"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Grace Grieving 34: Pastor Lou's secretary

     W. was Pastor Lou’s secretary. She was young, cute, outgoing, cheerful, almost bouncy. In 2003 she disappeared. The church was rocked with rumors that she had left her husband Kurt (an executive elder) for another man. As the weeks and months passed, our sympathy for Kurt grew. He was clearly depressed. He came to church disheveled and gained a lot of weight.
     It was only recently that Jerry and I heard W's account of what happened. She says:

Since my departure in 2003 God has shown Himself to be incredibly faithful. He used a very rocky path, including poor leadership and my own sin, to lead me closer to Himself. He is never deterred by our shortcomings, hurts, missteps, or sin – whether these are of our own doing or if we are experiencing them in others.  

For years I kept silent about my experience, partly because I was asked to do so, and mostly because I needed time to grieve the losses, process the hurts, and see firsthand how God was at work in the mess. I “come forward” now for two reasons – one, to provide truth to those who are asking and two, to comfort others who have experienced similar pains under the Grace leadership and assure them that they are not crazy.

In 2003 I had an affair. This isolated truth became the entire story, spun into terrific tales that opened me up for attacks. But I was not the only character. Mine was not the only sin.  And I should not have had to coordinate my own spiritual care within the church.

There are trigger points to note that prefaced my sudden exit. One big item was that my marriage was in trouble. (During the 7-8 years I’d been asking for help, I was given dismissive answers and reassurances. Eventually, since “I” was the one who seemed to have a problem Pastor Lou sent me to counseling.) I had unresolved childhood abuse issues that left me unequipped to handle verbal abuse and control in the marriage and in the office so I lived the lie of “the perfect Christian.” Three consecutive years, I watched helplessly as three close friends (one each year) ruined their marriages with affairs. I was often depressed, but staff members at Grace were not supposed to portray the reality of struggle and sin. I was increasingly uncomfortable with doctrinal and organizational changes at church but powerless to do anything with the increasing number of secrets I was to keep. I felt I was going crazy trying to work in the church office with exemplary professionalism and cheerful cover-ups; all the while I was aching and felt alone.

When my mother suddenly disappeared I freaked out. She had, after decades of allowing her children to take the brunt of her abusive husband, abruptly left, leaving my 16-year-old beautiful sister in the sole custody of a sex-addicted, abusive man. I was completely over the edge emotionally, yet I continued to go through the motions of work and what I then understood as Christianity. Regardless of my exterior front, I was distraught with concern for her safety.

I sought help from the church staff. They said how awful it was and they prayed. I tried compelling my husband to help my baby sister. He didn’t seem to understand the enormity of the problem. Repeatedly I addressed the topic, but I stopped trying when he turned up the volume on his computer game. (We weren’t exactly functioning well as a couple by that point.) A friend was often at our house and commented on my “tiredness.” I brushed off his questions about what was bothering me until one night when he asked again and Kurt said, “I’m going to bed. You two talk as long as you like.” It felt good to have a man genuinely care about me and to trust his promise to help get my sister to safety. I felt enormous relief. When he followed through to protect my sister, I also felt protected.

I am not excusing what his compassion led to. Yes, I was vulnerable, but the choices I made were sinful. Three weeks later, I set an appointment for Kurt and me with my counselor at which I confessed my sin to Kurt. By that time the man and I had cut it off by mutual consent and I have never seen him again. Kurt was shocked and dumbfounded. He took my ATM card, my credit card, my house keys and said I could not stay in the house another night. He proceeded to resign from the Executive Elder Board, his licensure and his teaching position at Grace, explaining that I had made him unfit because his household was not in order.

I never had opportunity to tell Lou directly. Instead, he had Ralph [Hampton, Church Administrator] contact the friends who sheltered me that night to tell me I could “take a few days off.” I should not have been surprised; I’d seen multiple others make the mistake of confessing sin, only to be sent away from the office without follow-up. Still, I was in disbelief that I was being treated this way. I soon developed the perspective that church was not the place to confess sin or seek spiritual guidance. When I was summoned to return to the office, it was to meet with Lou and Ralph. We sat at Lou’s desk, not the “friendly” table at the doorway. I was presented with a letter of resignation I had no choice but to sign. 

I was terrified. I had no job, no home, and no transportation. In two weeks’ time I’d lost my reputation and had been rejected by the church and individually lectured by dozens. I was devastated. I had known my marriage was in trouble and I expected some comments, but I had no idea how quickly I would lose the church family I’d loved and served for over a decade. When I invited elders Joel Lueb and Bob Rudd to meet with Kurt and me, they agreed a couple times. They seemed as ill-equipped as I to deal with Kurt’s rage so, with Kurt in the lead, the “discussions” were brief and conclusive that I had ended the marriage.

Over the coming months, Kurt walked out of multiple counseling sessions and served me divorce papers twice. I kept saying I didn’t believe in divorce; I wanted to try to work things out. At the very least we needed to address the business aspect of our 14-year marriage. The day he called to berate me for suggesting a mediator, I was focused on the news that I had ovarian cancer. I was so confused and stressed all I could think was, I can’t fight cancer and Kurt and the church at the same time. I signed the divorce papers. I removed my membership from Grace in order to stop the attacks.

But the Lord took care of me! Individuals at Grace chose not to “toe the party line” which seemed to be stand by Kurt, the innocent elder, while 'speaking the truth in love' to W.…only I rarely felt the love. Al and Mary Holdich actively stood with me. (They tried to stand with both of us.). Clarence Davis twice helped me find a place to store my things. Bonnie Horton (newly married) treated me with great affection. Jean Claunch provided shelter until I could get settled. God used the counselor Lou sent me to years earlier as my lifeline to process deep issues of abuse and abandonment and get back on my feet spiritually. While Grace was repeatedly lecturing me on how I disappointed them, how I should have known better, and how I had crossed an irreparable line, a bunch of ex-cons, hookers and addicts at a 12-step group were reminding me daily that God still loved me. The day I moved out of Kurt’s house was the last day I self-injured.

God not only got me through the cancer; he miraculously gave me the joy of my life, my little boy, just turned three. (No good gossip here--just an IVF miracle, born on the 6th anniversary of the date my self-injury ended.) I named him after Alan Holdich (with Mary’s permission). God has provided for our every need, and I routinely work closely with those who are relationally wounded, often by other Christians. God brought good out of it all and I praise Him for His faithfulness. I echo Psalm 56:3-4, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”

Note: Kurt was restored as an executive elder and teacher, ordained as a pastor and is newly remarried. He was one of the two elders (along with "Music Man" Brian Chung) assigned to tell Jerry and me to repent for (exposing their egregious sins against church members in) these posts and "suggest" we'd be happier at some other church.

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