in this season of easter i have been posting a few interviews with friends, some “signs of hope”, little slivers of resurrection in the midst of real life. the first two were: emerging from the darkness of sexual abuse and the bumpy road of sobriety. i am a little behind but will try to get more up next week. this one seems to fit well with the last few posts about “the church” and the power of healing community. plus it’s my birthday today & so i get kind of nostalgic & reflective. this story reminds me of that all this refuge-community-life together-healing nuttiness is somehow worth it.. i’m learning way more than i bargained for about grace & trust & love & friendship but i wouldn’t trade it for anything. enjoy.
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as you all know, i am extremely passionate about community. not just “hey, i hang out with these guys once a week and am part of this church, etc.” but real true-blue-in-the-deep-places-of-others-experience community. i think that’s where we learn the ways of love, where we come face to face with our darkness, our goodness, our hope, our fears. where we learn to love and be loved. one of the scariest parts of the refuge community is the high level of relationship that it requires; yeah, most everyone’s church experiences didn’t really help with this critical piece of life, and many have gotten pretty far in the christian world without ever feeling connected to other people. but i have the privilege to see up-close-and-personal what can happen when, despite the obstacles and fears, people try to stay in instead of run away. come out instead of hide.
meet my friend kyle*. he has been a pastor and christian leader for pretty much all his adult life. we always joke that he was paid to be a christian. through the ups and downs of the refuge community, he has been learning a lot about himself, about God, about other people. hope is not easy for him, but during this past season some new slivers have been breaking through.
- you’ve been through a lot over the past several years. losing a ministry job that you were really excited about. battling alcohol addiction & depression. wrestling with huge faith issues that have really messed with your mind and heart. trying to get to the bottom of why it is so hard to really let love in. how would you describe the past 4 years or so of your life and faith journey?
The past 4 years have been profoundly difficult, but at the same time it is the life I have sort of always known. I have no memory of ever feeling normal, or a true part of something that would embrace and love me as I am, so I present what I believe it will take to be loved and accepted. (my issue, I am sure I have been in places that could handle it, I couldn’t) . The depression does not feel separate from me; it feels like it is me. To not be depressed and hiding, are abnormal feelings. My journey with alcohol dependency was certainly fueled by my feelings of betrayal and loss of my romantic ideas about the church, but the “seed” was always there–that I need to cover pain and escape from it. I was/am the type of alcoholic who does not often get drunk, but who is always needing just a couple to make it, to feel alive. Of course, the reality is that “just trying to make it” is almost by definition the loss of life.
- what are some of the things you have cried out to God during this season?
Mostly, “I am so sorry.” But also “does my inability to feel loved and accepted, worthwhile and normal mean that it will never happen? Will I ever get to feel those things? Or should I just learn to live with this?” I have to admit, a core issue is I am not a very good cry -out sort of person, I am trying to learn how to do that. I am aware that as the middle child of an alcoholic mom and abusive step parents, crying out for help was not an option. I can honestly not think of a time when i asked my parents to help me. It is really hard to first unlearn a behavior that actually made childhood survival possible.
- how do you think being a “professional christian” has made the last few years even harder? do you think it would have been different if you had a “regular” job? why or why not?
I have to admit that part of my “stinkin thinkin” is that I am special, not in a good way, but special in peculiar way. As a pastor, my profession has often fed that feeling by making me more important than I really am.
- what has it been like for you to have a faith community that keeps sticking with you, through the darkness & the light, the good times & the bad?
I am clearly not a freak in our little place. I am certain that had I been in my previous church, I would have been sent to a “ranch” to deal with my “issues” (with lots of deep concern) and then quietly replaced. It is hard for me on many levels; the easiest place to hide is on a stage in front of thousands of people. It is much harder at The Refuge to hide.
- you are a good giver, but what has “receiving” looked like for you over the past months? share why you think it’s hard for you to let love in.
Honestly, this is the crux of the issue. Somewhere in my DNA, I have an almost biological instinct that says you can not let anyone in close enough to love you. The predicate to receiving is need, and in my interior world the model is “ need = weak, weak = vulnerable, vulnerable = great pain. Thus, no needs = no pain.
- I know that asking for help is one of my greatest character defects. I am sure that by asking or “needing” I put myself in a vulnerable position that seems almost insurmountable to me.
Alcoholism has been a gift, it made me face the reality my life is unmanageable. Admitting that, allows God (usually via people) to enter and help.
- the journey is far from over, but out of a lot of death and darkness, some hope and new life is emerging. what does that look like for you?
This will only resonate with your readers who, like me, are people pleasing junkies, but I know I am seeing new life when I fail or disappoint someone and it does not totally trash me for a week. I have a glimmer of hope when I can say out loud what I want and let it go at that. I love it when we have our Refuge parties and all the wild and crazy mix of the most wonderful and sincere people are together, and I feel like I get to see that romantic and beautiful church. Plus, the skills I am learning in community are helping me have a much more peaceful and fulfilling marriage.
- yes, we all know that hope is sometimes dangerous, risky. how are you opening your heart up to hope even when it’s scary?
We just celebrated 4 years of The Refuge, and I am still here. That might not seem like much, but for me this is no small thing. My instincts are always to run away, go someplace new, so me still being here, dreaming about the future, is a big step for me.
- anything else you’d like to add?
If you are restless and longing for more in your faith community, it is possible that you may not “find” it, but it may be possible that you can create it. If your hope reservoir is dangerously low and you fear you might lose your way, your faith, spend your last bit of energy on simply finding one or two friends who will listen to your story.
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the church, unfortunately, has been one of the best places for people to hide. i am so proud of kyle and am thankful for his friendship & love & journey toward healing. it reminds me why we are dedicated to what we are dedicated to. spiritual transformation isn’t just about knowing a lot of Bible verses; it’s about changing in the deep places of our hearts & becoming closer to God, other people, ourselves. there are so many burned-out, disconnected, christian leaders out there; my hope is that some how, some way, they might find some form of healing community to learn what they never could learn in the place that was supposed to teach it best.