Turn, Turn, Turn… (Article 1)

This is the first article for PART II of my series. Please click for LONDON, THE LETTER AND LOOKING BACK for PART I

INTERMISSION

swirly girl

Spring, 2004. We’re on the other side of the bridge now: no longer tethered to the London church drama or the ministry ; me embarking on my new career as an English tutor, Henry still flying to New York on a regular basis, the kids in Canadian schools for the first time. We look like a normal (I think) Canadian family, albeit with two beautiful, exotic-looking children who don’t look like most of their classmates. Daniel has introduced himself as an “American” (brain-washing fixed by the time he finished grades two to seven in the States) and changed his name to “Dan”, facts I was unaware of until chatting with his Social Studies teacher, who doesn’t know who I’m referring to until he connects our surname with “Dan, the American”, as he is already widely known. We’re attending the Vancouver congregation, where I still feel like a visitor. This is most likely a reflection of where I’m at emotionally and spiritually. I feel like a creature that’s slipped out of its skin, but has yet to find a new shape or skin to inhabit. I don’t talk about how I’m feeling, even with myself. Henry feels most engaged with the New York groups, where therapeutic discussion of what’s gone on in the ICOC continues to sadden, madden, yet invigorate him. For him, it’s an ongoing internal battle over what he knows, what he loves, what he thinks, and what should be his next step. I ‘m aware of this, but discussions between us are slowing down. I’ve overdosed on disbelief and disenchantment. I’ve shut down.

These forthcoming chapters are hard to write. Unlike the London saga, my story can no longer be told in a linear way, because I am spinning through cycles of numbness, grief, illness and sadness. There is little truth to the notion of ‘five stages of grief’ unfolding in sequence towards acceptance and closure. This process is more like a free-fall spin, like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole past ever-darkening doors and windows, with no sense of ever hitting bottom. Until the bottom hits, pulling me into even deeper pits and false bottoms. Trying to make sense of everything is the last step of this journey: writing this blog, putting formlessness into shape and story, giving myself new skin and a fresh start. And you are here, to give my words a listener, a receptive heart.

Thank you.

Hence the title of this second, more personal part of the story: Turn, Turn, Turn. If you are a child of the sixties or seventies, as I am, you will immediately recognize the song and start singing the lyrics in your head:

To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn,
And a time for every purpose under heaven.
…A time to build up, a time to break down; a time to dance, a time to mourn,
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together……..

And so on. Beautiful words set to a timeless melody, engraved on my heart since 1967, ‘rediscovered’ at the age of 24, when I found the original words in the book of Ecclesiastes. Words that took on deeper meaning as I moved through life; words that bring me comfort and perspective even now. My “turning” changed to spinning for ten lost and confusing years, reluctant as I was to acknowledge and measure my grief. As I wrote in my introduction, I was slow, as always, to process trauma, even as my soul and spirit were churned in an emotional ‘food processor’ and my sense of self and confidence were shredded. So this next part is that story, told from (possibly) the 20/20 perspective of hindsight and grace.

As a builder sets the scaffolding, there are different outlines I’ve considered to give this formless story some shape. I could build it around the lines from Ecclesiastes: a time to seek, a time to lose, and so on. Surely the Scriptures will give me solid footing, even the searching words of King Solomon. Or I could base it on the typical “Effects of Grief” outcomes: Fear, Anxiety, Isolation, Longing, and so on. From a representative list of fifteen markers of grief, I languished in all of them, for much longer than is considered ‘normal’. I could structure my story on indicators of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, of which I can claim at least thirteen. Coupled with symptoms of PTSD and Depression, I can add ten more serious warning signs, plus a range of physical symptoms I now believe were psychosomatic petitions from my body, collapsing under my unawareness. Or I could base my testimony on a self-made list of All the Things I did Wrong, unevenly balanced with a shorter list of Some Things I Think I Did Right, albeit very slowly. Which approach will cover all the bases best?

To settle this debate, I could ask readers to vote for their favourite scaffolding technique (or for the least painful one to read). But knowing me, I’d probably disregard the vote in the end and come up something entirely different. (Feel free to cast your unofficial vote anyway, and I’ll at least consider what your choice says — about YOU – lol.) But while I’m considering my options and you, dear reader, I want to leave you with a poem I wrote – one of my earliest – when I finally started doing something right and took to poetry. What came out nearly every time I sat down surprised and informed me: my subconscious had a very strong ability to voice how I felt, beneath the façade of ‘moving on’. This poem hit it.

Sea Shanty

Like one from whom the past is sealed,
I live apart
from worlds I used to fill.

Seems I was born to lose my place
at every turn —

cold fingers pried off rock until
the sea surge drags me deep
into the undertow again.

Once more I’m tossed in endless drift
round continents and kingdoms not my own.

Cast upon shores of gem-encrusted sand,
strongholds of belonging speak my name
and seem to be my final port of call.

Sometimes the stay is brief, sometimes
prolonged, as if
I’d dare to stake my claim –

only to watch the sea
capture it all again.

My craft is a lonely place to look for land
but I have learned to call it home:

tossed between memory, dream, what might have been –
lucky to keep my head above the sea,

while all the rest
is surely cast away.

This pretty much captures my loss and longing. Obviously, the moving, the losing, the saying goodbye, and the end of life as I knew it were all taking their toll.

32 replies »

    • Marilyn, thank you so much for this post. I’m excited about your new blog and absolutely love the name for many reasons. My hearts literally aches as I read about the grief and loneliness you experienced and endured. I’m also angry that you were so alone and that your friends did not walk this road with you. I have so many questions, but they really are more for coffee talk than a blog comment. I will say this as one who wasn’t in paid ministry but endured years in the ICOC: I realized about a year ago when I moved to a new church (not ICOC or COC) that my identity was in the church and not in Jesus. For the first time ever, I’m experiencing God’s lavish love and grace…and the freedom in this place is indescribable. I can’t wait to read more…thank you again for your courage in sharing your journey.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Chrissy, thanks for your ongoing support and encouragement..it truly means so much to me. Yes, the church really was the focus of everything — and when the church was at its best, I couldn’t wait to introduce as many as possible to its amazing, close fellowship. But when things unravelled, the darker side of our sinful natures became more visible, and it was devastating…. I can relate to your realization of God’s lavish grace through attending a church that is focussed on Jesus and not ourselves. I’m experiencing the same thing attending a local church that has Christ-focussed worship and grace-filled messages. Only wish I could bring my close friends from before with me. Then it would be perfect.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Althea. The articles will come a little slower this time, but they’ll be posted as soon as I feel each one says what I really want to say.

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    • Thanks, Mary, I will consider this approach. I do want to share the “depths of despair” with others who are still stuck or in denial (as I was for so very long), in order to help break the death grip of self-doubt, guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, alienation, sadness and so on that Satan used on me for so long. And I believe these are all manifestations of PTSD/Depression/Grief and Complicated Grief that we experience in the wake of catastrophic and/or accumulated losses. For those who didn’t go through this, it might seem a bit indulgent. But I only wish someone had written these things for me early on so I would’ve seen my despair for what it really was, and stopped hating myself every day.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your writing is most important. We may never know how many “former-members” have not reached resolution or understanding of the experience. In my case it is a life long process with more healing every day. Thank you for sharing. Your words are powerful.

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    • Thanks for saying this. I’m sure there are many who still haven’t fully recovered or even realized the extent of the damage.

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  2. Marilyn…I just found your blog about a week ago from Gloriopolis. I started at the first letter and went all they way to letter 12 in about an hour! What a gem to read for all of us from the ICOC and especially those of us who endured the full time ministry for so long. I immediately posted the link on my Facebook page and had two close friends (formerly in the full time ministry) read them…they also read all the posts to date in about an hour lol! I felt so much relief, freedom and peace from reading all that you wrote…answers to things that we’re never open to honest discussion was so healing. Most of us were so tired of being “handled” and needed someone to just tell the truth…and for some reason there was no one left who would do that. My guess is that everyone was just trying to process all that came crashing down so quickly. In any case, I wanted to keep encouraging you to write, write, write! I would love to hear how you are learning to process through everything…it encourages me to hear your story on how you are learning to move forward from the aftermath and that there is hope to be free of it. No pressure lol! Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share your journey. It is most likely doing more good than you will ever know 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julie, thank you for reading and sharing the blog with others. I’m so glad to hear that it’s been healing and helpful for others, too. The rest of my story will be all about the the dark days that followed and my struggle to make peace with God, myself and others. So stay with me, there’s more to come!

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  3. Marilyn, I like your use of PTSD. I’ve used that explanation too when trying to wade through a sorrowful and tragic time in my family’s life. The church didn’t come through for us but it wasn’t entirely their fault. The isolation, devastation to faith and dissappointment in leaders’ direction became too much for us. We felt free to leave and explore other options. God has blessed our efforts but I believe my daughter still carries around some of the feelings that you have expressed. I will encourage her to read your blog. Thank you so much.

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    • Yes, and it wasn’t just “like” PTSD for many of us; it actually WAS PTSD, the aftermath of being through enormous mental and emotional trauma. I hope your daughter will find the blog helpful. Thanks for all your comments.

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  4. Marilyn, I have been benefiting from your posts and look forward to more. I was a part of the ICOC from the 1980’s (age 21 and a newlywed) and a part of the team that planted the church in Kansas City with Greg Jackson. We ended up in Indianapolis and were part of the group led by Ed Powers. We were bible talk leaders and young parents desperately trying to juggle full time jobs with the demands of the ministry. I wish I had time to write about my experiences like you have, but right now I can’t. It was twenty years ago this week that Ed took a stand about some basic principles that exposed the corruption, arrogance and power structure of the ICOC. We in Indy were misrepresented and marked as divisive. In one fell swoop I lost almost every friend I had and the purpose I had lived for and sacrificed for my entire adult and married life. The devastation was horrible and I felt it physically, emotionally and worst of all spiritually. Even now it immediately brings me to tears just to think about it. I know that we were right to do what we did and I am forever grateful to Ed and the other leaders for finally being open and real with us about what the leadership of the ICOC was really like. 10 years later, Henry’s letter surfaced, and the rest of the ICOC finally took a look at themselves. It was affirming, to be sure. But those of us in Indy had already gone on to pursue some type of new normal. Many people probably don’t even know about Henry’s letter. I now realize that I should have been more proactive about my own healing process. I am closer to God than ever and the overriding emotion in my life is gratitude. My wonderful kids are grown and my marriage is strong. I have much to be thankful for. But I’m adrift when it comes to organized religion. I can’t seem to trust it. I don’t invite people to church much. I’m in a small group of people I love but I’ve never told them about my past. I don’t think they would be able to understand it. So your posts are like a life line to me of some type of healing. Your poem “Sea Shanty” describes me. Please keep writing. I will pray for you and I pray for my own healing. I would really like to used by God to bring others to Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nancy, for your beautiful and open letter — I so appreciate your honesty and the self-assessment of your journey since the Indy split. It’s sad that that story is still misrepresented, I think, or even forgotten. What you are describing is so much like my own spiritual journey — it’s only now that I’m sharing my past and all the ‘sad’ details with others, and it feels great. I’m past caring what other people might think about my frankness, and it’s so gratifying to hear that my writing — even my poetry! – is helping others. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I am eager to keep writing, even when that little voice pipes up and says, “What’s the point?” The point is helping each other heal and become stronger. God will surely bless the desires of your heart and use your life — all of it — to reach others for Jesus.

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  5. I just finished reading Part 1 and the start of part 2. My story is very different from you guys but I believe you will help me. Thank you for sharing your story. Please keep writing but only if it remains healthy for you.

    In His love

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  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences, my wife and I are new in the ICC leadership and we want give everything for Jesus and His Church, and I’m sure we learn many good do’s and don’t’s from you for building the God’s Kingdom and to increase the chances of offering the salvation to all nations in this generation. To Him be the glory.

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  7. Marilyn, Thank you for sharing your story. My wife and I were in the the ICOC for over 20 years. The last 6 or so we were in the full-time ministry in New York. However, our work was in the children’s ministry. We became aware of some abusive practices among leaders and (eventually) spoke up about them. I am grateful that the higher-up leaders took our concerns seriously. But things got pretty bad before it was all over. There were meetings and then meetings about the meetings, etc. Lies were told about us from the pulpit, etc. I’m not sure how that situation ended because we were informed (eventually) that our services would no longer be needed (i.e.-we were fired). It was a devastating turn of events. Like you, we lost all our friends and we never got to say a proper goodbye. It led to a move to another state in mid-school year, which my oldest daughter, in particular, found very difficult. I was a teacher by profession and it isn’t easy to find a teaching job in January! We had also just brought home our adopted infant son 6 months before. We moved to a new city with a lot of hope and a lot of pain, only to see history repeat itself with the church in that city. It was during this time that Henry’s letter came out. We watched and waited to see the leaders’ response. What an opportunity! What would they do? Well, they “circled the wagons.” The elders protected the evangelists and the evangelists protected the elders. We had had enough. We left. We formed a house church with another couple and for a while it was wonderful. More people joined. It was simple. Singing, sharing, fellowship, meals together. It felt like what church was supposed to be. Some folks were wounded and needed time to heal. Others were engaged and ready to move on. I was stuck in the middle, trying to mediate. Eventually, the mover on-ers turned on me. “A little yeast works through the whole batch.” There was still a lot of ICOC in many people. In hindsight, it was compared to a hospital with no doctors or nurses and the patients were operating on each other! I couldn’t do it anymore. We left. There are no words for an experience like this, but you have done a great job of expressing what it feels like to be me. Sometimes I would take the risk of trying to share with someone what had happened. In nearly all cases, I could feel them emotionally stepping back from me. There was just no way for people to grasp or relate to this. It made the isolation even deeper. I can relate completely to everything you have posted (through Article 3, as of this writing), and will likely share more on subsequent posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joe, thanks for sharing your story with me (and the readers), Sounds like your journey has a lot of similarities to mine. I like your hospital analogy — so true. Everyone was hurting in different ways and no one had all the answers. And healing at different rates, that’s another good observation. The “Move-on-ers” vs. the “Can’t Yets”. I look forward to your future comments as the series continues!

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  8. This is so incredibly helpful. At times, I feel like the more heart one had invested, the more that one grieves. After 25 years, I left the ICOC in 2008. I believe that I would have never left if not for Henry’s letter. I stayed because my heart was invested (primarily in the relationships), but I was so frustrated still at the lack of the leaders willing to learn from others outside of the ICOC. It was as if no one else in the Christian world outside of the ICOC had grown during those 25 years. Rubbish. I left with a good friend of mine. She became a Christian while attending your Dorchester Bible Study and although she requested that you baptize her, it was Henry instead. After every Sunday church service, it would take days for the guilt to subside just a bit and for her to have any recognition of the true gospel of Jesus. The church that we attend has been instrumental in the healing process, but has it ever been and will continue to be a process. For my good friends that remain, I feel sad when they share different things with me to this day because they are still frustrated at different things, but still hope for the days 30 years ago that no longer exist. Insanity – having the same leaders without any outside influence and expecting different results. I just can’t thank you enough for your openess and vulnerability.

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    • “At times, I feel like the more heart one had invested, the more that one grieves.”
      –Truer words were never spoken. Thanks for sharing, Denise.

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      • Yes, I think this also explains why some of us have had the hardest time moving on with our lives. We truly gave everything we had to give.

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    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Denise. It’s so true that the insularity of the church has hindered it from growing and changing in a healthy way, instead of stagnating. Many of us long for the good old days, but hopefully many good NEW days are still ahead. I’m glad you and your friend have found a place to heal and grow –and of course, I’m VERY curious about who that friend is! Give her my love and a big hug from me!

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  9. Thank You Marilyn -your writing helps me to see that I am still not really in touch with the depth of hurt&scared to admit it …I struggle a lot with letting people in now & dont invite people as much to church..maybe because Im still evaluating…I push myself to go -but secretly want to step outside of ICOC to give myself time to discover what I may not have discovered yet.What I have learned is : that peoples opinions.wants .judgements do not equal(if I dont give in to them) = Gods Love for ME. I can say no now& Im becoming less of a people pleaser. Im discovering who God really is and how he feels about me. You have added to my Healing&I hope you write a book someday on all this! Ill be first in line to buy:)

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    • Susan, thanks for your comments. I would say, don’t be afraid to step ‘outside’, even for a little while, if you feel God’s Spirit leading you somewhere else. It helps so much to gain a healthy perspective of the church and your place in it. You may decide to go back, stay where you are, or keep searching for a new spiritual home — as long as Jesus is your anchor and your Lord. And I’ll put you on my “advance readers” list for my book, once it’s near publishing time!

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  10. Marilyn,
    Thank you so much for sharing your life over the last 10 years. SO much what you have shared I can relate to strongly in my life over the last 10 years. I will share more at some other time.
    Many thanks, Marilyn!
    Barb

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  11. This poem moves me. Your story, to this point, draws me. Your writing ability, your ability to perceive, weigh and synthesize…is wonderful.

    I’ve had coffee, red wine and Bengal Spice tea with honey. After a “pit stop” much deserved, I have more traveling to do…

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