Work in Progress: how losing my religion helped me find myself.

As the sting of my face began to soften just a little and the fog in my head began to ever so subtly clear, I sat there looking at my reflection in the mirror. Eyes swollen and reddened from the copious amount of tears that have poured from them. Head throbbing from the pressure of crying for what seemed like hours. What is it about crying so hard that gives you such a monster headache anyway? I sat there, all coiled up in the bathroom sink just staring at the pathetic mess that was barely able to peer back at me from the other side. I kept asking myself over and over the burning question. No, actually, I kept asking god over and over, what have I done to deserve being punished so harshly? What did I do that was so bad that I deserved to endure such wrath lashed out against me? I had thought of all the sinful things I had done in my life; losing my virginity before marriage, getting mad at my parents, or maybe dropping out of high school? In retrospect, I realized now that none of those were the answer. I did not do anything to deserve what had just been thrust upon me. No one deserves to be treated like that. The real question that I should have been asking myself, is what kind of indoctrination had I been force fed for my entire life that would fuck with my head in such a way that I could ever have felt responsible, or guilty, for being the brunt of someone else’s anger? For pretty much my entire life, I remember that is how I thought. It was ingrained in my brain that god punishes people who do not do the right thing. I even remember in adulthood being faced with the realization that my husband was cheating on me. And, I start going through a laundry list of things that I have done that were likely what made me deserving of god’s punishment, yet again. Bullshit! The bottom line is, he was a jerk and I didn’t do anything to warrant that. Much like the time when I was a teenager and my dad’s adult male cousin tried to molest me, and he pulled a gun and threated to shoot me in the back. I remember the feeling of absolute horror, a fear like I had not experience before, nor sense, as I took each step further and further away, mortified that I would actually hear the thunderous sound of the chamber fire just before the bullet struck and I fell into eternal darkness. For whatever reason, however, he only threatened to pull the trigger. What seemed like days, but was in actuality only a brief moment, I was out of sight of his yard and well within a few steps more of my own. The houses were not visible from each other, even though we did live on the same road. I sprinted toward my driveway and front yard like I had an Olympic gold medal within reach and I was not about to let anyone run faster than I. For weeks, I lived in constant fear. Fear of what I would do if I saw him again, fear of what my parents would say or do. Just complete and utter fear shrouded me. After a few weeks, he was at my house one day visiting my dad. I could not even bear to step outside. The sight of him on my porch made my physically sick. I was trembling. After he left, I tearfully mustered up the courage to tell my parents what had happened. My voice cracking and my hands trembling, I recalled the entire story for them, all the way up to how fearful I was as I ran away from his six-foot frame holding that stunning pistol in his hand. I stood there, nervous and anxious for their reply, anything. Anything but that. As I stood there silent, the crash of my dad’s hands on me felt like waves of unexpected and unforeseen pain. Once the reality of what was happening sunk in, I stood frozen; stunned. I could make out through barely audible noises, at the time, he was screaming at me. With each strike, he just kept shouting, “you should have known better than to be down at his house in the first place!” Wait a minute, was he actually blaming me for what happened? Bullshit! I was fourteen goddamned years old and it was his place as my dad to protect me from men like that, not blame me for some forty year old’s twisted mental sickness. What kind of twisted fucking society indoctrination are we being force-fed that would actually make us believe that anything like that was ever our fault?
Religion is so hypocritical. From childhood you are raised with these never ending threats about how every goddamned thing you do is going to condemn you to an eternity in hell. Be like Jesus, they say. Read the bible they say. But the Bible is a natural contradiction in and of itself. Jesus, was truly a worthy example of how we all should live. He taught of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance for everyone, despite where they came from. God, on the other hand, when the people disobeyed him, he would pour out the wrath upon them like never before. Now, I know a lot of religions believe in the concept of Jesus and God are one and the same, and that lends to the idea of the contradiction. How can someone so unconditionally loving be the same whose love came with strict conditions of total obedience? Talk about tough love. I, myself, have wrestled with that question often and for many years. I had actually asked about it a couple of times at a few local churches that I attended in hopes of gaining insight and answers to my burning questions, only to be told that I should not concern myself over things that I had no business questioning. Which only left me more confused. Shortly after divorcing my then husband, I found myself in a place where I made the feeble attempt to stay with my mom for a while, to try and save money to get out and be independently on my own with my daughter. Right about that time, my ex-husband made a total dick move that was going to cost me my car, a car that I had worked three jobs to save for a down payment, and had paid every penny on since the day I had gotten it, but was unfortunately, in both of our names. I was vehemently ranting about my furiousness over this situation, and I remember my mother saying to me, “you just need to get back into church.” Yes! Since obviously being a “good Christian woman” had done so much to prevent him cheating in the first place and landing me in the situation that I was in to begin with. I do not fully understand how people think that being in church is going to solve all of the problems of the world. Quite honestly, I do not really see where any of them are being solved. They pray, and pray so hard, over sickness, yet people still die. Case in point, my cousin’s ex-wife and longtime friend, had been diagnosed with cancer, a group of family and friends started a prayer group for her. Every Thursday night for about a year, they gathered around to sing hymns, prayed over her, got in a little preaching, and ate from a marvelous display of home cooked goodies in the pot luck dinner. She died anyway. That was several years ago, and they continue ever strong, meeting every Thursday night for church and fellowship, at various locations. I once attended this church, and I was curious about the origin of the church. I had made my way around several different churches from different denominations, and I was always curious about why there was the need for so many different ones, if there was only one god and one truth, how did there get to be so many variations of what was truth? Anyway, the church I was checking out at the time, happens to be governed by a board of elected officials. How is that for irony? The government is protected by separation of church and state, yet many churches practice a form of government. So, in looking at the origins of the denomination, I happened to read over their rules and policies that members are expected to abide by. I noticed many of those policies were written in the 1940’s by elder men of the church. I asked the pastor about it, as in how did they conclude what was right and appropriate for the policies, and had no one considered a revision of them, being that we were no longer in the 1940’s. I was told that I had no business looking into that sort of thing, and that the policies were in place and not to be questioned. That was the moment I severed my ties with that church.
That was pretty much the springboard a-ha moment in which I severed my ties with all churches and religion as a whole. Since that time, I have lost a few friends, mostly Facebook friends whom I never really socialized with in my real life anyway, and have been shamed on more than one occasion by my family. I am okay with that. I have discovered that anyone who actually loves me and cares about me, do not define me by my beliefs. I like those people. Along the way, I have had many an accusation tossed my way for my turning my back on all things religion. I have been told that going to college made me think, and question things too much. Good. Is that not what college is for? To expand our knowledge of the world. I now consider myself a free thinker, and value the concept of keeping an open mind. Although, I have had the opportunity to meet some Atheists who are just as judgmental and closed minded as many a Christian I know. I do not like those people. A lot of people think differently than me; that is okay. I can respect their right to do so, as long as they do not attempt to suppress my beliefs by shaming me for them.
I remember always hearing that old dear saying that, “God will not put more on you than you can handle” For that, I victoriously toss the bullshit flag! What kind of “savior” would create mankind, whom he was supposed to love so much, only to pour out his wrath in wave after wave of hardships for them to endure? People say, look at the story of Job. I have. God allowed the devil to test Job’s faith, as he lost his family, his livelihood, his health, his friends, and damn near his life, just to prove how much he was willing to serve God. Makes no sense to me! I have endured many a hardship myself. Some of them would have shaken most people beyond what they would have imagined. I tried many times to remain faithful and unyielding in my time of trials. Yet, the hits just kept on coming. I finally came to the self-realization, that if god was going to just allows trial after trial to keep knocking me back down, despite my faithfulness, there was only one thing for me to do. Pick myself up, and handle my business all by myself. That is what I did. I dusted myself off, put on my big girl panties, and went about taking ownership of everything that had ever happened to me. I have had to forgive a lot of people. People who did not deserve to be forgiven. People who never gave me a single “I’m sorry for what I did to you.” I did not forgive them as an act of generosity to them. It was the kindest thing I could do for myself. I forgave to take back the power they had stolen from me, without my permission. And, it was so goddamned liberating.
Over time, I have been shamed and lost friends over the fact that I no longer choose to believe in god. But, for anyone who has elected to love me over an overbearing ideology, I am grateful. Since I have split off from the church and all things religion, I have taken control of my own life. I have graduated college, currently working on my second degree, as of this writing. I am, for the most part, in control of my finances, and I do not struggle with paying bills and trying to manage to eat any longer. I have found myself in a relationship that affords me the comforts of not continually having to second guess myself or my value. I am happy. I am content. I am complete. I found me, my true self, when I stopped worrying over who I was supposed to be, based on the ideology of someone else’s rules and standards.

Polish Your Cell

“Life is not fair”…okay, how many times in our lives have we heard that? How many times more, have we been the ones saying it? Well, I am here to let you know that even though life is not fair, it’s okay. No one ever promised you life would be fair. Let’s take a look at a few people in history that didn’t have a very fair shot in life, but they weathered quite nicely.
First of all, let’s take a look at a man named Job. Wow, was life ever unfair to him! Job loved the Lord with all his heart, and one day Satan wanted to test Job’s love for God. So what did God do? He said “okay”, seriously God was going to allow this man who loved him wholly to be tested? Yes he did. How is that for fair? Keep in mind, this test was more than most people would have ever been able to withstand. Job lost his family, literally his children died, he lost his crops, his stock, everything! Then when everything he owned was gone, Job lost his health. Things just kept getting worse and worse for him. All his friends, well the four that still came around, insisted that Job had done something terribly bad for God to punish him so. Through it all, Job stayed faithful to his Lord. He thanked him, can you even imagine to thank God for taking away everything you own, including your health? Yet in the end, Job passed the test with flying colors, and God restored him.
We could look at King David, even though he was not exactly the king at the time. How fair was it for him to be chased in the wilderness for so long by Saul who wanted to kill him, and all for what, envy? Young David had done nothing but find favor with the folks around town, with the men of the army he served with, with Saul’s son Jonathan, and even with God. So Saul was jealous and wanted to kill David. Would it be very fair if we just run around and try to kill everyone that we were jealous of? Maybe they got the job you wanted, the house you want to live in, the car you planned to drive around town, or even the lover that your heart desired. I still don’t know if that would justify just chasing them around and killing them. So how did young David handle this little situation? Well, he ran. He ran a lot for a long time, but he had an opportunity to kill or just harm Saul during this time, yet he refrained. As unfair as he was being treated, and as much as he could not understand why this had to happen to him, he just kept doing what was right. In the end, Saul was destroyed in battle, not at the hands of David though. And David eventually became King of Israel, and is now referred to “a man after God’s own heart”. You see for all the bad that happened to David, and all the wrong things that he had done, he always felt remorse and tried to do better next time.
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We could consider the story of Daniel. Young, strong, and handsome, Daniel was taken captive when he was just a teenager. He was made to work in the palace of the King of Babylon, the very man who had taken captive his people. Daniel had it all going for him, his youth, his good looks and all he was set in his home land; he probably had his pick of all the girls in town. Yet there was life with its unfair twist of fate, and now he is instead a prisoner of the king. He did have the three Hebrew children with him and they did the best they could. When asked to partake of the “King’s portion” of food, they four of them vowed to not defile themselves and they stood strong. But somehow out of the unfairness of the circumstances, Daniel and his three Hebrew mates, found favor with the staff of the King’s court, and eventually even so with the king. So he took a bad situation and through his faith and his diligence to serve his Lord, Daniel has become one of the most revered and favored prophets of the entire bible. Not too bad for a kid taken captive, huh? How would you have handled the whole being kidnapped by the unruly king thing?
But now I would like to take a moment to ponder over the story of one of the most unfairly treated people in the history of the bible. Joseph. We have to start his story about what a brat that kid was! Yes he was well loved by his father Jacob, and he did have that colorful coat that he bragged about all the time. So, it’s understandable that the older brothers were pretty sick of all his “being perfect”. And as siblings do, they wanted to really teach that boy a lesson. Well, maybe they went a bit far though, I mean, did you know they pushed him into a pit, not just a ditch, and a deep pit, to leave him for dead? Well, it just so happened though, that some folks from Egypt were coming by and instead of leaving him for dead, they just decided to sell him to the Egyptians. Nothing like selling your little brother into slavery to get back at him for being a brat! So in order to get by with what they had just done, they tore off his coat and tore it into pieces and covered it with blood of an animal so they could go back and tell their father he had been killed by a wild animal. Now how fair was that for poor Jacob to grieve his young son, whom he now believed had been savagely mauled and was now dead? As time goes on, Joseph lives out his life in Egypt. So guess what Joseph did with his time as a slave? Well, he did his job, and he sang and he worshipped the Lord. Seriously, I guess he figured he could do nothing to get out of this mess his brothers had gotten him into, so he was joyous in his work. I honestly can’t say that I would be so grateful to be stuck in his shoes. As time went on, guess what? You guessed it; Joseph gained favor with Potiphar and his top brass. So Joseph eventually became quite important there in Egypt, was given responsibilities and all. He was even in charge of important things like food distributions and the like. So for a while things were going good for Joseph, considering his unfair way to get where he was. But like everything in life, all good things must come to an end; the wife of Potiphar had taken a liking to Joseph. Well, he was young, handsome, and strong. After all, isn’t that what all women look for in a man? So, she decided to try her luck. Well, despite his youth and overwhelming good looks, young Joseph was faithful to his Lord. He knew what she was asking was wrong, and he denied her advances, and you know what they say about a woman scorned? You guessed it, she told Potiphar that he had tried to “attack” her and have his way with her, but she fought against him. Despite all the favor Joseph had gained, a claim of that nature could only land him in one place. Young Joseph was put in a prison cell, accused of something he did not even do. I would fully expect and understand him to really give up, or at the very least, throw a big old fashioned baby fit! But low and behold, guess how Joseph handled this new trial? He polished his cell!! Seriously, he polished his cell every day, while he sang and whistled and thanked God. Now really, how can anyone be locked in a cell for a crime they didn’t even commit, and want to clean the place up, let along sing and be thankful? Okay, beats me too, yet that is what he did. He sang and polished, until one day the jailer let him start getting out so he could clean the rest of the cells and everything in the prison. In just a matter of time, Joseph was running the jail himself! You see, he didn’t let his circumstances beat him; rather he allowed them to build him up. With a joyous heart, he overcame the odds, and was once again in favor with the Pharaoh and helping run Egypt! Wow, if only we could all see that much light at the end of our tunnels.
Okay, I must also share the best part of Joseph’s story, it is the part that I find more amazing than any other part of his story. At a time when Joseph was in care of many things in Egypt, one of those was the rationing of food during the famine. For people to get food to eat they had to go to Joseph and he would hand out the food for each family to get them through. During the famine, families in Israel had to come into Egypt for food, and one day a group of brothers showed up in Egypt to try and get food. Now how do you think Joseph handled that? The very brothers that sold him into slavery, told their dad he was dead, and left him on his own for so many years were there right before him, and begging for food to get through the famine, no less. I think that many people would have seen a golden opportunity to get some much deserved revenge! So what do you think he did? Well, the story says he kissed them on the neck, and tearfully told them he loved them! Seriously, after all they did, he forgave them and said he loved them? Yes, that is exactly what he did. Could you be so forgiving? I do not know that I would, but it would certainly be nice to think so.
So whatever circumstances you happen to be in now, no matter how unfair life seems to be to you, polish your jail cell. No one ever promised you life would be fair, but then if you think of what these guys went through, can it really be that bad, what you are enduring? Because remember, the trials, we endure for a season, then comes a time of rejoicing. So sing in your cell, polish your cell, give thanks for your cell, and know that you will come out stronger, smarter, and better for having been there. Stay faithful and allow good things to be birthed in your trial. Keep the faith, beloved.
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