I had to learn to listen to the quiet voice of God singing in delight over me and let it drown out the other noises that threatened to destroy me.

This began the next few years of me processing my past, working through it, all with the calm, quiet presence from the other side of the world of Seth and his wife, and all in the middle of the chaos that was happening at home as my husband spiraled farther and farther into depression and anger and likely post-traumatic stress symptoms.  I always loved my husband, and I had some understanding that his actions and attitudes were not who he was, but a result of what he was suffering and unable or unwilling to face.  Still, it was a rough time, and to this day, I am surprised that I made it out half sane and that my children survived as well as they did.  I told them a few years ago that I was sorry for all they went through and wished I could have given them a happier time.  They looked at me, smiled, and said, "but mommy, you were always there for us, no matter what, you were there, and we knew you were safe."  They had more confidence in me than I did in myself those years, I think!

Monday, July 6, 2015

See Dick. See Jane. If I Really Had Seen.

Well, sorry for the delay there.  We moved.  Yup.  New location.  New mission.  New church.

Still grieving friends from the old.  Still relief in the middle of the grief.  We have only just arrived and are sorting our way out around here.  It is overwhelming.  We'll get there.

So, back to processing the story....  back to where "Dick" comes into the picture.  Where life gets really confusing...  because as much as I have tried to sort through all what happened, I have no explanation for Dick.  I just can't explain him or his actions.  I can make some educated guesses, but there is no clear reason.  I can draw on what other people have said, what I have observed as I have been aquainted with Dick over the last 30 years.  (It wasn't so much that I knew him, but that he was part of my larger community on the field from the time I was a young teen, and I was aware of him and aware of the conversations about him.)

I have never heard any woman say anything positive about Dick.  Not once.  Well, except that he is very smart at some things, considered an expert in one subject.  That is all.  Nothing more.  From the time I was 12 until now.  Women feel awkward around him - I've heard them say he just doesn't relate to women, that they feel like he doesn't like them, that he has a poor view of women in general.  I've heard many things.... other women perhaps trying to sort out reasons for what they sense from him.

I don't know what it is.

It actually began before we were married, when Dick first met me.  I heard him on the phone talking to someone that he didn't really know if I was going to be ok, that he would rather have a local woman for my husband (as if he had the power to chose my husband's choice of wife!).  He also tried that with my parents - phoning them to ask if this really was a good idea; if a girl with very little cross-cultural experience was going to be the best fit for my fiance.  It showed how very little he knew about me before he judged me.  At that time in my life, I had already lived for extended periods of time in five countries and spoke at least two languages - true, not fluently, but enough to get by in day to day life.  My father was stunned and asked Dick if he had even spoken to me about my life.  Dick seemed to back off some then, but he was always awkward around me.  I thought it was me.... later I learned that most women feel that way with him.  What I do know was that Dick and his wife "Jane"  (I know, I know, my creativity with naming people does go no farther than "See Dick.  See Jane.  See Dick run.") ....  Well, Dick and Jane seemed to see my husband as "their son" even though he clearly had a family who loved him and many others invested in his life.  As psuedo-in-laws, they resented me coming into their lives and ruining the hopes they had of matching him up with a local person "so he could do the work better."  This disappointment with me lingered over the years.

In our early marriage, we had very little to do with Dick and Jane.  We visited them maybe twice in six years.  Life was pretty good.  We had some difficult adjustments to work through,  Marriage is rough.  Cross-cultural marriage is tough.  Figuring out a cross-cultural marriage while living in a third culture is even tougher.  I would not recommend that last one.  But we survived.  We survived the birth of a baby, the death of another, and then the births of three more in quick succession.  We survived a move, living as students going though Bible school, We had a good life, not without conflicts, but a good life.

Then we finished, and went back out to the field.  Re-enter Dick.  Again, that odd vibe from him.  Thankfully, he went home for our first year on the field for his break, and we had little to do with him that first year.  The second year, he appeared, and he and Jane would come by to visit.  Thankfully, they had moved a few hours away, but would come for breaks to our house.  As guests, they were unusual, but my family is used to many types of guests and we have seen it all.  But we noticed that the more Dick and Jane spent in our home, the more conflict there was.

Dick saw himself as sort of a "lay counselor".  He thought he was good at counseling, so he would attempt to work with us.  Most of the issues then sprung from us not being smart about taking time to rest and have a Sabbath.  Our work was in our home, we shared our home with my parents as well as the work, and we also ran a guest house for people coming to town for breaks.  For four months, we also shared our home with another family of five.  As well as that, I was involved in some crisis medical care.  Then there was the teaching Sunday School to a group of kids who needed a lot of care because they had survived trauma.  And a teen girls group.  And the homeschool co-op.  We were just too busy.  My husband thrives on people.  I handle people, and need my recovery time.  I needed recovery time with him, and he didn't quite grasp that yet.  

Into this, Dick came and attempted to counsel.  If there is one decision I could go back on in life, it would be this one - allowing him to try his "counseling".  Dick has no intuition, no concept of relationships outside of book learning, and no understanding of women.  I remember one night clearly when Dick sat in our living room and told me, "Well, no wonder your husband is upset at you so much; you don't keep the house clean.  I mean, look at those bookshelves - the books are all jumbled and messy on them."  This was in the play room that nine children regularly occupied.  They still haven't learned to put all the books back spines out lined up by size as Dick does.

I remember being completely bewildered then as well.  Huh? We had not even been discussing housekeeping or books.  Another time he scolded me that it was 8:30 and my kids were still up and told me that I was not a good mother.  Again, in front of my husband.  My husband and I had made the conscious decision to live slightly more in tune with the people we worked among.  They typically ate at 9 or 10 and were awake at midnight.  Dick and Jane's kids were in bed by 7.  We put ours in bed by 9 even when they were little and let them sleep in later - much like my husband's family and that culture.  We still do.  It was not bad parenting; it was conscious parenting.  That way, when we visited local friends and they served us dinner at 9:30, our kids were not screaming in sheer exhaustion.

Dick and Jane also frequently criticized my boy's level of energy and why I could not get them to just sit down and be quiet.  Since then we discovered we have two boys with ADHD, but two boys who are delightful, loved, and respected wherever we go.  But as toddlers, they did have energy.  Typically, boys have more energy than girls at that stage anyway, and we had three right in a row.

I didn't catch on to it then, and to be honest, my parents didn't either, but later we saw.  Dick constantly cut me down to my husband.  I was not good enough, and if there ever was a problem, Dick was quick to tell my husband that I simply wasn't enough, that I didn't do enough, that I wasn't right enough. 

If we had caught it then, we could have put a stop to it, but we were both run too ragged to see it.

Another interesting event happened later which showed Dick and Jane's view of me.  My husband and I were at their house one weekend, and my husband was involved in a serious crisis.  He was able to sneak a quick phone call to them to ask for prayers and that I be told.  They decided not to tell me, not until it was over.  I was his wife.  I had the right to know.  My husband asked that I be told.  They decided that they were the "authority" here and would not tell me "because we didn't know if you would be strong enough".  Another sign that I should have picked up on, but they were the leaders... they were older....  my mind came up with a million reasons why I should continue to work with them even though alarm bells went off in my head every time I was near them.  Submit to those in authority, follow the leaders, etc...

I was too trusting to see them cutting down who I was to my husband...  and then it got worse.  When we moved away from a bigger group of co-workers and to a place we were more alone, we were in a place where my husband's person he confided in and sought counsel from most became Dick.  Then the problems really began.  Would I say Dick caused them?  I think that would be too strong of a wording.  I think Dick took existing problems and exacerbated them.  I think that his influence began to slowly warp my husband's mind and turn his thoughts against me.   But that is another post.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Accepted, No Longer Rejected

Yesterday and today were big days in our lives.  We cleared all the hurdles, jumped through all the hoops, and went through all the testing, interviews, and more testing and have been formally accepted by our new mission board.  We then formally withdrew from our old mission board.  That withdrawing will not actually take full effect for another month, but it is done.

We both felt a palpable sense of relief.

I don't think we are ready to say that our previous mission agency is a bad mission agency.  We would clearly state that it has some serious flaws which under the right leaders can cause it to be weak in some areas and under the wrong leaders can cause it to be damaging and harmful.  Our first two years were spent under a few right leaders.  Our last dozen under wrong leaders.  We're wiser now and sadder.  

Today, though, we lay that aside and quietly celebrate freedom.  Freedom from the judgement we have lived under for 12 years.  Freedom from the stress.  Freedom from the quiet, underhanded attack on our marriage.  Freedom from a gag order.  Freedom to relax again.  There will be a time I pick this story up again in the next days and sort it though in my mind and on paper as a way of leaving it and yet weaving it into my life story so I am integrated and not scattered, but today is a day for quiet relief and a quiet, but determined joy.  

We have been accepted, no longer rejected.

Yesterday, we sat through the hours long psych evaluation summary.  Something I was tense about even though my better judgement told me not to be tense.  Ten years of two mission leaders telling me I had serious psychological issues and possibly mental illness (neither with any training whatsoever to even dabble in making such statements!) had made me tense at being assessed once again.  The difference in this testing was that it was done by a professional and by a professional who was not related to and "briefed about your problems" first.

The session was actually a delight, and fun to go through.  It confirmed what I had thought about myself and even answered some questions I had about who I was.  For example, I am an introvert.  I've known this forever.  I recharge alone and dislike large gatherings with people doing small talk all at once.  But I am not anti-social.  I am not hard to get to know.  I am warm, outgoing, funny, and love to form deep connections with people whether in the short term or longer term.  My tests showed that while I was introverted in low key, reserved, quiet way, preferring space at times, and seeking intimacy and one on one with individuals, I am extroverted in that I am demonstrative, easier to know, and self-revealing.  That explains me so much more than the simple label "introvert", because I will be the first person to walk up to you in a crowded room if you are alone and begin a conversation with you and really want to know about you and let you know me.  The counselor said that that type of a result shows that I am quick to share my heart with others.  That is me.

This report was good for us to go through piece by piece.  If you hadn't lived in my twisted judging authority structure that we found ourselves under for the last twelve years, you would not be able to fully understand the relief going through this report was for me.  Another time, I will actually include statements that were made about me and to me because I feel that it is important to tell this story so that we may learn together.  (Just this last week, we sat around a kitchen table with another missionary in another agency who has faced a twisted situation like ours.)  I believe we are not alone, and I believe that we need to be aware of the signs of unhealthy, dangerous leadership and be prepared to take proper steps to be protected.

Today, I don't want to do that.  Just to sit in the quiet relief this was.  To be told that I had extremely high ability to handle stress, great coping skills, a robustly healthy mental health status, and had extremely high emotional intelligence.  My weakness was the risk of feeling a high sense of duty and becoming over-committed. (This I also knew!)  To have on paper the professional assessment that yes, I had been abused as a child, but there were no issues of concern at all that they could see.  I am not now saying this next thing to boast in any way, but simply to contrast what had been said repeatedly about me for the last twelve years.  My husband's and my reports were side by side and we went through both.  I scored consistently more stable, well adjusted, and at less risk factors than he did.  This in the face of two leaders saying they didn't want me because of my "mental issues", "being emotional", and "her not being able to handle stress or be strong."  I actually did expect to score higher than my husband.  He is a first generation believer who is amazing and awesome... but he encountered Christ as a late teenager, and there were a lot of patterns and foundations that were laid in his life that are different than someone with the privilege of growing up in a home where Christ is taught.  The fact that he scored as high as he did on many of these tests shows just how much God has worked in his life, and I am proud of him.  

Today, we sent those reports to our home church.  A church missions board who has been requiring me to get counseling for my mental issues for the last year without any independent assessment that I had any, only on the recommendation by our country office that I had them.  A missions board who has treated my harshly and judgmentally for the last year and a half because they simply took communication about me behind my back without verifying it in any way or even allowing me to answer to my own defense.  (The unique trick people have of accusing you not only of having serious issues, but also of being 'defensive'.  There is no way to object to that accusation without by default confirming it in peoples minds because they say, "See, she IS defensive.").  Now these reports go back to them.  Page after page detailing my relationship with God, with others, my trust in Him, and my mental health, my personality, and the final counselor's personal assessment of me.  Our new mission read it and accepted us within the hour.  I pray that our church mission board reads it and feels some remorse.... not that I want an apology to take away the pain, but that they think before they act like this again.  Every person deserves the chance to be heard when accusations come up against them.  Not to do so is not Biblical.

So today, is a quiet day.  Quiet because I am an introvert.  My husband, who over the year away from a damaging leader has learned to value and defend his wife, is celebrating louder.  He went out with a good friend who has stuck by us.  I celebrated by smiling, sitting quietly and smiling. Later I will celebrate with friends, but there was much I had to suffer silently these last ten years here, and there is a sense in which I wanted to celebrate silently at first.

It is over.  God has defended.

My life verse since all this began was Psalm 3:3 "But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head."  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sit Down, Grab a Cup of Coffee, Put Your Feet Up, and Let Me Begin...

I am going to sit down and explain (for my three readers!) where I am now and what happened.  I need to do this to be able to explain where my heart is right now and what I am struggling with.  It is complicated, and I have to go back over some things to explain, but I will try.

We've been here for several years.  Working outside our target country while living here a distance from there.  It worked.  We enjoyed being overseas while we were there, but it was also a difficult time.  Life was harder than we expected it to be due to some political events.  Then we moved here suddenly.

We moved here two hours from our mission's headquarters in this country.  They didn't meet us until a few months after we arrived.  We didn't notice this as abnormal at the time.  Then we met.  They seemed nice.  We transferred to this office, did paperwork, and went home.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  Perhaps an intake discussion - a post field debreif.  Especially considering all the events that had happened between us beginning to head out to the field and our move from there to here.  By that time, we already had been through several critical incidents and several deaths of friends.  A debrief would have been beneficial.

But we were ignorant of what would have been "normal", and we went on.  We began to struggle.  Each of us differently, and our own personal struggles caused more struggles for each other.  Early on, I made the trip back to headquarters and sat down with "Harry" there and asked for some help.  I said that we were struggling and we needed some help.  He thanked me for sharing and said he had no clue what to do, but that he would pray for us.

In retrospect, again, we see what was missing...  Harry was the leader, and a leader of a fairly decent size mission should have some access to member care.  There should at the very least be a member care person on staff that he should have been able to refer us to, one who would have recognized the need for debreif and a listening ear.

But we were ignorant of that and tried to struggle on.  I began to wonder where God fit into my personal life... not in the sense that I didn't believe in Him, but that I wondered where He cared for me, or if He did in a real sense at all.  If I was just a "tool" for Him to use, but not someone He deeply cared about.  That was all I was, it seemed, to my mission, and to the church.  When you understand my past of childhood sexual abuse happening almost as soon as my parents joined missions, it became an aching question I had before God.  Am I valuable to You in who I am or simply someone for You to use?  My husband's own struggles during this time made him a very unsympathetic person to my insecurities and struggles and his feelings came out as frustration and anger.  He was dealing with his own fears, past, and struggles while trying to lead a team and without support of any good friend near him.  It was a rough time in our lives.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  We're interested to hear that our new mission believes that their member care person should actually sit down with their missionaries by skype or in person a few times a year and ask how they are doing.  Even when we gave clear indication that we were struggling, our mission never reached out to us.  We made the drive to our headquarters a few times a year to go to prayer meeting.  I think someone from there came to visit our team once or twice a year - usually for a board meeting, lunch, and that was all.  We felt alone.

During these first years, we also lost more friends.  Grief became a constant companion.  My husband traveled several months out of the year leaving me alone with four young children.  Danger existed. It always did, but having grown up in it, we were not aware of its toll on our lives.  Us being unaware did not remove the toll.  It slowly drained energy from us.

In retrospect, we see what was missing.  A visit or at the least a phone call to help absorb news of deaths, debreifs after long trips, cups of coffee and checking in with us would have been expected member care.  It would have gone a long ways to helping us be able to cope in a stressful ministry.

Those first two years, we went to a large church.  We did ask to meet with the pastors and elders and introduce ourselves.  We waited two years, but they were too busy.  During two years, only two people in the church ever invited us over for coffee or dinner.  My husband is a hyper social person, so for him not to even be able to make friends was incomprehensible.  We felt entirely alone.

There were some bright spots in those first years.  We had a friend, "Seth", who had just been there over the years.  To be honest, I hadn't really thought much about him except that he was one of those people who had been around a long time - I had seen his name on e-mails and paperwork.  He came to visit, and I think he was the one person who paused long enough to know we were struggling.  He began to be a listening ear, walking alongside of us, and praying.  In contrast to all that we had experienced so far, this meant more than we could express.  Seth allowed us to be ourselves with him - no "missionary on a pedestal" situation at all.  We could completely fail and screw up, and when I got enough courage to look up and see his face, he was quietly smiling.  His quiet faith held us during the rough years and still means a lot to us today.

That was the setting.  Into this came a leader with serious blind spots, but without the wisdom to realize this, more critical incidents, and some interesting choices by the church.  But that is for another post.

My Friend, "the Lesbian", and the Lessons She Taught Me

I picked up a book someone lent me a few years ago  (I know.. I will return it!)  I had been sharing with them about my new lesbian friends at work and the horror of "Christians" at work response to them.  That I couldn't understand how being a Christian meant you were supposed to be mean to, ignore, refuse to help, and talk behind someone's back.  I loved these girls - at first simply because I chose to, and then because I got to know them and they were lovely, kind, respectful, funny, warm-hearted friends.  As I loved them, laughed with them, stuck up for them, and befriended them, we began to have some serious talks about what we believed... late nights at the nurse's desk.  We also had a great sense of humor.  My closest friend of them is also a fan of "The Amazing Race" and would love to be on it.  We thought we should apply together; they could dub us "The Missionary and the Lesbian" and we could blow a few people's minds.  Through this friend, I was able to ask questions and listen.  We started with the small things, "What do you prefer I call you?  How do I address your spouse?  Who does the dishes?" and moved on to deeper subjects.  I learned what it is like to be discriminated against.  To be on a honeymoon and want nothing more than peace with your spouse and get nasty looks.  To go for dinner and hear rude comments about you made in the earshot of your kids.

Excuse me, followers of Jesus, the same Jesus who hung out with prostitutes and cheaters,..

However much we may disagree with another person's choice or be sad about the sin in the world, that give us no right to hurt people.  To see my friend's face when she grimaced after one of the old people said a rude comment, and she told me, "That isn't as bad as it gets; try dealing with Christians telling you you are an abomination."  We need to get past our "religious right" and see broken hearts.

THESE COMMENTS HURT MY FRIEND.  As in hurt - real pain, real tears.

To my given knowledge, no one yet has been hated to Christ.

As I got to know my friend "K" more, I learned that she believed in God.  She struggled in her faith due to trauma in her background, but she believed God and was seeking to know Him better and follow him.  Now before you get your panties in a wad, pause a minute and think - can you be a Christian and still have a sin you are failing in?  Yes.  So, let's give her (and God) the benefit of the doubt.  If she is His, her sin will be something He speaks to her about and deals with.  If she isn't, then her biggest need is not "to become straight", but to know God.  Me hating her will not draw her to God.

To be clear, she knew what I believed about homosexuality.  But I made sure she knew that AFTER she knew that I loved her, would befriend her, would defend her from attacks, and enjoyed being with her.  Nothing about my faith was against her.

The hardest day for me?  To watch my friend's shoulders slump and tears come to her eyes.  She was on a private facebook account for gay and lesbians discussing their faith in God and wrestling with spiritual questions.  A "Christian" had lied about who he was to gain access to that account and then posted long, rude, vile comments about these people harshly judging them.  Her question:  "Why would anyone go through so much trouble just to throw hate at us?  We are trying to talk with each other and talk about God... why?"  I had no answer besides that I was angry for her and that I loved her.

I enjoyed my friendship with K.  We laughed and discussed parenting, relationships with our spouses, housework, working with the elderly.  We talked about our pasts, our dreams, our hopes.  I watched as she defended my faith to someone who was rude to me.  I got criticized by other believers at work who told me that I was wrong for befriending K and that they "would pray for me".  I thanked them for their prayers.

And my friend at church gave me this book.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  About a lesbian who became a believer.  I didn't read it all then.  Actually, I read the end of the book, and then it got lost when I cleaned my room.  Too much was going on in our lives, and I put it down.  Today, I picked it up.  K has moved on to a new job, and I miss her.  We are moving on to a new place.  But my life is enriched by her friendship.  And I picked up this book to read again because my heart is still burdened for the response of God's people towards gays and lesbians.  But my heart is also deeply hurt by the actions of some of God's people towards us.  I hadn't expected this book to speak deeply to my heart, but it did. ( I will write about that later.)

I still find it funny that we work among a people who some would fear and hate.  We teach, "We can not hate (this group) to Christ.  We have to love them, and when we love them, they will see Christ, and come to Him."  And yet, the same people teaching this about (this group) will fight tooth and nail against all gays and lesbians and shudder in horror at them.  (I even had a Bible study leader saying she won't let her daughter in her house anymore since she became a lesbian!)  

I promised my friend K that I would listen to her, learn, and speak up.  We will do more damage than we can even imagine by hating.  We need to love, to befriend, to have honest discussions, to have coffee together, to love.  People say we need to "defend" marriage or God or... you name it.  Really?  Since when does God need me to defend Him?  And if marriage is the image of God and the church, I think God is quite capable of defending His image.  I see no where in the Bible where God asks me to defend Him.  I do see where He calls me to love, to get involved in the messiness of the world...  to do what He did by befriending and loving those who the "religious" drew in their robes in horror at.

To my friend K, T, and G - I love you girls and will remain thankful to all you taught me, to the compassion you showed to the weak and elderly, and for the patience you had with me and my endless questions.  I respect your quiet courage in the face of rudeness and your strength in not answering back in kind.  That was and is an inspiration to me.  I still pray for you - that you would find that relationship with God in a satisfying depth that you are searching for.  You left a mark on my life and made me a better person for my time with you.  Thanks.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Time Moves Slowly

Time moves slowly when you want it to hurry.  We're still on wait.  Not much longer, but still on wait.

While on wait, we are moving.  We know it is time to, so we are taking steps.  Things are packed, simplified, prepared for final clearance to take off.  We will move.  We are waiting for the final details with the new sending agency, but we are packed.

It is tempting to fuss and grumble and wonder why they are taking so long, but those very things that are taking long are the very things we were looking for in a new agency - member care.  It takes time to get all the papers filled out, to schedule all the appointments, to cross every t and dot every i.

We wait.

We will move, though.  In just a few weeks here, we will move.  We are saying goodbyes to ones we love, relationships that are important to us...

and.. to those who have hurt us.  There will be freedom in that when it is all said and done, but this week, it is getting to me.  It's complicated.

Tom, Dick, and Harry...

Tom lives in this town with us.  He's seen me a few times... and walked right past not saying hi at all, not acknowledging my existence.  Now he wants us to come to a formal goodbye and thank-you dinner.  It seems odd... if you can't say hi, why say bye?

Dick.  He's in town for this.  I could handle never seeing this man in my entire life and being thoroughly happy with it.  He sets my teeth on edge.  He is constantly talking bad of me to my husband, and it is an odd thing to watch.  He is a man who took trust and burnt it.  He learned of my past (being abused as a child), and used it and still uses it to devalue me.  There is a serious reason I chose this name for this man.  Later, he told me that, "Well, I really know nothing about child sexual abuse since it just doesn't happen in my community."  Sure.  A man that ignorant and prejudiced is dangerous to the community around him.  He called me "damaged, and perhaps unable to be 'normal" again because of 'her past;."  One day, when I am free and clear, out of under his leadership, I intend to answer that accusation.  If he seriously wants to exclude those of us "with pasts" of being abused from Christian ministry, then he better cross off about two out of every three.  Also, with his attitude, I am afraid he has silenced some who might have asked for help, even in those close to him.

Harry.  Harry sadly had other plans.  They only planned for this six months ago...  but that is fine.  Actually, I have a little respect for the man for being too embarrassed to show his face.

There are others: some who participated, some who were silent, some who fought for us.  A mixed bag of emotions.

I wish we didn't have to go.  It would be one thing if there had been any listening or reconciliation.  An apology, a discussion, something... but no.  There has been nothing.  Harry said he would sit with us and hear us about how it could have been handled better.... but he's just been so busy...

So we leave.  We must face this farce next week, and then we leave.  Our hearts are broken.

We go forward.  We know God is still here.  We know we are still loved.  We are wiser.  We should have left years ago.  We came so close... but we were loyal...

The day after the "goodbye" from people that won't say hi to us, we have the goodbye from my work. That will be redeeming.  People who love us, love our family, who have been there, who value us... their love will help heal the wounds of the day before.

Then we leave.  Moving on.

I am still waiting.  We were placed under a gag order over a year ago.  "If you say one word bad about us, we will cut your support (which we raise)."  Out of... respect.... fear... threat... of that, I have been largely silent here, but that threat will end soon when we leave.  Then I will have some things to say...

.... about what to look for in a mission....

.... about how to survive the aftermath of trauma...

.... about signs to look for in dysfunctional leadership...

....  about how to help when things go bad.

The time is coming.  I've been more relaxed as that time nears.  I've told a few of my friends.  The shock and shame of the last years wearing off, and I've found my voice.  Told a few coworkers what was said.  Spoke up.  I will not be silent forever.  I am, by nature, an advocate.  I will speak up.  It is time we discuss these issues.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

When God Says It Is Done

When God says it is done, it is done.  Finished.  It seems like that day is coming, the end is near, control broken, release is near.  The day of mopping up, binding the wounds, stretching out the withered hands, straightening the bent backs, the silence replacing the roar of the evil one.  We see the dawn beginning.

It can not come soon enough.

Those who condemned the woman condemned her alone.  Men, religious men, condemned her in order to serve their own purposes and their own twisted plans.  They did not condemn her because they were worried about righteousness - where was the man she was "caught in the act" with?  They condemned her because it served their purposes to condemn her and they considered her worthless.  Life has not changed much.  Men are still willing to destroy the life of another if it serves their purpose.

Yet Jesus did not answer these men.  He was silent in the face of their selfish, evil accusations.  Silence.  This was never about her, but about the evilness of men who wanted power and prestige, and those very things were being threatened.  Finally, when He spoke, it was just one simple sentence.

When He spoke again, it was only when He was alone with her.  When His silence had silenced the accusers and they stood alone.  "Where are those who accuse you? Does no one accuse you?"  She must have looked around, and the silence brought peace.  "No one."  They were gone.  And Jesus is simple with her.  "Neither do I.  Go and sin no more."  Nothing more was needed.

Men have circled me for years now, condemning.  For a different reason, to be sure, but the crowd and the accusations hurled were just as fierce.  And God has been silent.  I wanted Him to be as loud as the accusers, to yell back at them.  But He remained silent.

That was incredibly hard for me.

But He remained.  He stayed.  And when they all drifted away, He remained with me.  I wonder if the woman crouched screaming in the dust, frantically trying to cover herself up a little, ever heard the words Jesus spoke.  The words that caused her accusers to melt away slowly in shame.  I wonder if she heard anything until the silence won out that day and she tentatively looked up to see her Savior quietly drawing in the dust.

I do not know what God said, but I know He has said it is done, and when God says it is done, it is done.

Monday, February 16, 2015

It is SO Hard Not to Tell.... Yet!

Hard to believe I haven't posted since December!  Wow.  I think I've been waiting.... waiting.

We're still waiting and the wait is killing us!  We want to be able to tell people, but not yet....

In December, my son came home from college, and we all got sick, and we had a nice Christmas together.  The New Year rang in with a sudden severe asthma attack that left me sitting in a recliner not even with enough breath to talk for over a week.  That was BORING!  Then a visit from my mom because MY HUSBAND AND I WENT AWAY SOMEWHERE SUNNY AND BEAUTIFUL!!!!!  We are celebrating 20 years together, ok, well 19.5, but our anniversary falls at a very awkward time when we will be in the middle of things this year, so we did 19.5.

We came back, and with the all clear from our supporting churches, we began the long and tedious process of applying to a new sending agency.  We are already accepted by our new receiving agency in word; it can't be done in deed until we are finalized with the new sending agency and have left who we are with now.

Our new agency was a little shocked how fast we could fill out forms.  I was even a little shocked at how fast my husband can fill them out.  He hates forms!  But he said, "It is all about motivation, and motivation to leave the other group will get me to do anything!"  I think, too, having been long-term missionaries,we have it easy.  Questions such as how do you think you will deal with different cultures and customs are easily answered when you have lived in six different countries and visited 32!  Questions about how you would feel being under the leadership of an indigenous church are easy to answer when you are married to someone from there.  Ummm.. just fine... in fact, I'd be delighted!

My husband had a rough day once, and I was a little surprised, but then I wondered if this was the first time that it really hit him.  He had phoned Dick to ask for a reference, and Dick said he would be happy to give him one, but that he would not give me one.  I think my husband was shocked.  This is a man he had considered as his mentor and best friend, and I don't think he had really, completely seen Dick's attitude.  He should have seen it last time we talked when Dick said he didn't want me back, but I don't think it completely hit him.  It him him this time - HARD.  He was down for a few days, and I hadn't seen him so down for quite awhile.  He was angry.  Angry at Dick... not me.  He was visibly angry.  I felt bad for him, but was also relieved.  He needed to see that.  He needed to see the basic attitude of the man who has been mentoring him.  A man who has caused a lot of pain in our relationship from the very beginning.  In order to go on healthily, he needed to see that, and when he clearly saw it, he responded with anger.  No, he did not get angry at Dick with Dick.  There is no point with some people.  But he was angry.  That he would talk like that, that he would think like that, that he would speak of his wife like that.  Anger was needed.  That anger will protect our marriage in the years to come.

The normal thing would be to never see that man again, to not have anything to do with him.  Sadly, we can't.  We work in the country my husband is from.  We won't change that.  It is a call of God on our lives.  Dick is also not going to move countries having devoted his life to this country.  He is a man who has done good things, but he is a man with some massive blind spots and a poor track record with women.  I have not met one woman who speaks well of Dick and I have known him in community for thirty years.  So we have to come to a healthy place to deal with Dick sporadically in a healthy way.  Having my husband's eyes opened to who he really is and how he really has been acting was an important step to that.  A response of anger was the next healthy step.  A commitment to sharing honestly what Dick says to either him or me was the next step.  He has thrived in speaking privately to my husband bad things about me.  We thwarted that the last two times by either having me in on the conversation or telling me what he says.  It takes the power away from it.  Soon we will be informing him that all that is said to one of us will be shared openly and immediately with the other one of us.  But we want to tell him that face to face with the both of us.  We think it will have the most impact then - he will actually see it, and hopefully will sink in and he will learn.

Basic rule.  In marriage, you can not have a best friend that hates your spouse.  Either the friendship or the marriage will suffer.  In our case, the marriage did, but we are healing that and repairing the damage.

My husband has a few friends that I think are annoying and boring... I have a few friends that my husband thinks are crazy and odd.  But neither of us will be friends anymore with anyone who hates our spouse.  That is a deal-breaker in friendship.

So, well, we are still in wait mode.  We are in step 3 of the application process.  Forms are in, references are being checked, and a meeting is scheduled with one interview group for next week, and another one in a month.  We are on our way.  It has been interesting as we have had to share some of what has been going on with our previous mission.  To share honestly what we have been through, where we have gone, what has happened, what help was not given, and what "help" was given.  It has been a healing process for us both.  To be honest, to admit we really broke under the pressure, to talk about what happened on an organizational level in response, to talk about what has helped us heal, to talk about where we are still weak or nervous as a result.  The mission is an honest one, willing to hear, to listen, to walk with us through it all.  We are hopeful.  Even if they don't accept us quite yet, it has been a healing process to walk through their admission process.  It is so different than where we are.  So different.  It is helping restore our trust in God's people in leadership.  Basic ideas that people can suffer, especially under trauma, have breakdowns, respond wrongly, and still God loves them and is there to help them out and to go on, rather than throwing them out.  These concepts expressed and shown have helped to heal our hearts and restore trust.

In faith, and in the realization that we need to be in a different environment to heal, we have begun to pack.  We will move, we think, in July.  Even if we are not accepted right now by our new sending agency, we will move.  If worst comes to worst, we will land up as refugees in a place that will never turn us away.  But we have faith that by July, we will be accepted, part way through the orientation process, and moved.  We noticed after spending a month away in a conference, some training, and a holiday how much better we were doing.  My husband said it, "No one is looking over our shoulder condemning us."  The relief was palpable.
So we will move.  We have done as much healing as we are capable of doing in this place, under the thumb of misguided leadership, bumping elbows with people who are either begging us to come back or walking by us without speaking.  We feel that if our team we led is to have a chance to survive under their new leadership, we also have to leave.  So we are moving.  Boxes line my dining room, and sadness and hope grows with the pile.  We love our family here.  Sadness.  We will be able to breathe and heal away from Tom, Dick, and Harry.  Hope.