It Was the Worst of Times

Contrary to how much I have used this space in 2021, I still really love to write. In fact, I have come to this space over and over again in the last several months starting drafts, but never finishing them. There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t finished many posts this year, but the biggest reason is that many of the words I have written this year have felt raw and deeply personal. Don’t get me wrong, I have for sure shared a lot of pieces of myself on the internet that have felt personal, but in a lot of ways, this year felt very different. 

In July, after months of not writing, I gave myself a completely made up writing challenge. When I posted about the challenge on social media, I wrote this “I am sick and tired of my own excuses. That sounds dramatic (which is pretty on brand for me), but when I think about it, my excuses boil down to being worried about what others will think. I realize that no matter what I write – someone may not like it. So what if I realized that opinions are a dime and dozen and validation is for parking only?⁣” 

Those words….about opinions and validation… have been swirling around my head ever since. Those words are the words that brought me here today.

Since starting this blog four years ago, I have written a post at the end of the year to sum up our experiences. This has usually started in January with me sharing our “word of the year” and then a follow up post in December to describe how God used the word to completely turn my heart upside down. This year was different. At the start of 2021, there was no word of the year. After several long struggles and discussion, We decided to just breathe and trust that God would direct our path through this year. I was bound and determined to follow Him, without writing a perfect story of what I think life should look like first. (Daydreaming Alone)

With that in mind, writing a blog to sum up the year feels different this year. I have no pretty bow to tie around how God used a phrase to turn our world around. When I think about 2021, the reality is that much of this year has left me speechless. 

I started the year by stepping down from a ministry I had poured myself into for the last several years. A ministry I loved and grew in. When I stepped down, I knew my heart hurt, but I thought the problem was me. The first quarter of every year is ridiculously crazy at work, and as the days turned to weeks, I started to realize the ministry had left more wounds in my heart than I ever realized. The way I worked during those first few months of the year were eye opening to me. I didn’t like who I was, and I responded to situations in a way I am not proud of.

As 2021 inched forward, I watched my best friend get treated worse than I ever could have imagined. As she shared her story, several others started to come forward and I started to see a pattern of hurt and broken hearts from that ministry I once loved. So many broken hearts. I couldn’t wrap my head around how something that brought me so much joy, had also brought me so much pain.

I spent a lot of this past year feeling like I couldn’t talk about my experiences. That somehow, me saying that I was hurting, would completely alter every good thing the ministry had ever done. When I shared with a few, an old saying that I often hear in the church was repeated over and over….“hurt people; hurt people”.

This phrase gets thrown around as an excuse for the manipulation and pain that is caused by leadership. This phrase is like putting a band-aid on a missing limb. While hurting people can and absolutely do hurt people, it’s time we stop overlooking abuse in ministry. We have to stop sugar coating what is really happening around us. Saying “hurt people; hurt people” after someone explains the way they have been hurt, is basically telling a person that their feelings don’t matter.

It’s taken me months to come to terms with my emotions. In the end, one of the hardest lessons I have learned this year is that abuse is never excusable. Imagine if I told you that my mother physically abused me every day of my life, but then I told you that she was a great mom because she always fed me and got me new clothes. While you may never say it, you wouldn’t believe that my mom was good. As ridiculous as that example sounds, we do the same thing in “the church”.  We sugar coat and allow abuse in ministry by saying “but look at all this good”. Again, I have to say, abuse is NEVER excusable. 

We need to pause here for a minute. I understand that the word “abuse” feels strong. It feels like a word that should be used in only extreme situations. If I am being completely honest, there is a large amount of time that I felt like I shouldn’t be saying that the ministry I left was abusive. It felt too strong for the situation. In the summer, I looked up the word “abuse” and Webster’s dictionary defines the word as “a corrupt practice or custom” and “an improper or excessive use or treatment”. At the end of the day, I left with a broken heart and deep scars. I have lies to work through because of the teaching I received. Friends, that is abuse. Okay, back to the real story…

The more I realized how damaging the ministry was that I walked away from…. The more I realized that what I saw in that ministry isn’t something that just happened there. Unfortunately, church hurt and ministry abuse is something that many of us feel. We don’t talk about it, and we feel alone in our pain. 

Again, if we believe that we live in a fallen world, and that no one is perfect, there is always going to be some kind of “wrong” everywhere we look. However, this year I have asked myself “where is the line?” Too many people in ministry are getting away with behavior that is completely inappropriate simply because “we are all sinners” and “well, no one is perfect.” Too many people are walking around heartbroken, dealing with abuse because they think that’s “just the way things are” or they are fearful that if they speak up, no one will believe them.

Somehow this journey pushed me to read books I never would have before. After leaving the “safety” of a place that never had my best intentions at heart, I realized that I was missing out on several different perspectives. This year I have read more books than I ever have before. Words others have written became my life line in a brand new way this year. My worldview grew and with it, so did my opinion. 

Another big lesson I learned this year is there is the less black and white in the world than I ever knew. I find a lot more gray in the world than I ever did before. I think this year I have realized that the way we determine what is right and wrong is based on so many personal things. We could solve a lot of headaches if we simply slowed down and listened to why someone believes what they do before we try to convince them to believe what we do. 

I didn’t realize that coming to terms with my own abuse  and my growing worldview would draw imaginary lines in the sand. 2021 became a game of “us against them” that I never wanted to play. People I thought I would grow old with stopped talking to me and I realized that it was best to give others space. I learned who I could trust during some very dark days. Much of this year was lonely. It felt like it was my fault that my friend circle shrunk so very small. Losing so much made the pain of leaving a hurtful ministry even harder.

In late 2021, I was listening to music while getting ready for work and a remix of a song started playing. The words felt like a life motto I needed to have. Here are the words to the chorus of “Not Gonna Do” by Andy Mineo: 

I won’t apologize for bein’ who I am (I won’t apologize)
Tryna throw shade on me, say a lot about you?
I won’t apologize ’cause you feel some type of way (I won’t apologize)
That’s a no can do, no, that’s on you
Pretty girls make the world go ’round, I thought you knew that
Coco Chanel with it, no, I can’t do it

It may sound silly, but I have sung these words in the back of my mind so many times this past year. I have realized that all the pain I felt was never about me. The pain says more about the other people than it does about me. I’m done apologizing for who I am and I am done hiding. 

I can’t leave this post all negative. The reality is this year wasn’t full of only heartbreak. I finally learned how to make THE chocolate pudding. I watched my oldest niece’s boyfriend propose to her in a beautiful way that completely surprised her. Watching her love story unfold has been such a gift.  I watched my nephew get his high school diploma. Watching him grow up, move out, and live on his own has been so fun! I cheered with my youngest niece and my in-laws at a NASCAR race. I watched my best friend become a Mom… one of the best Moms I have ever known. My parents visited for their longest visit in years. Changes at work have made me fall in love with my job again. We received confirmation that the rare headache disease I was diagnosed with a few years ago is still very much stable with no lasting impacts. (For Everyone…but not for me)

2021 was hard and lonely, but 2021 will also forever be marked by some of my favorite memories. 

If you have made it this far, I want to say a couple things. 

  1. If you feel like you are being treated poorly… you have the right to leave. No questions asked. You are too important to continue to be abused. It may be one of the scariest things you do and it may hurt like hell, but I can promise the other side is well worth it.
  2. Walking away from a church or a ministry that has hurt you does not mean you are walking away from God. The things you do and the places you go are not the only things that define your relationship with the Father.
  3. Find your people – the ones that will sit with you when it all falls apart and is no longer pretty – and cling to them. 
  4. Stop apologizing for the space you hold. The world needs what you have.
  5. Slow down and listen to those around you. Read something that takes you out of your comfort zone… the journey of learning new things is more fun than I ever knew!

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