I grew up in the Deep South, in a fundamentalist/Pentacostal-ish church.
13 years of going to church 5 times a week plus bonus services...
I then spent many years in the UPCI (United Pentacostal Church Int.)
Lots of good friends there still, but I've moved on.
To where, I'm not sure. Currently detoxing from institutional "church" and waiting to see where God leads my little family.
I just had too many theological questions to want to inculcate something in my child that I'm not sure of myself.
What I *am* sure of?
I love God, I'm a daughter of the Most High, and I'm loved by Him.

Knit Pray Love

A friend of mine linked me to this page on the CURE site: http://cure.org/knit

Thanks for joining K-LOVE + CURE to show love to children and families in Afghanistan and throughout CURE’s network of hospitals by knitting.

From their About: CURE’s mission is to bring 100% physical and spiritual healing to these children. CURE is a non-profit organization that operates hospitals and programs in 20 countries around the world where patients experience the life-changing message of God’s love for them, receiving surgical treatment regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, or ability to pay.

Now that’s a charity I can get behind – I’m a big believer in putting actions with words! Since the deadline is coming up fast, I decided to knit one preemie hat, one preemie to newborn, and one newborn.

You still have time to join me – so if you feel led, I urge you to cast on. It’s one way we can show Jesus through our actions!

Ravelry Project pages:
http://www.ravelry.com/projects/tatmom/bellas-hat-2
http://www.ravelry.com/projects/tatmom/squared-away-ribbed-watch-cap-3
http://www.ravelry.com/projects/tatmom/pixie-hat-in-bunny-hop

Working for the weekend!

Or at least, for the Sabbath ;-) Back when I wrote this post, we had just begun incorporating some of the Sabbath traditions into our home.

Over the last year, we’ve gotten even more deliberate about it – bringing in rituals such as lighting candles on the eve of Sabbath, saying prayers, and having an evening meal together where we don’t rush from the table, where no phones or iPad or computers are present, where no text messages are read. Email goes unchecked. Skype is off. Everything is set aside, and we relax.

I’ve been reading the book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, by Wayne Muller, and this passage spoke to me.

“We meet dozens of people, have so many conversations. We do not feel how much energy we spend on each activity, because we imagine we will always have more energy at our disposal. This one little conversation, this one extra phone call, this one quick meeting, what can it cost? But it does cost, it drains yet another drop of life. Then, at the end of days, weeks, months, years, we collapse, we burn out, and cannot see where it happened. It happened in a thousand unconscious events, tasks, and responsibilities that seemed easy and harmless on the surface but that each, one after the other, used a small portion of our precious life.

And so we are given a commandment: Remember the Sabbath. Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest, we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life. We refuse to rest at our peril – and yet in a world where overwork is seen as a professional virtue, many of us feel we can legitimately be stopped only by physical illness or collapse.”

I’m fortunate to work for people who honor my insistence on observing Sabbath. However, this practice is relatively new for me, and I still struggle with the best way to implement it. I’ve no desire to increase burdens for us, to create traditions that weigh my little family down with the observation of them.

But rest, stillness – being together, enjoying each others company, creating and eating yummy meals,  doing things we all enjoy – that is what I’m seeking to cultivate each week.

The Boy looks forward to Friday evenings, lighting the candles, saying the prayers. He reminds us on Saturday, “This is Sabbath! We’re not supposed to work, we’re supposed to relax! Come on, let’s talk about something fun!”

Given my past, the years where I drowned in legalism, the years where I trudged through life looking for a list of thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots, it would be very easy to slide into a list of rigid rules for observing Sabbath. It’s tempting to find a list of guidelines, and worry about not sticking to them.

Finding the rhythm of rest, though – that’s what I’m after. Sabbath is a gift, a sacred gift, and I don’t think the Creator intended it to stress us out!

This coming Saturday? We plan to sleep in, cook pancakes, play a few games together as a family. There will be knitting, and Minecraft, and maybe even a blanket fort constructed for a Nerf war. I’ll get online, and turn on Skype in time to join Shema Congregation.

While pretty much all of those things violate what a more Orthodox Sabbath would require, they are all things that bring us peace, and rest, and closer together as a family. To me, that’s what honoring Sabbath is about.

And so, while I adore my job…I’m finding I enjoy my life even more when I work for the weekend. Mondays aren’t a chore when my brain has had time to reboot and relax. Starting my week as rested as possible makes me a better employee, a better mom, a better wife.

The times in my life I spent struggling under man-made rules, trying to live up to an impossible (and ever-changing!) standard of “holiness”? I never felt rested, or at peace.
In letting go of that, in embracing ancient rituals, in listening to old commands -
I’m finding that my Father, He really does know best…

An obsession with pointy sticks.

knitting needle bracelets
The good kind of needle - made by my husband. Well, he made the bracelets, not the needles.
For someone with a profound dislike of needles (one might even say an abhorrence!) I seem to have a perverse love of them. Of course, there’s a big difference between sharp-needle-poking-into-my-vein-and-leaving-a-scar, and sharp-but-not-as-sharp-needle-that-produces-beautiful-things.

I began my foray into needlearts, and my obsession with pointy sticks and thread, when I was young – we shared a home with my paternal grandparents for a few years. My grandmother always had a quilt on in one of the rooms, a frame that could be raised to the ceiling when not in use (obscuring the lights, of course, but it was a pretty pieced-quilt obscurity!)
On very special occasions, she would let me place my haphazard, rambling, long-enough-to-snag stitches into the quilt. I remember struggling to push the needle through top, batting, and backing, and marveling at her rapid, multiple-stitch technique. She was an accomplished quilter, and while she never has branched out into other needle arts, she’s always appreciated and encouraged my attempts, starting with those first horrible stitches of mine that she left in her quilts.

I didn’t do much after that with needle and thread until my 11th birthday – one of my aunts purchased a small Leisure Arts embroidered cat kit for me. I got several cat-themed items that year, as that was the year my bedroom was re-done in purple wallpaper, and a lilac and brown cat comforter. (Incidentally, that was also about 1 month before I discovered that as much as I love cats, cat-themed anything makes me squirm. I may be the woman who always has at least one cat in my home, but I won’t have the home stuffed to the brim with cat-shaped tchotchke!)
The kit involved a small embroidery hoop, stamped fabric, and semi-literate instructions for such mysteries as a “satin stitch”. I believe I still have the half-completed attempt stored somewhere in my small box of “the things I want to keep from my childhood”. I never did figure out how to fill in the stamped area with stitches that mimicked cat fur, and if I couldn’t do it perfectly, it wasn’t going to be done at all!

After my failed attempt at stamped embroidery, I went a long time without touching a needle and thread, other than to sew on a button. In my late teens, I had a brief foray into sewing / modifying my own clothing, but I found myself stumped by such things as applying facings and bias cut fabric. My mother is an accomplished seamstress, but our relationship was such that I couldn’t learn from her, and she couldn’t teach me. So my sewing skills still remained rudimentary, although knowing how to run a machine kept me in skirts during a period of time when, due to church requirements, the mandatory dress code couldn’t be purchased in stores.

Given my rocky relationship with my mother, I always swore I’d never pick up a needle and thread and get into all the crafty things she did – when you’re a teen, being like your mom is the *last* thing you want to do, no matter what type of relationship you have. It took me a while to mature and come to grips with the fact that even though she and I never saw eye to eye on, well, just about anything…she is an extremely talented needlewoman.

The fact that I inherited a measure of that talent from her is something I now appreciate and embrace.

I got married at almost 21, and in a massive life-upheaval I quit my job, moved to another country, and found myself in a small, spider-infested basement apartment until the home we planned to move into was made ready. I think it took me about 2 weeks of marriage to trek an hour to the nearest Walmart and pick up a cross-stitch kit…I was going out of my mind without something to do while my husband worked shiftwork and I sat at home. That little kit was a bluebird, perched on a branch, on 14ct Aida. It was designed to be a magnet, and I sat up until 4 am one night finishing it. I was inordinately proud, and quickly made another crafting supply run (the second of far too many to count since that day!)

That’s when I began my true love affair with needle and thread – I was quickly initiated into the mysteries of specialty fibers and necessary gadgets and scroll frames and 32ct evenweave. I rapidly moved away from cross-stitch into slightly more obscure counted-thread embroideries, such as Hardanger, Bargello, and drawn / pulled-thread samplers. I’ll never forget the night I spent at the local computer center (yes, there was a time when I didn’t have my own computer, a sad, dark time in my life sans internet ;) ). I watched the GIF animation of Hardanger over and over and over again, and paid my 25 cents a copy to print it out frame by frame and take it home and scrutinize it until I finally learned how to stitch this Norwegian embroidery.


During the long years between marriage and having our son, needlework was my salvation – mentally and physically, if not metaphysically. After the loss of our first child during pregnancy, I spent hour after hour after hour obsessively counting gridded squares and making something pretty out of my tangled emotions. I was part of a crafting group that met once weekly – it was bittersweet, as each woman who was a part of it had at least one child during the seasons we met. Except for me, of course – yes, my embroidering suffered a bit during the hormone-ravaged years of fertility treatments!

After a few years of doing counted-thread embroidery, I learned to needle tat. That began to take up a fair amount of my crafting time, as it was so much easier to just grab a needle, ball of thread, and scissors and toss them into a bag in my purse. It was far more portable than a scroll frame and a box of silk and beads, and gold-plated needles, and just the right expensive scissors reserved exclusively for silk threads.

Tatting saw me through the almost 17 weeks of bedrest and preterm labor I endured while carrying my son – my hands shook too badly from the medication to do any embroidery, but I could (and did!) tat. I’ll never forget the nurse that came running down the hallway that first scary night in hospital – she scooped up my tatting and threw it onto my stomach and said “do this! I don’t know what it is, but whenever you do it, the contractions ease up!” I actually did teach a couple of tatting classes throughout that long, long summer – as nurse after nurse would stop by and peek in the room at the lady with the lace-making needles.

Once I actually had The Boy, I realized that all needle arts had to go by the wayside for a while. After all, not only was there a marked lack of need for little frilly embroidered clothes with tatted edgings, but constantly nursing, wearing, and walking with a baby greatly limited my ability to wield a needle and thread.

About the only thing I did for a couple of years was to attempt to learn crochet (total fail! whose idea was it to name stitches “half-double” and tell you it isn’t a single?! Completely baffles me to this day…). I did a few minor tatted pieces, a couple of small samplers, but as much as I love needles and thread, I love the time with my son more. His needs trumped mine, and so my rather large crafting stash mostly just hunkered in a corner cabinet and sulked every time I walked by.

As he grew a little older, so my time to pick up my needles grew. I began slowly working on embroidered projects again, but I really wanted to learn to knit. I kept stumbling across photos and patterns that I just had to have…and let’s face it, with only limited time to craft, it was better that I make something semi-practical with that time! I’m no stranger to Mommy-guilt, that worry that you just aren’t doing everything you need to do and meeting each need you should and you are irrevocably screwing up your child’s life. Fortunately, some very wise women in my life reminded me that as in everything, parenting, too, is about balance. It really was ok to take the time I needed for myself, but if I wanted to use that “me-time” to bless my family, so much the better!

Some of my crafting projects during this time:

In 2007, I was in a waiting room in a hospital hours from my home, and spotted a lady knitting the most delightful thrummed mittens. I walked over, introduced myself, and asked her if she knew of a yarn store where I could learn to knit before I went home. In one of those serendipitous moments, it turned out that she lived near me…and she offered graciously to teach me to knit. She still laughs when she introduces me to people as “the woman who accosted me because I was knitting.”

The night I was to join her at embroidery guild (yes, it seemed almost too good to be true – other women, near me, who knew the difference between a french knot and a bullion knot!) I was so very nervous. I’d gone to the store up the road and purchased needles (a size 3, 14 inch, because I had no idea I needed to match yarn size to needle size!) and some skanky bright blue scratchy acrylic yarn. I hopped into our old rattletrap car, and started the 45 minute drive. About 5 minutes down the road, the muffler fell off the car. As I stood there by the road looking at it, a car full of teens pulled up beside me and offered help. The young man who got out looked a little bewildered when I said “Please, just throw the muffler in the trunk. I have to get to knitting class!” but he just shrugged his shoulders and complied.

believe it or not, this is my first piece of knitting!
So I sat through that first knitting lesson, quite upset at myself because the long-tail cast-on wasn’t perfectly even with every loop. My teacher’s reminders that “it will even out when you knit, I promise! No please, don’t pull it out AGAIN” didn’t do too much to reassure me, but I eventually worked my way through that first swatch. She taught me to knit and purl that night, and sent me home with a photocopy from a 1940′s knit-for-the-soldiers book. (At least she didn’t do like my shuttle-tatting-teacher, for whom English was a distant 4th language. She resorted to just slapping my hands and saying “No! No! Wrong!” when I’d pull too tightly. I managed to learn to knit with no slapping, anyway…)

Once a good friend suggested I learn Continental-style knitting, knitting began to really click for me (yes, pun intended). It took me about a year to build the confidence – and gain the time! – to move beyond scarves and washcloths, but I’ve branched out now into mittens and hats and socks and sweaters and bibs and headbands and cables and lace. Knitting has become my obsession since then. Yes, I’m still tatting, still doing bits and pieces of needlework, but knitting…ah, knitting brings together everything I love. I can create lace, fashion wearable garments, and connect with all the generations of people before me who have twined yarn around two sticks and made something beautiful and practical.

One of the things I’ve begun to notice about knitting – it truly has become spiritual for me. I heard people say that when I was a non-knitter, and I rolled my eyes and ignored it. But it’s true! In my church-of-origin, much is made of feelings and emotions. We were constantly exhorted to “feel God!” – I’ve been in service after service that dragged on until midnight or later, with screaming, jumping, dancing, and other contortions as people experienced the height of religious frenzy.

I will say I, too, have “felt God” – that moment where you connect with The Divine, the point where you feel that unfathomable peace. I’m not ashamed to say that I believe it’s possible to believe in Someone larger than myself, Someone wiser and more understanding. As much as I despise the phrase “personal Savior” (it always makes me think “now here, ladies and gentlemen, we have your basic Pocket-Jesus! Rub his head 3 times and your wish will be granted…”), I do believe that the God of the universe wants to be in relationship with creation.
For so much of my life, I’ve had to go deep inside myself and stifle the cacophony of “having church” around me in order to attain that place.

With knitting? I find it so easy to slip into contemplative mode. So very easy, stitch by stitch by stitch, to still myself, center myself, cease to think about myself. Instead, as I knit, I find myself praying. Even when engaged in conversation, or sitting in a room full of people, each stitch becomes that connection. Prayers for the recipient, prayers for those around me as I knit, prayers for what is going on in the world – the motion of yarn around needles is as soothing to me as a rosary or worry beads from other faiths, and I believe it accomplishes as much good for my spirit.

It’s a new approach to the spiritual walk for me – think of throwing a rock into a pond. The ripples that explode in all directions – I’ve been to so many churches that seek to throw a bigger and bigger boulder into the water. I’ve been told to delight in the splash.

But knitting? That soothing, humbling, quieting act of knitting? To me, that’s the stillness between the ripples. It’s the culmination of my lifelong fascination with pointy sticks and fiber. And right now, that’s where I find God.

Big church, little minds…

So…this weekend, I decided to do something fun with my son. The Boy is wanting more toys, and he certainly has as many toys as he needs – really, it’s an embarrassment of toy-riches! We’ve been talking about sharing with others, and how when we’re fortunate enough to have all we need, we need to bless others.
So after talking it over, he wanted to have a yard sale – he picked out toys he likes but hardly plays with, toys he likes and plays with some but “others might really enjoy this, too!”, toys that he thought others would like. We priced them low (“should I ask $50 or 50 cents for this, Mom?”), had a bucket of freebies, and made it our policy that whatever someone offered us, we would take – since it was more important to get rid of our excess and bless others than it was to get our asking price. (Yes, that meant that I said nothing when the woman stood in front of me and rolled up a piece of clothing I was selling for 10 cents and shoved it into a bag, while looking me in the eyes – I mean, if you have to steal something I’m valuing at 10 cents, you *obviously* either really need it or really have problems, so I’m not going to say anything! :P)

I tried having a yard sale once before in this little town, and it was a complete and utter flop – I literally couldn’t *give* stuff away. Wrong time, wrong day, wrong karma…I dunno. But I didn’t want a repeat of that! So when I saw the sign for the town yard sale, it seemed like serendipitous timing. I called and signed us up for it, called a few friends to see if anyone wanted to sell anything at our table (no go…apparently I’m the only one who has way too much clutter in my life!), and proceeded to declutter with a vengeance. My friend Amy came over and worked her organizing magic, and The Boy wound up with lots of stuff to sell. We got up at 6am today, and my long-suffering husband lugged stuff into the arena, helped us set up, ran after change, and generally made sure we had everything we needed.

I’ll be honest, I don’t get out much in this town. I go to Zumba once a week, and love it. Every now and then I walk up to the post office, or to the little grocery store, but even 14 years into living here, there’s not much intermingling. I’ve lived in small towns before, and I know how much easier it is to make friends in a city…in tiny towns, everyone knows both far too much and far too little about everyone else. Add in the fact that we don’t attend church here, on top of that, we homeschool, and given my work schedule and The Boy’s allergies, he’s not into summer sports – there just aren’t many opportunities for interaction with locals. Plus, about half the town attends the really big “church”, so yeah.

Anyone who’s ever been the new person in a town where conversations go like “OMG, can you believe so and so is with so and so? You know, such and such’s son did this. Yeah, he lives out by where that tree was 15 years ago, you remember, he used to drive this truck? That’s right, they are related to so and so’s grandpa.” …. then, you can probably relate to me ;-) I’m “from away”. No matter how long I live in this town, I’ll always be “not from here”.

Frustrating? Absolutely – I love visiting with friends, I enjoy talking with people. I’ve accepted the fact that most of my social life will be conducted far away from here – I’ve got a great group of knitty-friends that I get to see every week, homeschool friends, friends I can meet for coffee and chat….just not here in town. Drive an hour in almost any direction, and yes, I actually have friends who make me feel semi-normal. The very few friends I have in this town…both of them!…I cherish dearly. I’m almost pathetically grateful for their friendship, because honestly, 14 years of being a stranger to everyone is really grating on me. It took me long enough to find them that I really, really value them! <3 (I knew there were fabulous people around here…and I was right. *mwah!* love you guys!)

But…I’m determined to give my son a chance to meet people – he’s lived in town all his life, *he’s* not “from away”, and I want to encourage him to be a good citizen when and as he can. (I’ve been looking for volunteer opportunities for him, but no one accepts children as volunteers!) So, we signed up for the yard sale.

It was going pretty well today – The Boy was learning all about working retail (let them browse. Go ahead and answer any questions they have, don’t overwhelm them, but smile and be friendly and let them know you want to help. Ask them if they need a bag. Yes, you may walk around the arena and offer free books and toys to the children walking in. Speak up when someone asks you a question, make sure they can hear you.)
A very kindly grandmother-to-9 stood there and chatted with him, and made a point of telling me that he was going to grow up into an amazing man – that he was smart, and friendly, and she was quite impressed by him. Almost everyone who walked by at least said hello, some people even bought stuff, so I was finally starting to relax and think that perhaps it wasn’t quite *so* bad to get out and about.

As things were winding down, The Boy and I went for a walk. We strolled past a table run by, as The Boy calls them, “people who go to that church with the pastor that says you can’t talk to anybody who doesn’t go their church and they are not very kind to us, Mama, I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t think that’s ok.”

The woman was sitting there working on some needlework, so I smiled and said “oh, how pretty! I didn’t realize you were stitching and selling these, that’s lovely work!”
She looked at me deadpan.
Was her response a socially appropriate “Thank you!” or a “yes, I enjoy stitching” or even a grunted acknowledgement of my compliment?
No, instead this woman looked me up and down and said “I see you’ve walked away from God!”
I decided to have a little fun with her and play dumb…so I asked “No, why would you say that?!”
Her: “Well, you aren’t going to church anywhere anymore!”
Me: “Oh no, I just don’t go to YOUR church anymore! We actually have a lovely church we attend.”
Her: “Where is THAT?!” ( >>> Note…this is what I mean by small towns. She’s obviously aware that our car doesn’t move during “church times”. I’m not sure *why* anyone bothers to notice, but whatever! If you have nothing else to do with your life but check where I’m going when, then do what makes you happy I guess :P)
Me: (Smiling cheerfully) “We attend a Messianic Nazarene congregation – as a matter of fact, I’m going home to Skype in as soon as we’re done here. My pastor – she’s the greatest! – has online church for those of us without a local church home. ”
Her: “Well, I see you’ve just completely walked away from God. You’ve abandoned so much of what you used to believe!”
Me: “I don’t know what you’d be talking about, I haven’t walked away from anything I’ve ever known to be true!”
Her: “Look at your dress code! That has OBVIOUSLY changed!”
Me: “Oh, that! Good thing that doesn’t keep me out of Heaven, then, isn’t it?!?”

And so it went.

Seriously…I’m not sure why she thought she had the right to question me (we’re obviously not friends!) and I’m truly baffled that she thought it was socially appropriate to accuse, belittle, and judge me *in the middle of a town event*.
My friends are proud of me though, because I didn’t swear, I didn’t tell her to go do something anatomically impossible, and I didn’t bring up all of the small-town-scandal-crud I know about her family. I smiled, I responded kindly, and (I hope) took a few minutes to show her how true Christians act.

And now I’m home, and I’m blogging – not behind her back, though, because this post is quite public ;-) My husband and I have been laughing ever since I told him…just the contrast of “lovely needlework, how nice!” and “GRRRR…I see you’ve WALKED AWAY from God!” I don’t know what she wanted to accomplish, but I’m fairly certain that she didn’t get her desired result.

Lest anyone think today was all bad, it really wasn’t. Three people from that church actually spoke to us in a friendly tone – one even bought a few toys for her grandchildren, and let her grandsons speak to The Boy. I made sure to point out to him that not absolutely everyone from that place was unfriendly, a lesson that was hard to drive home when he saw more walking by and snarling and turning their heads when I spoke.

Hopefully my son learned what I wanted him to learn today: It’s possible to be friendly to others, even when they are unfriendly to you. Not everyone in this town goes to ‘the church’. Many people in this town will be cordial and actually speak to you. And Jesus wants us to be kind to the ones who are unkind to us – practicing charity in the face of incredible rudeness is something He asks us to do.

Plus…he made $30 spending money for our vacation ;-) A big “thank you!” to everyone who bought from my eager-to-please little boy :-)

For the curious among you…here’s how I looked today. This is what someone who has ‘walked away from God’ and ‘abandoned everything they used to believe’ and is ‘obviously not a Christian’ looks like.
By their rules, I do look like a heinous harlot, I’m sure. My hair is down, I’m wearing makeup and jewelry, I’m wearing bifurcated apparel, I’m not wearing hosiery, I have a pedicure, and you can see both my neckline AND my elbows.
When I look in the mirror?
I see a woman who is very, very, very grateful that

“…the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Keeping up appearances…a study in “Holiness”

I got a great reminder recently about how appearance-driven some religions are…yet another experience with someone from my former faith who stopped, looked me up and down from my sandals and jeans to my cut hair and makeup, rolled their eyes, sighed, ignored my outstretched hand and my friendly “hello”, and turned and walked away. Of course, even that was preferable to my encounter a couple of days later with the man who answered my cheery “good morning!” with an exclamation of “Hallelujah!” and then proceeded to turn his back on me and pray *just* loud enough for me to hear him…apparently he had to cleanse his soul after a woman like me looked upon him ;-)

It’s a funny thing, this being a pariah – and it’s given me much more insight into how the victims of “soulwinning” expeditions must feel. Honestly, the church(es) I spent most of my life in focused only on externals. Oh, they talked a good talk about being led by the Spirit, and how we should be a light in the darkness. But you know what sticks in my mind? The sermon after sermons after innumerable sermons on “holiness”. The series and the books and the tapes of Brother So-and-So or Sister So-and-So exhorting us to “holiness”, to ever increasing focus on appearance and what was visible to scrutiny.

It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if there had been a consensus on just what this elusive Holiness was. You’d think that belonging to a fellowship of churches that called themselves by that name would mean there would be some sort of agreement on just what was holy and what was not. But in three countries, in many many churches that I’ve attended or visited, there have never been two churches that agreed on “standards”.

Mind you, there are some that could reach enough of a like-mindedness that they would agree to “fellowship” – this usually happened when the dating pool suffered an imbalance in a local congregation, so pastors would meet and hash out the things they could agree with enough to let the teens intermingle. But for the most part, I had pastors who would say “we can’t fellowship with pastor x’s church, they are too liberal” – yes, even though the ministers were credentialed by the same organization, even though they signed the same articles of faith, even though we were told repeatedly that as a denomination, we had “The Truth”.

The mantra I heard over and over and over again to explain this discrepancy? “You are responsible before the Lord for following your Man of God.” This, of course, meant our pastor – himself voted in, his tenure full of acrimony, his days spent negotiating the political structure of whatever church he was in for that point in time. But that pastor, until the church voted him out and sent him looking for another place he was “called to”, was essentially Jehovah to us. His preferences were “Holiness”, divine revelation to us. That meant that when we changed pastors, we could change “standards” to meet his new guidelines, and what was once sin was no longer since our new Man of God didn’t require it…but a whole new crop of sins would be listed. It was a cult of personality that revolved around whichever personality was dominant at the time.

Us on our wedding day - I was breaking the rules for that church by curling my hair, and by wearing white hosiery ;-)

Some examples: at various times in my life, I’ve had pastors who required that I wear opaque tights because my legs shouldn’t be seen. Others required taupe or nude pantyhose. Still others? Sheer was ok, but black was preferred. One pastor didn’t care if we had bare legs under our preferably ankle-length skirts, but we had to wear hosiery to perform on the platform – leading several of us to keep a spare pare of knee-highs in the pew ;-) Skirt lengths have varied from knee to ankle. Some pastors allowed “slits”, others said if a slit was necessary then too much of a woman’s evil form was on display, and they required A-line skirts instead. Sleeve length was the same – everything from short to elbow to wrist was required, depending on who the pastor was (they all were unanimous, though, that seeing pits was forbidden – no cap sleeves, ever.) Yes, I’ve been to meetings for ladies where I had to hold my arms out from my sides and have a minister’s wife or youth leader’s wife walk by to see if they could glimpse my bra, because if they could, then the young men in the church would be distracted if I raised my arms in worship.

Shirt material – some allowed knits if they weren’t clingy, others required cotton material only. Necklines – everything from jewel necks to button downs with only one button open, nothing at all that showed that a woman had breasts.

No jewelry, of course…although even this was split from “no wedding bands or watches” to “no wedding bands, plain watches ok” to “expensive watches with diamonds are ok to exchange when you get engaged” to “wedding bands are ok, and you can wear big glitzy feathery jeweled pins on your lapel and on your shoes, but please to take off the medic alert necklace you are wearing.”

These differences were really, really prominent at camps and conferences where all different churches from one denomination were together under one roof. You could tell the “liberal” churches – They had a WOMAN minister! They might even let a woman who had trimmed her hair stand up and ‘testify’ in church! and look, their girls wore promise rings! and OMGoodness, did you SEE that her slit goes up a half inch ABOVE the back of her knee?! How dare she stand exposed before God that way!

On the other side of the arena, you’d have the “conservative” churches – but none of them stood really close together, because while they were united against the common enemy of jewelry and trimmed hair, they still had their variances clearly marked by the color of their hosiery, the style of their updo (conservative churches require a woman’s hair to be UP already), the colors they were allowed to wear, and the type of shoes their pastors permitted. Even at the alter the lines of distinction were drawn – until a bona fide ‘sinner’ walked in, then it was “look at US! We are ALL HOLY! We have THE TRUTH!” as the various ministers rushed to be the one to ‘pray them through’.

Yes, I sound bitter. Believe it or not, I really am – surprisingly! – not bitter over this. It’s because I saw the other side of this equation as well…people who genuinely love God. Pastors who believe what they are demanding is the Truth-with-a-capital-T and who weep real tears over those who “fall away”. People who are trying to do their best in this confusing world to hear God’s voice and follow it. People who are willing to do anything and risk the world’s derision for their idea of what God wants. That takes courage (I know, because I lived it – you try being the only one working the potato harvest in a dress!)

But mixed up in the desire to serve God is the desire to serve the pastor, and that’s where it falls apart for me. I don’t believe that any one man can be a divine oracle for me, speaking contradictory revelation and dispensing salvation contingent upon how well I comply. I’ve had some pastors that I truly loved over the years, some of whom I’m still friends with, or at least friend*ly* with. The difference is that I no longer lie awake at night feeling guilty for violating some requirement of the church or the pastor.

Yes, I know that people believe I’ve hardened my heart, I’ve backslidden, I’ve rejected God.

All I can say to that is: You have no idea how very humbling it is to throw out everything you’ve ever been taught, to re-examine your whole life, to be willing to admit that what you helped propagate just might not be God’s desire. No, I can’t see myself ever moving back into that – not now that I’ve been honest enough to admit that my whole life part of me has always listened to sermons with a skeptical ear.

I know this: I believe in God – I believe I’m saved by His abundant, overwhelming, all-encompassing Grace.

No longer am I willing to belong to a faith that teaches that this Grace is contingent upon my compliance with arbitrary rules, no matter how nice the man who issues those rules is.

And with each person from my former faith who sneers and turns away, and each person whose eyes well up with tears as they see my ‘backslidden’ state – with each person who refuses to talk to me for fear I’ll contaminate them or that my independent thinking might be contagious, my resolve that I’m on the correct path is affirmed. I love them, I wish them well, but it truly is no longer for me.

On this Resurrection Sunday, I feel as if I’m walking out of the tomb with Him. <3 I’m enjoying what it feels like to be alive, unhampered by expectations of a man or a congregation who insist that I have to follow a checklist to earn my way to Heaven. I’m slowly learning what it’s like to truly walk by faith – to trust that I’m safe and loved and saved even though I’m not wrapping myself in tattered rags of “Holiness” – that God truly loves me Just. As. I. Am.

He is Risen, indeed!