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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Schroeder is FIFTEEN!

Schroeder is a freshman at Shortridge High School. He and his brother roll out of bed and head out the door before the rest of us are up, taking the redline to school. 

Julian and Schroeder have a few overlapping teachers, band and theatre, who were surprised to find out they are brothers. They bring a different presence to the classroom. At Parents-In-Touch day, Schroeder's teachers didn't have to be reminded of which kid he was. There were lots of comments about his intelligence, energy, and... phone use. 

His energy extends to sporting events. This is a photo a parent in my network sent me of him cheering on the girls volleyball team. I tell my kids I have spies everywhere. It's hard for Schroeder to hide much (including girlfriends) when I'm friends with his friends' parents. 

He made the JV soccer, swimming, and volleyball teams. I felt a lot of anxiety during try outs, nervous he would be cut. I'm proud that he continues to put himself out there and works hard to build his skills. He is often outside in our very small backyard or upstairs in his room kicking a soccer ball around. 

Once he made the team, I also felt anxiety about injuries; broken bones, twisted ankles, concussions. He's playing for an independent soccer club this spring. Stephen called me from the car one night to say that Schroeder's tongue was stuck to his braces and he was planning to take him to the ER. 

"What? Bring him home, surely we can get it unstuck by ourselves."

I pulled out the pliers just in case I had to cut a wire. His tongue wasn't budging, though, and we eventually headed to the ER. We were a unique case and not top priority so it took a minute (four hours) to pull it off.

Fourteen was a good year. He got his own room (sort of) and travelled abroad for the first time. We went to France and England last summer. Once he recovered from the jet lag, he made a point of jumping and doing a heel click at every location. 

The only souvenir he wanted was a football jersey. (I'm stopping to look up whether a soccer jersey is called a kit or if that refers to the whole uniform.) We stopped in the Paris St. Germain store, and I was overwhelmed by the price of the MbappĂ© jersey. I was underwhelmed with the idea of buying a Messi jersey from the vendors who set up on blankets around the Eiffel Tower, though. As we sat waiting for our flight home, I broke down and spent the money on the official kit from the St. Germain online store. It has proved a good investment as it looks nice and he wears it often. 

His clothing style is simple. Soccer jerseys, jogging pants, Crocs, and a hoodie. He doesn't want weird graphics and brand names plastered over anything. When we go shopping, he often looses his voice, intimidated by the selection and sizing. Unlike juniors for girls, teenage boys have limited selection at stores.

Schroeder is a committed Tottenham Hotspur Football Club fan. He wears his kit, a Christmas present, on game days often getting up early to see those Europeans play. Julian teases him by chanting, "What do we think of Totenham? SHIT! What do we think of shit? TOTENHAM!"

Once, at church, our pastor revealed that he is also a Tottenham fan. Schroeder looked at me with big eyes, his attention finally caught. 

He has a collection of PRIME bottles, a syrupy energy drink that come in different flavors. It's become fun to check a store to see if they carry any new flavors and surprise him with a new bottle. 

I'm planning to run the mini again this year and he's one of my biggest encouragers. He will be getting up early to run the corresponding 5k that morning. His miles are about 7 minutes faster than mine. 

He's still in that Duolingo grind, well over a 300 day streak.

We celebrated turning fifteen with a cousins trip to laser tag and pizza at Mother Bears in Bloomington. A week later, he organized a group of six boys to come over for tacos, park soccer, dairy queen, video games, and two AM water pong. I am grateful that the planning is in his hands now even if six fifteen years old boys in the house is a bit overwhelming.

We love this march madness bracket winning, napoleon costume wearing, Fanta drinking, newly minted fifteen year old. 

Friday, March 8, 2024

An Unhealthy Alliance

Who We Were

I was unexpectedly pregnant with our fourth baby. Stephen and I were still both under thirty. I cried in the bathroom that November morning telling him about the test result. We wanted more kids but not quite yet. We had been planning for years to take a risk and move our family to Portland, but instead I found myself asking if we could, please, move home. 

When we decided to head back to Indiana, it was on the condition that we would reimagine what it would look like to live there. We bought a house downtown searching for walkability and diversity. 

Looking for a church, the Alliance stood out. An old friend introduced us to this group that was youthful (literally) and trying to re envision church. Composed of mostly college educated millennials who had grown up in christian households, all the shoulds and have-tos had been thrown out. There was such a sense of freedom. Pursuing faith didn't have to be attached to a certain political agenda. Services didn't have to happen in a church building on a Sunday morning. Worship could be loud or still and quiet. The community embraced playfulness and creativity.  Church members were practicing their faith by living in community, farming in the city, biking instead of driving, and making music and art. 

Stephen and I were longing to be more than the sum of our responsibilities, an almost decade old marriage, four kids, and two mortgages. This community and the faith they carried invited us into something more. 



All this freedom came with a caveat, little structure and lack of stability.

When we arrived, the church was on its third pastor in five years. Nothing dramatic had happened. All of them had been young, leading the church for a season before life opened up to go after their deeper callings. One had left to pursue music full time, another to live in Northern Ireland as a missionary. 

After we had been at the church a year and a half, another pastor moved on. The Reverend took his place.

The Reverend was already attending the church when we joined. I found it confusing to sort out his position. There was no formal list to look at. He was a sidekick to our pastor, a best friend. He was often working in the back at the sound booth, and because of his youth and unique style, I didn’t assume he was in leadership. 

We joined a small group that initially met in his apartment, although he wasn't named as its leader. The group's intention was to build relationships, and, yet, he didn’t share much about himself. After months of meeting, I knew hardly anything about him. 

He did take it upon himself, once, to prompt another group member to apologize to me. The Reverend thought this person was dismissive as I shared about my mother's cancer diagnosis. He met with us each separately, outlining his expectation of an apology. The funny thing was, I hadn't felt slighted at all and wasn't sure why the Reverend was inserting himself in a non-existent drama.

Our church was a part of a larger denomination who made pastoral appointments. The Reverend was qualified because he had previously interned at a sister church. So, without seemingly any consultation with our local congregation, he was all of a sudden our pastor.  

At our previous church in Texas, my questions or thoughts were warmly met. My pastor, a woman, heard me, saw me, and encouraged me to translate my thoughts into actionable service. She was safe.

Because the Alliance was a church that seemed to run on grassroots energy, I assumed they would welcome my voice. However, I got a less than enthusiastic response to my questions and suggestions from the Reverend. Some of his words cut me off at the knees, undermined my confidence, and made me deeply self conscious.

“We will tell people when they need to know.”

“(Instead of questioning my vision…) Maybe you should move into the neighborhood.”

“What makes you think you could be a church leader?”

“You are the last couple I would suggest to give counsel to other married couples.”

I took the hint. My voice was unwelcome, and so I silenced it. 


An Apology Tour

Not long before we had our fifth baby, I joined Stephen on a business trip to San Francisco. We woke up in our hotel that Sunday morning and I felt a bodily sense of relief that we didn't have to attend church. 

The heater in the church had broken that winter, and the whole congregation would huddle in the closed off side room wearing our coats and mittens. Most of the congregation, which seemed to be inexplicably growing, joyfully sang worship songs and laughed at the Reverend's goofy jokes. The nursery was closed so I sat in the back trying to keep my children occupied and my face from betraying how bitter I felt.

But sometime that year, there came a surprise apology. The Reverend asked to meet with me. A pastoral organization he was embedded in had recently collapsed, and in that wake, he was realizing some of the ways he had been taught to lead were off base. He was seeking my forgiveness.

His apology was on target enough to bring tears to my eyes. Secrecy, defensiveness, and control were mentioned. 

I was eager to forgive, desperate not to have to make the hard choice of finding another church. And, so, I didn't ask many questions. I didn't bring up specific situations where his cutting words diminished me. 

I was nervous that if I got too specific the apology would crack open.

I wasn't the only person he was apologizing to. Several others had been hurt by his approaches and had left the church. The Reverend appreciated my faithfulness. I had continued to show up even when the situation had become uncomfortable. 

We started again, walking forward on wobbly stilts of trust. One stilt was named loyalty, the other necessity. 



My loyalty seemed to have won me enough favor to be invited to preach on occasion (something I had done at my previous church), and then to have a permanent place on the teaching pool. According to the Reverend, none of us in the pool were naturally gifted preachers, but we were all heartily committed which would do.

The Reverend invited me to coffee one day. Sitting at the window table, he asked if I would be interested in starting the consecration process with our denomination. Consecration was essentially ordination for women. Same process, different name. Distinct, but equal? My past biblical and leadership courses qualified me. I felt initially flattered and seen. Although, I didn't ask him to clarify what he saw in me specifically to prompt the recommendation.

Maybe I just didn't get the chance. Mid conversation, Stephen called to say our daughter had fallen down the stairs and needed to go to the Emergency Room for stitches. Hurriedly gathering my things, the Reverend stood up and knocked his coffee cup over. In a bit of foreshadowing, it spilled all over the paper describing the consecration process and all over my lap.


The Interview

In January of 2017, I put on my nicest jeans and cardigan in an attempt to look professional. I stepped out of the land of women and children and into a conference room of seven white men, not the four mentioned on the phone the day before, but seven pastors in our district who were all a part of the Licensing, Ordination, and Consecration Committee. 

Oh, and also one woman, the wife of one of the pastors. She worked in full time ministry alongside her husband, but was not on the committee and had never been through the process herself. She was brought in for my comfort.

I had already submitted an extensive application and taken a preliminary test. These men would interview me and hopefully affirm the calling to ministry on my life. 

“You are much shorter than I thought you would be!” said one, not long into the interview. The others seemed to tense up a bit, embarrassed by his candor. He went on, "After reading your application, I came in ready to debate you on some points. But now we are here in the same room and you are not what I pictured." He was disarmed.

Tears sprang to my eyes, and my thin veil of confidence tore. Their questions exposed my inability to confidently articulate my calling, my irregular practice of spiritual disciplines, and my limited theological vocabulary. Regeneration is not just what lizards’ tails do, I guess. 

They asked me about my relationship with The Reverend.  In his email recommendation, the Reverend mentioned our relationship challenges but said he couldn't recall what had caused them. 

That seemed convenient for him. I remembered and was left to share my point of view without coming across too proud or bitter. They wanted to know what my role in the conflict had been. Years later, I'm still trying to figure that out. Did I share my thoughts too intensely? Was I too eager? Did my gender make it worse?

After conferring privately, I was invited to continue the consecration process which, among other things, entailed lots of reading, writing theological position papers, and attending a conference. 

I was assigned a mentor, the woman in the room. Sometime in the interview, she had discovered we had the same Myer-Briggs personality type, ENFP. She told me that we were often champions for other people but sometimes we needed someone to champion us. 

I did need someone to champion me, but, as I left feeling somewhat humiliated, I wasn't sure if this was the group to do it. 



Over years, I took on more responsibility at the Alliance, always with The Reverend's permission and often at his prompting. I led children's ministry. Stephen and I became elders. I joined the financial team.

I volunteered because I had both the skill and passion to contribute to each of those areas. But, I also volunteered because I wanted the church to move forward, not backward. I volunteered because I wanted to keep the Reverend accountable. I engaged in my own sort of controlling behavior as a way to minimize The Reverend’s weaknesses while he grew in his potential. 

I pushed to implement structure and transparency; a yearly financial meeting and pastoral review, established by-laws, and an independent eldership search committee. I argued to preach from a wider variety of biblical texts. I shared some of my reservations about the Reverend's constant reference to a certain pastor “influencer” and his sometimes bizarre and sensational descriptions during sermons. I would wince when The Reverend described Jesus as teleporting across the Sea of Galilee, for example.

I had a meeting of some kind with the Reverend almost weekly, many of them filled with landmines. I began noticing the same patterns of control, secrecy, and manipulation and would come home needing to debrief with Stephen.  

Others were struggling with The Reverend as well. For years, when people left, I never asked about the circumstances, afraid it would necessitate action on my part. Eventually, I started sitting in on some meetings as a mediator, hopeful that I could soften the frustration. What I was hearing from the Reverend made my own frustrations build. 

“That is the very definition of gossip!”

“She didn’t come to me so I can’t trust her anymore.”

“I don't put my sermons online because they could be misperceived outside of our context.”

“I didn’t have time to ask anyone else before I took action.”

“Maybe you should go pray about that more.”

“I will not be guilted into taking action.”

“Feel free to cry.”

“You don’t know what is necessary in being a pastor.”

“Even after their apology, I will never stop by their house again.”

“You mentioned this about yourself, but I felt God showed me something different.”

“I did not give you permission to reach out to them for advice on this project.”



We gave our partnership a solid try, both of us. 

The Reverend understood over time that I felt loved through acts of service and so he came over to help as I undertook a bathroom renovation by myself. It does feel nice to have a partner while doing hard things, and I appreciated his gesture. He delivered himself as a bit of the resident expert, having done some tile work in the past. This is a good example of how he approached pastoring in general, he often entered a situation as the one with answers and access to God, and instead of encouraging you in your process, he would insert his knowledge with the expectation you accept it. 

We attended our district conference together in Chicago one spring. During a morning session, a certain pastor who the Reverend had issues with was preaching. I don't remember the details of the drama, maybe something about an assistant pastor, a friend of the Reverend's losing his job because of this man. I do remember the moment the Reverend decided to show his protest, though. He lifted himself from his pew near the back, and walked to the front. He hadn't shared his intention with me. I watched him curiously at first, and then my heart began to race. He proceeded, slowly like a bride allowing the crowd to take him in, across the entire front of the sanctuary. I couldn't peel my eyes away. He approached the district superintendent who was sitting in one of the first rows, directly catty corner from where the Reverend began. He kneeled in front of him and whispered some words. The speaker paused, unsure what to make of this action. He even said something to jest about it, laughing to himself. 

I couldn't decide whether to be embarrassed or inspired. I couldn't imagine being that bold although, sometimes, I wanted to be.

As we drove home from the conference, the Reverend and I discussed the Enneagram, a new, to us, personality typing that categorized people into nine numbers. His wife suggested the Reverend might be an eight. I quickly googled the typical attributes; self-confident, assertive, protective, straight-talking, decisive, potentially domineering. According to the Enneagram Institute, “Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating…At their Best: self-mastering, they use their strength to improve others' lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.”

Yes, I thought. This makes sense. Maybe our differences have all been personality related. Potentially, this is the key to understanding and acceptance, to friendship and respect. 

Eventually, I would conclude that personalities might give us insight into our first instincts, but they don't excuse our bad behavior. And the reality was, that a lot of people seemed to have “personality” struggles with the Reverend. 

Years later, The Reverend, over the enneagram craze, would joke that he wasn’t a one through nine, but a ten. 


Burst Eardrum

Just before Christmas in 2018, I broke down. I have this tendency to reframe life positively as a strategy to avoid hard things and just get on with it. Maybe I would have done that if I hadn't also been physically ill. My physical exasperation prevented me from managing the psychological weight of my life at the time. For once, I couldn’t shrug my frustration and bitterness away. I was doing too much, trying to keep my community chugging along and to prove myself. My attempts were not working out well.   

My ear ache seemed to correspond to my emotional distress in that season. It started as just twinges of pain on the same night I was feeling desperately lonely while spray painting cardboard doves for the church's children's Christmas program.

I obtained antibiotics which didn't provide any relief. This at the same time I had come to the conclusion that, despite our best efforts, the Reverend and I were not friends. We were never going to openly share our personal lives with one another.

Soon, my ear was actively weeping. My ear drum burst the same week that I called Stephen sobbing inconsolably after a phone conversation with the Reverend. I made a passive aggressive comment about the group planning our beloved Christmas cantata. He, validly, asked me to address this offense head on. After I sent a group email, he called me, sternly saying, "That's not how I told you to handle it, Melissa."

In that moment, I was able to be honest with myself about just how weary I had become. 



By February, I had my hearing back and discovered I had learned a few things. One, antibiotics won't work for a fungal ear infection. Two, I needed to take some ownership in this situation. I couldn't change him, but I could change me. 

I had been meeting with my new mentor sporadically since my consecration interview. She didn't seem deeply invested in our relationship, but when we were together, she was kind and shared her wisdom. Some of her words, I will carry with me my whole life. 

We met just after my mother's death, and I confessed that I was relieved to get back to my life. She tenderly said, “This is your life, Melissa. Maybe one of the most important moments of it.”

She was deeply devoted to the practices of silence and solitude and was encouraging me to develop these disciplines. This was foundational in the clarity I got after my breakdown. I felt I was given a directive from God.

Slow down. Finish what you've started before you begin anything else. Get clear about what you want and dive deep. Be bold and calm in asking for what you need and let the chips fall where they may. 

There were some commitments I knew I needed to finish, I just didn't know that my connection to the Alliance would be one of them. 


Are you stuck? 

It took me nearly three years, but I finally completed all the requirements to be consecrated. I sat for my final interview one fall afternoon in 2019. 

I was nervous about crying again. My mentor encouraged me to prepare for it, to not be ashamed of my tears. One particular question certainly inspired them. A pastor astutely asked, “Melissa, are you stuck at your church?” In denial, I rebuffed his question. “Is it hard? Sure. But what church isn't hard?”

But, I was stuck. Where else would I be able to find such a connected, beautiful community? Where else would I be able to serve a community I love? Despite my attempts at holding the Reverend at arms length, the emotional toll of working alongside him was growing. 


Cider tears

That same fall, I met a friend for lunch at a local cider company. I was trying to intentionally connect with people I was curious about or drawn to. I came prepared with questions. 

This particular friend was the only member of our church with a seminary degree, but she didn't seem particularly interested in day to day church ministry. She was moving onto a doctoral program soon, and I was curious about her path.

“What brought you to seminary in the first place and how do you want to use your education?” I asked

“Why!?! Are you interested in going? You should absolutely go! You are already gifted, just think how impactful you could be if you honed those gifts.”

This response took me off guard. No. This wasn't about me. I was just interested in getting to know her better, but her insistence brought tears to my eyes. My body was acknowledging something my brain would not. 

She was the first person in my life, even after a decade of intense church service, many leadership training courses, and a years-long consecration process, to suggest I go to seminary. Why was that? 

I shook my head and downed some more cider. I'm too old. It costs too much. We are about to put five kids through college! 

She wouldn't accept my excuses. I left a little tipsy and with a seed planted in my heart. 


Consecration & Concussion

One Sunday morning in January 2020, the church celebrated my consecration. In February, the Reverend suffered a severe concussion. Seemingly unrelated events, they served as the catalyst for my decision to leave. 

The Reverend’s behavior became even more challenging to accept after the concussion. He was having lots of dreams and visions. At our elders’ meeting, I came with concerns about how elders were selected in our congregation. I was working on being bold and calm in naming my concerns. He quickly dismissed this discussion, stating he had special permission from the district to circumvent the by-laws. Instead, he took us up to a room on the second floor. He had a vision of this becoming a “prayer tower”. The room had a very specific look in his vision which he wanted us to recreate. He asked us to pray about going forward with the renovation. 

    Days later, I responded via email with my reservations on the plan and he replied, “Melissa- the rest of your email I am discarding. Everything in regards to the prayer tower you wrote was what I asked folks to not prioritize or respond with.” He told me to go pray again. 

On the same day, within an hour of his disregard for my thoughts on the prayer tower, he sent details of another dream he had, this one about our family. The dream identified a demonic spirit in our home, “the thief of joy”. He said, “The thief of joy says joy is the outcome of distant goals and sets up false diagrams and arguments that say ‘unless I get my way I will never be happy'. It feeds on preference and opinions.”

He encouraged us that “God was purifying your house - almost like a spring cleaning. Things that have robbed your presence of Joy can be flooded out of your home if you desire this.”

I did desire this. The one thing that was stealing my joy was his spiritual manipulation, and it was time to flood it out. 


A Marriage

One morning in early March, Stephen and I were sitting in our car, parked outside our house. I turned to him and said, “I can't do this anymore. If you want to keep attending, I'll understand, but I can't keep emotionally torturing myself.”

I think, deep down, for years, I wanted him to recognize how painful and damaging this relationship was for me. I wanted him to be the one to call it out and save me. I didn't want to force him to leave a beloved community simply because I couldn't get along. 

But I had come to realize that I needed to clearly say what I needed, to advocate for myself. 

Stephen looked at me and said, “Melissa, we are married. Whatever we do, we'll do together.”


Twelve steps to breakup with a church

  1.  I stayed home the next Sunday (the last Sunday before COVID shut down our world) to pray. My resolve only grew, not necessarily to break up with The Reverend and the church, but to set some clear boundaries that I assumed would end the relationship. 

  2. I called The Reverend to let him know I was wrestling with a lot. I had some questions about the church. He took this to mean that I was feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted and needed to work on myself. He was sympathetic. He was less sympathetic when he discovered that I had strong concerns about his leadership.

  3. I wrote down all of my grievances, grouped into three categories;preaching, administration, and pastoral care. I didn't want to leave anything unsaid. I wanted to expose the deep wound instead of placing a bandaid.Looking back, I could have at least used “I statements” and subsequent questions. For example, I need decision making to be balanced and reflect our bylaws. Is this something that we can mutually agree on?

  1. I sent this scorched earth email to The Reverend and the two other elders (besides Stephen and I), a woman and the old friend who had originally invited us to the church.

  2. We set a date to meet over Zoom. Our old friend called us the night before asking if we wanted one of The Reverend's close pastoral friends to be on the call as a mediator. Um, no. 

  3. We met and no one wanted to speak first. I had put all of my thoughts in the email and simply wanted to know if they believed my points had merit. 

  4. The woman said I was clearly offended. I needed to get the speck out of my own eye before I could try to remove someone else's. Some of what I said had merit, but nothing could be done because I didn't come right. I felt like I'd been slapped. 

  5. The Reverend said he had only read the email once and would never read it again. He believed I didn’t know what is necessary to lead a church. He had a letter he wanted to read over us as our pastor. I snapped, “You are not my pastor.” And there it was, the truth of the matter. The letter was only redirection and manipulation, and I didn’t want to listen anymore.

  1. I asked our old friend if he agreed with the other two. He said he needed to think about it more. He has never broached the subject again.

  2. In an attempt to show that I wasn't just a mad woman, I wrote and sent an email sharing what I like and respect about The Reverend. It was heartfelt. 

  3. I set up a call with the district superintendent. After giving him some examples of The Reverend's leadership, he said that The Reverend is definitely a general and I would do better with a more diplomatic leader. He was right. He offered to send a mediating team if everyone was willing. They were not. 

  1. I submitted my resignation and drafted a letter to read to the congregation. The Reverend asked me to remove a couple of sentences, which I did. I delivered it one May morning over zoom, with my family beside me. The Reverend turned off his camera.


Trust Yourself

In April 2020, I received a little anonymous package in the mail. I opened it to find a pin that read “Trust Yourself”, a gift from a listening friend. This would become my mantra as I moved forward in healing. 

I went to therapy a handful of times that summer. My counselor introduced me to words like codependency. I needed something from the Reverend, the stability of a beloved community and a space to live out my calling, so I was desperate to find a way to minimize the effects of his unhealthy leadership styles. She also taught me a way to mother myself, to put my hand on my heart and acknowledge that this is hard. But I quit therapy when I got anxious about the money and when the sessions weren't keeping up with the pace of my 2020 worries.

I had the instinct to write down all the ways I had been hurt. I wanted to hold onto them so tightly, to not let time take them from me. I googled “how to write a memoir” and the predominant advice was to center yourself in whatever you write. 

Shit. I knew at the time that I only wanted to highlight him, those who defended him, and those who sat passively by chalking the whole thing up to personality differences. So, I waited and worked, trying to center myself in the narrative. 



I started seminary a year after I exited the Alliance. My consecration mentor wrote my referral letter. I embraced the lengthy process, hoping it would be a time of healing for me. 

In the winter of 2022, I read a book for one of my classes about family systems theory. I was struggling to understand why I stayed at the Alliance for so many years when my relationship with the Reverend was strained, really, from the beginning. 

The book used this word triangulating. You stabilize something hard with something good or hopeful. I had made so many triangles. Me, the beloved community, the Reverend.

Me, Stephen, the Reverend. Me, consecration, the Reverend. Me, our old friend, the Reverend. For years, I thought, if our old friend (who is the most decent human I know) sees potential in him, surely there is hope for growth. 

As I did the work, beginning after my ear drum burst, these false stabilizers started to fall away. By the spring of 2020, I stopped looking at the situation through these other circumstances and just looked at it for what it was. 


Turning the page

My exit in May 2020 began a host of church conversations which led to more people exiting that summer. What was small became tiny. The webpage came down and the church changed its name. 

I would see the Reverend and his wife out in our small part of the city. My instinctual wave would get a nod from the Reverend and not even a glance from his wife. Once, when she spotted my kids on the local playground, she picked their child up and walked away. I was shocked by this icy reception. I had hope that someday we could at least be in the same room together with ease. 

We began attending a new church, over zoom for nearly a year and then in person. The head pastor invited Stephen and I out to lunch after we attended an intro class. I felt nervous in his presence, even more so when he told me he knew the Reverend although no particulars of our situation. He offered to meet with us to process our church hurt. Tired of trying to convince people of what went wrong, I declined. 

It's been nearly four years since my decision to leave. I've been eager for this to not be my current story, to turn the page. I know that time is required, but what actions can nudge the processing along?

I decided it was finally time to take the pastor up on his offer. We met one early morning in November. I skipped my normal tennis lesson to sit on his couch and get his thoughts. He asked a lot of questions. Believed me. Grieved with me. And encouraged me to take back my power. For the first time in so many years, I felt safe in a pastor’s office. 

I told him that my relationship with the Reverend had been one of the most painful of my life, an admission that feels silly. But when I think about it, it was a relationship that was about more than he and I. It was about my community and my marriage. It was about the roles we are taught to play as men and women, as pastors and parishioners. It was about who I was and who I was becoming.

I'm becoming someone who is learning to trust herself, to know that she is created in the image of God and has unique gifts and callings. Becoming someone who can take her time, invest deeply, and be open to the unknown ahead. Becoming someone who needs people to support, encourage, and challenge her but is thoughtful about who she invites into that space. Becoming someone who is both honest and curious when something is hurting. Becoming someone who still loves the church and will fight for it to be healthy. 

I no longer want to hold tight to how I was misunderstood or disrespected or looked over, I want to hold tight to that story of becoming.