This post is for Brandy Shrader.
Once when we were speaking about why Angie and I left our former church she said, "I just wish you would tell people what really happened!"
I told her that it didn't really matter. It wouldn't make a difference and I didn't want to say anything negative.
I don't intend to say anything negative now, either. But I do want to discuss why I struggle with church and that involves what happened to me.
I do not have a history of involvement with the normal American church.
I found Jesus in a Bible Study at a Christian gym thanks to men named Jugg, Wiley and Fritz. I was baptized after hours in a church baptismal with my sisters with just Fritz and the church pastor in attendance. This was a direct result of answered prayers on a treadmill.
Fritz bought a truck and took supplies to tornado hit Tennessee, he bought plane tickets and went to serve the community of Littleton, CO following the school shooting. Fritz ran a Christian weight-lifting competition, he set up sign language and Spanish lessons in the gym. He stopped charging fees and relied on donations. He took his truck to inner city tent revivals where black preachers preached fire and people fell out in the aisles and carried flags for Jesus.
And I did all of that with him. He introduced me to Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyer and how to follow Jesus like a child.
But, as things often do, it ended. I went to London and, when I came back, everything seemed different. The gym was failing for lack of money and the season for it ended. I left. I wondered for a while what happened, but, looking back, I can honestly say that the time for that in my life was over.
In early 2002, Vanessa said she was going to try a new church out in Grove City. Sis and I decided to go too. We all liked it, so we went as a family. Soon, Mom and Grandma were coming, too. As you know, it's where I met Angie.
A lot of good things happened there.
The good things culminated with my first trip to Iraq. I was excited to finally be going and nervous, too of course.
Everything was going well until the end of May 2005. If you've been a reader, you'll know that's when this blog began as a way to communicate as I went to Iraq and a few days after 13months was born, I found out that my trip would be postponed.
This, of course, was after I'd already quit my job and told everyone I was going. The Company with whom I was traveling couldn't tell me when I would be going with any certainty.
I spent the Summer and most of the Fall waiting.
It was during this waiting period that my troubles with my church began. I think that my reaction to the waiting was not the reaction that the pastor would have liked to see. I don't know this for sure, but he did advise me to call The Company and explain my situation and demand that they do something.
In my mind, that was pointless. At this point we were waiting on more people to go. There were only two of us and we needed more. I made them aware of my situation, but the only thing left to me to do was to wait and have faith.
If you asked me, I'd say that during this period, I lost the respect of my pastor. I was doing volunteer work that put me in direct contact with him, but I feel he was afraid to let me really do the work, preferring to be heavily involved instead. Nothing got done and by September 2005, I had quit the position and had begun to pull back a little from the church.
Then I went to Iraq.
In Iraq, there wasn't a church to go to and I had to rely on a very small group of believers. It was a struggle, but it may be the best thing that's happened to me. I remember at a Creflo Dollar conference, God told me not to let walls get between us. I had let the church and my experience become a wall.
That's nothing compared to what happened next.
In July 2006, I came back from the US. I was dealing with re-entry shock and somethings happened with my church that added fuel to my bitterness.
It's not necessary to get into what happened. A lot of it may only be my perception of the truth and not the actual truth. Regardless, it soured me on the traditional church.
I talked with my pastor and we discussed my new feelings. I was having a really hard time sitting through services. He was supportive and told me that maybe God was pushing me to bigger things; maybe traditional church wasn't for me anymore.
He was right, but then he said something that over shadowed the good advice. I told him that I felt the church was ignoring me and not supporting me in my return.
He said, "Honestly, we just don't think about you."
And I was finished.
And I was bitter.
Not think about me!?! You're my pastor. You're my elders. You're my community.
But not, right? Not at all.
No matter what problems I may have had with Fritz, I know he was always thinking about me.
So, Angie and I were married, I went back to Iraq, Nila was born, we all went back to Iraq and we returned home without the support of the church community I had expected to be there during the whole thing.
The bitterness of "we don't think about you" has been really difficult to work through to say the least.
Yesterday, Brandy and I went to a church plant of the original church. It's in a needy area of town and I was interested to see what was going on, but I was worried too.
I was worried because I had (have) no idea what my reputation is with these people. What do they think of me? Or worse, do they NOT think of me? What will they think to see me there?
I went anyway. The church itself was beautiful and the service was nice. It was good to worship with people again. I saw people that I really did want to see again. It was nice.
And I was greeted at the door by a woman who was truly happy to see me. Someone I bet still prays for Angie and I. It was nice.
But I don't know if I'll be able to give myself over to a church again. I don't think I'll ever be able to depend on a pastor, at least not one with 1200 other people to think about.
If I am going to place the care of my faith in someone's hands, I need to be sure he remembers it's there. Maybe I've moved past the need for a pastor other than Jesus himself. The Bible does admonish us against milk when we should be on solid foods. Perhaps, a church of equals is the next step.
The funny thing is, though, that it was the first step, too. It's where I started.
I have kept relatively quiet about the root cause of my church-related bitterness. I have thought of it as a personal issue between me and my pastor. In truth, it really wasn't. It was an issue between me and me. I mean, he admitted that he wasn't thinking about me when I went to the church, so I'm sure he's not thinking about me now.
I was hurt and I let that hurt turn into bitterness and that bitterness has become a problem.
So, that's where this all ends. God continues to teach me and show me how to follow Him better. I continue to learn things slowly and to understand how my past fits into the puzzle of my now.
I see that God has been teaching me the way to follow Him. It's more than churches and Iraq and tent revivals. It's about getting rid of the walls that keep us from Him. It's about losing the pride and carrying the flag down the street, it's about losing the fear of what other people think and knowing what God thinks, it's about putting all of your faith in Him and not men.
And it's about things I don't even know yet.