Monday, August 30, 2010

An example of my oblivious nature...

I often make minor alterations to the appearance of my blog. Occasionally, while tweaking things, I hit a button accidentally and make an unwanted change. I apparently did this over the weekend. Last night and this morning, I looked at my blog several times and thought, "It doesn't look the same. Something's missing." But I couldn't figure out immediately what was different.

DUH! It finally dawned on me that I had unintentionally removed the gazing beyond my toes into the ocean picture from our trip to Barbados! I had to laugh at myself. It should have been obvious. Only "Miss Oblivious" would have to stare at it for a while to figure it out.

I am not a visual person. I am auditory. I am deeply introspective and sometimes overly analytical. But I'm definitely not visual. I have a hard time visualizing a concept (like potential changes to a house). And sometimes I don't even see things right in front of me.

I trip a lot. I bump into things and walk into walls. I'm a disgrace to my gender because I truly do not multi-task well. I can barely chew gum and walk at the same time. It's partly because I'm a bit clumsy, but also because I'm unobservant of the physical world around me.

A friend once told me she didn't care for the title of my blog. She meant it as a compliment; explaining that, in her opinion, I was very intelligent and far from oblivious. She thought I was demeaning myself with that title. But I disagreed. I explained to her that one of the things that has gotten me through life thus far is the gift of being able to laugh at myself.

I remember when John and I were first married. He said this to me on many occasions, but I remember one specific time (maybe it was the first time) vividly. We were standing inside our walk-in closet. He loves to tease. But it is never mean-spirited. The way John teases me makes me feel cute and amusing to him. I have never felt belittled by him. So, on this occasion, he was teasing me about some little quirk of mine and I started laughing -- because he was right and it was funny.

He looked at me in utter amazement and said, "I can't believe I can say that to you and you just LAUGH! I LOVE that about you!" And I said, "Really? Why is that so amazing?" Suffice it to say, he had never experienced that in a relationship before. I guess that is one of the things that makes me perfect for him. I really do have a sense of humor about myself, my shortcomings and my quirky traits.

There is something so freeing about being accepted and loved just as you are.

It's such a gift to know I don't have to be perfect to be loved.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sharing an invitation with my readers...

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100 Ways of Grace

I am super excited about this next feature. :-) On facebook, a dear friend noted,
"Please write about grace. I still don't always get it. Give examples. Say it in 100 ways. :P (if you can) :) Maybe it will continue to sink in eventually."
So, I'm going to try. :-) And yet I want to hear from you, too! Grace is an essential element of our faith and healing . . . and yet so hard for many of us to grasp. Let's come together and share what we've learned; let's say it in a hundred ways or a thousand ways! I invite you to join me on Fridays for my new series, where I will provide a way for you to link to your own articles and thoughts about grace. I look forward to gleaning from what you have learned in your walk with the Lord. Please grab a cup of coffee and consider participating in this journey ~ and if you like, grab this button code, add it to the html portion of your website or blog, and invite your friends to join, too . . . (from http://quiveringdaughters.com/)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This time last year...

As we approach the month of September, I find myself reflecting quite a bit on this time last year.

This time last year, we were preparing for John to begin six cycles of chemotherapy to treat his CLL. If you go back and read some of my August/Septebmer 2009 blog posts, it's all there; concerns, fears, worries, and the peace of knowing that God was in control ... no matter what.

This time last year, I was also putting the finishing touches on my book. I finally submitted the pdf to the publisher on October 20. It took longer to revise and edit my work than it did to write the entire original 127,000 words. (The original manuscript was finished in early May; just before my 50th birthday.)

This time last year, I remember riding waves of fear and anxiety. I remember imagining worst case scenarios that I did not feel equipped to face. Fortunately, as is often the case when we project ourselves into the fear of the unknown, none of those worst fears actually happened.

If we could have known this time last year that John would not get a remission from FCR, we would not have chosen for him to receive it. But his immune system survived, and failing FCR was what enabled him to qualify for a clinical trial with CAL-101 as single agent ~ which is working beautifully for him now. As long as it continues to work, he will continue to receive it.

I am fully aware that CAL-101 could stop working at some point. Nobody knows how long it will work for any given patient. But one thing I have learned from this past year is not to invest myself deeply in worrying about dreaded worst case scenarios. It's working now. For that I am incredibly thankful. And I am choosing to live in the moment. Every time I look at John's thin neck, with NO visible lymph nodes sticking out, I am so thankful for one more day ... week ... month. I don't feel anxious as lab and scan appointments approach because I can see that the drug is working with my own eyes. If nodes ever start enlarging, I'm sure I will again feel some anxiety. But I'm not going to entertain thoughts of the drug failing us while it is working. No amount of worry can change the future. And the future may be far more promising and hopeful than my imagination.

Here's what I AM thinking about:
How wonderful the holidays are going to be this year in comparison to what we were going through last year!

I did not enjoy the holiday season last year. I couldn't wait for it to be over. John was so sick from early September through January. Last Thanksgiving and Christmas, we were pretty isolated by John's very compromised immune system. We had to avoid anyone with any type of infection in their household (including colds). For John, a common cold could have turned into pneumonia. So, Thanksgiving wound up being John, Marian and me. Kids are considered especially risky while undergoing chemo. So we didn't get to have our normal Christmas with the kids either. We attempted to get together with Danny, Rebecca and the boys at our house. But five minutes after they arrived (and before John got home, fortunately), Joshua just threw up out of nowhere. We thought it might have been from playing hard or something he'd eaten, but we had to be wise and cautious; not taking any chances. So we quickly opened presents and they left without even seeing Poppy John. I kept my game face on for the boys. But I did shed a few tears after they drove away. We spent the last few days of the year in the chemo room. So New Year's Eve weekend and our wedding anniversary (January 4) were not exactly festive either.

It was a tough season and I remember reminding myself so many times, "It's just one Thanksgiving, one Christmas, one New Year's, one anniversary. There will be others."

It's hard to believe a year has passed since John started chemo (September 8). Seven months have passed since he finished that course of treatment. He hasn't fully recovered from the toxicity. His energy level is low and he is often exhausted at the end of the day. But he is so much better than this time last year!

We never know what the future holds. We don't know what tomorrow holds. Life as we know it can change in an instant. I know this. I know it well from personal experience. But even still, I sometimes have to ask myself, "Are you living as if you believe this." I think ~ for the most part ~ I am.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Amen.

~ Reinhold Niebuhr

Friday, August 27, 2010

Understanding the Forgiveness of God

Why Couldn't God Just Forgive Us? by Eric Pazdziora

I haven't had much reading or blogging time lately. I have had a lot of inspiration for writing, but not enough down time to process my random thoughts into a worthwhile post.

The above link is to another post from Eric Pazdziora. His blog was brought to my attention this week by a friend (The Cult Next Door) and I've spent quite a bit of time reading his writings this morning. I especially loved this one.

When I first left the cult I was raised in and its unusual teachings on Jesus and salvation, I struggled with what to believe. I had been so programmed to accept that "our" unusual beliefs were exclusive "truths" the rest of Christianity did not have and that I was highly privileged by God to know them. These were "truths" that could not be found in other Christian churches, which is what binds you to the cult. The question you ask yourself over and over is "Where would I go if I left? Where would I fit in knowing what I know?"

I was seeing flaws in some of the things I had been taught when I left; specifically about salvation. But there was fear and anxiety attached to rejecting those beliefs. Rejecting what I had been taught felt like possibly rejecting God and His "special people in the earth." I did not want to be guilty of rejecting God or His truth. And if I came to the realization that I had been deceived, I did not want to be deceived yet again. So I developed a fear of deception. Not a concern; a fear.

One of the biggest challenges for me was understanding Who Jesus was. I did not want to simply forsake one set of beliefs and embrace another. I wanted to fully understand and know what I believed. I wanted to be convinced through Scripture. I spent a lot of time studying the Scriptures that illuminate for us Who Jesus is. And today I am absolutely convinced of Who He is.

The post above is about the cross and forgiveness, but Eric so simply and effectively puts into words the truth of Jesus' deity at the same time. I am so thankful that God has opened my eyes. The understanding I once struggled for is now so glaring it is almost blinding. I just had to share the link.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Writing about Spiritual Abuse

I wrote this yesterday:

"I have had so many different thoughts come to my mind in the last few days that I have considered writing about..."

It seems like there is no way to put enough distance between myself and my cultish past as to be completely detached from major events occurring within the group I left over seven years ago. During these times of emotional re-engagement and reflection, I often consider writing. But most of the time I choose not to. I have written a whole book about my religious past and my testimony of deliverance. It's there for anyone who is interested. I don't want to make it my life's calling to forever address the injustices and offenses of this particular group.

However, I process a lot of "thinking and feeling" here on my blog. Writing is therapeutic for me. Nobody is compelled to read what I write. Yet I know there are many who share similar struggles who read because they relate to me on some level. Whether I am writing about spiritual abuse, CLL, the joys of being a grandma and an aunt, my thankfulness for God's faithfulness and mercy to me, or simply the mundane events of my day to day life, my blog is one of the ways I connect with other people.

We went to the most lovely brunch yesterday celebrating a well-loved couple who will be married in October. The groom is the son of very close friends of ours. So we have been included in several celebrations. Yesterday's brunch was such a warm and intimate gathering of friends (even though there were many people there). And I had the best time. At times like these, I often think about how thankful I am that God provided a way for me to escape the confines of the small box I had lived so much of my life in. I am very thankful for the friendships and bonds I have formed in my new life, which is not so new anymore. There is so much joy and freedom in my life. I am oppressed by no one. I feel so loved and valued by the people in my life today. There is such a dramatic contrast between my past and my present.

We came home after the brunch so John could change from long pants into shorts. I didn't need to change clothes because I was comfortable in what I had worn to the brunch. So while John was changing and checking his email, I logged onto my laptop. I stopped posting on the ex-GAC message board quite a while back, but I still occasionally click on it to see what is being discussed. There have been a few times that I have really wanted to respond to something, but I have said to myself, "Don't do it. You've moved on." (Well, sort of.)

I had already heard about the comments on Dyal's blog regarding mercy vs. tolerance from someone personally. And checking the message board aroused my curiosity enough to go to his blog and read his comments for myself. The excommunication of my former church from the 'body' as a whole has been a hot topic among those connected or formerly connected to this group. Many of us who have left still have family members who are devoted to the "vision" of William Sowders and "the body." I'm sure that is partly why it is so hard for nearly all of us to ever completely disconnect.

I often share my thoughts with John. And I talked to him quite a bit yesterday about this and other issues connected to my former church. He is frequently very candid with me about his own thoughts and perceptions. He likes to tease. And he doesn't shy away from telling me, "All of you who have grown up in that place are messed up." We laugh about it. And I usually say sheepishly, "Even me? You think I'm messed up?" He doesn't mean it as a put down. I think he is just finally realizing that the emotional scars of being raised in deception and bondage have lasting effects on a person, which is something I have tried to explain to him in the past. I have come a long way in my healing process. But I am a work in progress.

Some people don't like it that I continue to write about spiritual abuse and the experiences of my past. Others ask me to please continue confronting these issues. I am often torn because I am not sure what God wants me to do. But one thing I have learned as a result of writing my book and hearing from a lot of readers is that there are many, many people out there who have suffered the wounds of spiritual abuse. It is an ongoing problem in many people's lives. And it isn't limited to the group I came out of.

I have a heart for victims of all kinds of abuse. I have never suffered sexual abuse, but I have suffered every other form of abuse both spiritual and domestic. My heart goes out to those who have suffered to a much greater degree than I ever have. And I hate injustice. I am not preoccupied with injustices done to me. But I cannot be apathetic about the grave injustices done to others. I cannot sit by on the sidelines of people's lives and choose not to care. And I don't understand how anyone can. I cannot stand to see a victim turned into a villain because he or she needs to talk about what has happened to them. I consider it an egregious injustice for someone to rail on and on about how women wearing pants is a rejection of holiness when the same "system" has failed and failed and failed to come to the aid of innocent women and children in need of care and compassion. How can anyone with a sincere heart before God refuse to see why that is SO offensive to all of us with a heart of compassion for hurting people? The lack of action taken to protect the innocent in contrast to the grasping for power over the lives of others (especially women) is glaring. I pray this will change and eyes will be opened. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why anyone would be distressed over a separation from this movement. It looks to me like it would be very desirable.

I will admit that part of me responds to the whole mess this way: "What a joke! What a farce!" But nothing about it is funny. It would be like laughing at a train wreck with mutilated bodies (shattered lives) lying everywhere. That's what this is to me. The only answer is repentance. But certainly not for women wearing pants.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mercy vs. Tolerance...REALLY?

Mercy vs. Tolerance by Paul Dyal.


For any of you who are interested, the link above will take you to the blog of a prominent minister in the group I grew up in and wrote about in my book. This particular post is written in response to CGT being "disfellowshipped" by the group as a whole, which I wrote about last week. Dyal has played a leading role in this course of action and has blogged about the situation at great length over a long period of time.

As you read, keep in mind that the "judgment" he is advocating and defending is, in his mind, the necessary response to the "crime" of women being allowed to wear pants (and other such freedoms given primarily to women).

Crimes of sexual molestation, cover ups, lying under oath brought no such response or call for judgment. Apparently, only giving women the liberty to choose their own clothing requires this kind of strong action to be taken by those in positions of authority.

If this did not make such a mockery of God's holiness and justice, I would say it was laughable; I would say the whole thing is one big farce. Strong words, I know. But victims of real crimes have been ignored. Nobody in this group has really cared about victims. At least they have not demonstrated their care if they claim to care. None of these men ever bothered to contact or reach out to any of the victims I know when real crimes were exposed.

Where was the stand for holiness in response to real crimes? Could it be that only freedoms given to women to make their own choices offend these men? Could it be that the other more serious crimes have been ignored because they were not committed by women? Is it just about controlling women? You have to wonder...

I have had so many different thoughts come to my mind in the last few days that I have considered writing about. I am sure I will write more on this subject for anyone who cares to read what I think. But for now I just thought I would share the blog comments with you for your own reflection.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Girl's Night

I did something last night that I rarely do. I went out with girlfriends for dinner (and left my sweet husband at home). There are several reasons I almost never do this. But primarily it boils down to one thing: I love being at home with my husband. As crazy as it may sound to some people, it's a bit of a sacrifice for me to be anywhere else when John is at home. It would be different, I suppose, if I were taking care of small children all day long and desperately needed to get out of the house to unwind and recharge with friends. But I have lots of time for myself and I frequently spend time with my friends by going to lunch. I have so many lunch dates, it's not uncommon for John to ask me (as he's leaving for work in the morning), "So, who are you having lunch with today?"

I'm also not very adventurous. I don't like driving alone at night. I don't like parking garages (especially at night). Come to think of it, I don't even like having to figure out where to park or how to get where I'm going. I like to be the passenger and let someone else "take charge" of getting us to our destination (and home safely). Most young women today are braver and more independent than I have ever been.

Yesterday was a lifelong friend's birthday. She is going through a divorce and her daughters were taking her out to celebrate. Another friend and her daughter were going also. And I decided to join them for dinner in Nashville. I called John yesterday afternoon and sheepishly said, "I'm about to ask you a question you don't hear often.... Would you mind if I went out with the girls tonight?" I told him it was Janelle's birthday and that was the main reason I wanted to go. John, of course, had no problem with it.

So I ventured out on my own, braving the dreaded parking garage, to celebrate and hang out with friends. And I'm glad I did. We had such a good time. The party was moving elsewhere after dinner and it was a little hard to be the only one leaving. Part of me wanted to stay. But I had a forty minute drive home and it was already after 9:00. I didn't want John to worry about me. He knows that I am not the most aware person, even in broad daylight. I knew if I stayed out late, he wouldn't be able to sleep for worrying about me getting home safely. Terra welcomed me to spend the night at her condo if I didn't want to drive later that night. But I think that would have been SO out of character for me that THAT really would have made John worry.

So I came home at a reasonable hour to find John waiting for me at the door. And whatever mixed feelings I'd had about leaving left instantly.

This morning I checked for any Facebook pictures that might have been posted by my friends after I'd left the party. And I found this...


The caption underneath the picture said: "Shari Howerton where are you?" I loved it. What a nice way to let me know I was missed. Thanks, Friends! If the party had only moved to a location in the boro, I would have stayed out later. Hey, now THERE's an idea! Bring the party here next time and all of YOU spend the night at MY house! : ) Well, give me a minute to run this by John. (Ha!)

A few more pictures...

~Janelle with her daughters, Jessica and Terra~
I don't get to spend time with Jess and Terra often, but I always enjoy their company. And Terra never fails to crack me up with her outrageous sense of humor. I really enjoyed getting to sit across from her at the table.

~Robin and her daughter, Jackie~
I got to see Jackie for the first time since she was a little girl yesterday. She has grown into such a beautiful young woman -- inside and out! What a treat it was to spend time with her!

~Me and Robin~
(Another one of my dear, lifelong friends.)

~Janelle, Terra and Summer~
Summer and I are distant cousins. My mother was her grandmother's first cousin (their mothers were sisters). It was fun to see her. She is as sweet as she is pretty.

So, that's about as wild as this girl gets. Dinner at Demos in the big city of Nashville.

WooHoo!

I hope your birthday was special, Janelle. I'm glad I got to be a small part of your celebration. I love you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

CAL-101 Day 85

I haven't been posting as many updates on John because he doesn't have to go for a weekly office visit anymore. He is now seeing the doctor and having labs done every fourth week. Every eight weeks he has CT scans.

John has now completed three 28-day cycles of CAL-101 with no problems or side effects. Not only have his lymph nodes shrunk dramatically, his blood counts are all within normal range. His WBC four weeks ago was 9.5 and today it was 7. His neutrophils and platelets were both a little lower today than the last check-up, but still in normal ranges. He is responding beautifully to this drug. When things are going this well, there isn't much to talk to the doctor about (or report on my blog). You just hope the great results continue.

I did ask how other patients are doing on CAL-101. I am curious to know about patients who have been taking it longer than John, since the drug is so new. Dr. Flinn said most are still doing well. He also told us that a new trial has opened up studying CAL-101 plus Rituxan as first line treatment in CLL. That is very exciting news because Rituxan is lower in toxicity than chemo drugs like Fludarabine and Cytoxan. My mother-in-law is probably facing some kind of treatment within the next year or so. And I don't like the idea of her receiving Fludarabine at her age. (Dr. Flinn has already said he wouldn't give her Cytoxan.) I'm thinking that CAL-101 plus Rituxan may be an option for her now as first line treatment.

However, you may remember, to get into the trial John is enrolled in, patients had to have already failed treatment. That is how most trials start. They offer the experimental drug to the patients who have failed other treatments. I was very excited to hear they are already offering it to patients who have not had any kind of treatment. That will be such a welcomed option for many patients who do not want to subject their bodies to the toxicity of the chemo drugs.

CAL-101 initially raises the white count for most patients while it goes to work immediately on the nodes. Other drugs work better on clearing the CLL from the blood. So by combining CAL-101 with another drug that goes to work on the blood, I presume they hope to counter that undesirable side-effect. When John was accepted, there was another trial comparing CAL-101 plus Bendustamine (chemo) to CAL-101 plus Rituxan (monoclonal antibody; less toxicity). They must be getting good results from CAL-101 with Rituxan to open a new trial studying that as first line therapy.

John and I both wanted to try CAL-101 as single agent only because John has already had both Rituxan (alone) and Rituxan in combination with Fludarabine and Cytoxan. His blood responded to both, but his nodes did not. And after six rounds of chemo, his white count was normal and didn't need more treatment. It was just those stubborn lymph nodes that were the problem. Neither of us liked the idea of putting more of the drugs that had not worked for him into his body. So we feel very fortunate to have gotten into the trial he's in with CAL-101 as single agent at the lowest dose. It seems to have been the perfect treatment option for John at this stage of the game. I wish John could have gotten CAL-101 without having had to endure (and fail) chemo first. But I'm just so thankful he's getting it now.

I don't waste a lot of energy agonizing over things that might have been. I believe God is -- and always has been -- in control. I believe He is working all things for my/our good; even our CLL journey. When reflecting on anything I have ever gone through that has been difficult, one thought or concept has always kept me going and helped me not to feel sorry for myself (for very long). If I never suffered pain or faced adversity, what would I ever possibly have to offer to another hurting person? Pain is necessary. I don't like it. I'm not asking for it. But I am a stronger and more thankful helper in God's kingdom because of it.

I remember telling God many times that even if what I was going through accomplished nothing in my life other than helping me to one day be a better friend and an encouragement to someone else; that was enough for me. Little did I know how many ways He was using those painful experiences for my good and for the development of my character, as well as cultivating a greater degree of compassion and empathy in my heart for other hurting people.

For me, one of the richest blessings in this life is when I know that God has used me to help, encourage, or bless someone else. The most rewarding aspect of my book on spiritual abuse has been hearing from readers who have written to tell me that my personal testimony either blessed them or played a role in their own healing. There would be no book without the painful struggles of my past.

My focus is not on what I missed or how much happier my life might have been "if only..." My focus is on how God can use all the experiences of my life to help me help others and to glorify Him.

As individual ingredients in my life, some experiences have been terribly unpleasant and distasteful. But combined together with His love and grace, God has been producing something sweet. I have always wanted to be sweet and not bitter.

I received something in an email from a friend recently. I confess to not always reading forwarded emails. But I did read this one and thought it was so good. You may have received it too but I thought I would share and preserve it for future reflection on my blog.

~~~

God's cake...


Sometimes we wonder, "What did I do to deserve this?" or "Why did God have to do this to me?" Here is a wonderful explanation:

A daughter is telling her mother how everything is going wrong, she's failing algebra, her boyfriend broke up with her and her best friend is moving away.

Meanwhile, her mother is baking a cake and asks her daughter if she would like a snack, and the daughter says, "Absolutely Mom, I love your cake."

"Here, have some cooking oil," her mother offers.

"Yuck" says her daughter.

"How about a couple raw eggs?"

"Gross, Mom!"

"Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?"

"Mom, those are all yucky!"

To which the mother replies: "Yes, all those things seem bad all by themselves. But when they are put together in the right way, they make a wonderfully delicious cake!"

God works the same way. Many times we wonder why He would let us go through such bad and difficult times. But God knows that when He puts these things all in His order, they always work for good! We just have to trust Him and, eventually, they will all make something wonderful!

~~~

I saw this on Facebook today as a status update and I think I will borrow it for this post...

"I've never met a bitter person who was thankful or a thankful person who was bitter." (Kevin Gammons)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

One Definition of Mockery: A Counterfeit Appearance

For those of you who have read my book (or share a connection to my past religious affiliation), you already know that immediately following the scrutiny brought on by four lawsuits, subsequent media coverage and community concern, there was an abrupt change in the legalism imposed by the pastor of CGT. The four women who went public about their sexual abuse shared openly in media interviews about the control they had lived under. Each of them referred to the group as a cult.

Quite suddenly thereafter, all the "standards" of dress and appearance that were intended to set members of "the body" apart from the "religious world" were abandoned. It was not a gradual transition. It was an abrupt and dramatic, one hundred and eighty degree change. To those of us who had spent our lives in this group and had only left in recent years, it was almost incredible. It appeared to be damage control within the surrouding community. CGT needed to look more "normal" and less cultish to convincingly refute the claims of control. But those of us who grew up there knew this would create division within CGT and the GAC movement.

Unless you have experienced this level of control over your life and choices, you can't fully appreciate the oppression. We were not free to choose our own wardrobe (especially the women) or hairstyles. There were rigid rules and restrictions. Long skirts and dresses were requirements for women (no pants allowed). We were expected to wear nylons (even in severe heat), rather than expose bare legs. Earrings were forbidden. Make up was considered worldly. Elbows and knees were to be covered. Women were to grow their hair long. Even nail polish on fingers or toes was a sign of worldliness and would result in disapproving looks, comments, and even public chastisement in the form of a rebuking "testimony."

These practices were considered holiness. And the rules were not suggestions. Strict compliance was expected. Rebellion against the rules resulted in contempt and punishment. Church participation (such as singing in the choir, playing in the band, teaching Sunday School) was limited to those who came under the authority of the ministry and complied with these strict standards.

During a passionate discussion, I remember once asking the current pastor's wife (who is about ten years my senior) if she thought I looked "worldly" (specifically for wearing make up and short sleeves). She said "Yes. Sometimes you do." I was around thirty at the time. I disagreed with her vehemently, but her harsh judgment still wounded me. I never did completely fit the mold, but I tried to be "acceptable." I did not wear heavy make up. And in all those years, I never dared to wear a sleeveless blouse. My "short sleeves" were somewhere between my elbow and shoulder in length. But that was considered rebellious and worldly by the pastor. And the pastor's daughter (who is now the wife of the current pastor, following her father's passing) many times attempted to control others of us through manipulation, intimidation and shame.

I remember how I felt the night Becky stood publicly in a service and declared that anyone who questioned whether the "body" standards of dress and appearance were all that important had the spirit of Eve (rebellion against God). Her public judgment extended to anyone questioning the standards. I felt the intent was to shame me (and others like me) into compliance - or to silence me (and others like me). Around this same time, the current pastor urged my son to ask his fiance' to wear dresses instead of pants. He said it could make a difference in my son having "a position" within the church. It was explained that her compliance was necessary because of the negative impact it could have on others if she was accepted in pants. My son refused to ask his fiance' to comply and said he wasn't interested in a position. (Rebecca had never even noticed that she was the only woman wearing pants. She was new to the group and not at all self-focused. One of the things she later confessed that she did not like about the group was how it caused her to become self-focused.)

I was reminded this weekend of testimonies Becky used to give about the Native Americans; their rituals and traditions, their ways of life. I remembered her words, "We are never more than one generation away from losing our heritage." This illustration was offered to emphasize the importance of us continuing in "the old paths." The standards imposed by her father (and the GAC group as a whole) were always very important to her. And if you held a different perspective, as I did, you felt shunned and rejected; not only by her, but by the pastor and the group as a whole.

When several former members gradually began to leave CGT, it was falsely claimed that we left because we didn't want to come under spiritual authority, we didn't want to obey the standards, we were angry and disgruntled, we wanted an "easier" way. To this day, we are patronized by comments suggesting we are simply "hurt" and "disgruntled" ex members who can't forgive and let go of the past. Current members just don't seem to recognize how condescending it is to hear, "I'm sorry for your hurt." I'm not suggesting that everyone who has said this is insincere. But that response reduces everything to "hurt feelings." And it totally dismisses the conviction to stand against wrong because we are called to resist evil. If you can reduce genuine conviction to nothing more than "hurt feelings" you can - apparently in good conscience - dismiss the person completely.

I could easily get carried away with more examples of how important the rules always were. But that isn't necessary. This is not intended as a laundry list of grievances. I am leading up to a point. And those of you who are familiar with the group already know where I'm going.

It has been announced that CGT and its pastor have been officially "disfellowshipped" from the GAC movement. The pastor of CGT will no longer be allowed to speak in any of their churches or sit on their platforms. I was told the announcement also made it clear that those who continue to associate with CGT are in danger of the same fate. And this excommunication is a direct result of the abandonment of the traditionally held GAC "standards" by CGT.

Some of these same men who feel compelled to take such a strong stand and separate over women wearing pants (calling it a rejection of holiness) have turned a blind eye to more serious issues, including sexual abuse of children, cover ups, and this same pastor lying under oath. In my opinion, the leaders of this group have made a mockery (a counterfeit appearance) of God and His holiness.

I have been trying to define (for myself) what I'm truly feeling in response to all of this. The ironies, of course, are inescapable. The laws of reaping and sowing, undeniable. It has been very clear through open comments (on blogs and Facebook) that people within CGT feel sorely wronged. They are now the recipients of condemnation, contempt, claims that they are simply refusing to come under spiritual authority, and want to take an easier way. The same reason Steve gave Danny for the necessity of Rebecca wearing dresses is being given by "the ministry" for stripping Steve and CGT of their "position" in "the body." It will negatively affect others if women wearing pants is accepted by the group.

I have prayed that God would help me not to feel any sense of satisfaction in CGT experiencing what they have inflicted on others. I want to resist that. As Tim Keller points out, it takes a sense of moral superiority to hold a grudge. I don't want to indulge in feelings of moral superiority. I am superior to no one. I need God's mercy in my life and I want to have a heart of mercy and compassion for others; even those who have misjudged and condemned me.

I confess to struggling against an element of validation in all of this. I have to fight the carnal part of me that sometimes wants to ask, "How does it feel to be treated this way?" But I want to crucify the desire to be validated. Judgment belongs to God. I want to be generous in extending mercy and forgiveness. And the simple truth is that I still love those people. I strongly oppose their beliefs and priorities. But I love them. I have prayed many times that their eyes would be opened to the deception that is their spiritual foundation.

My pastor made a statement last night that is so true. He said, "You know what short suffering is, don't you? Someone else's suffering. Our own suffering is always long."

After examining my heart (which I intend to continue doing), I'm pretty certain that I am no longer suffering the pain of old wounds. So many of my wounds are healed. I've found the true gospel. I've found true friends. I have a whole new life both spiritually and naturally. What happens in CGT and GAC are fairly inconsequential for me these days, except that it affects people I love. I long for their deliverance from deception and bondage. And maybe this rejection will lead to that. I want to say "Rejoice in this rejection!" But I know that does not make sense, since most will continue to hold to the false teachings of William Sowders.

I want you (in CGT) to know I am not gloating. Although I do hope there will one day be a full acknowledgment of the many wrongs that have been done to others (including the same wrongs that are being done to you now), I do not enjoy your suffering. I long for your complete deliverance. And I sincerely hope that does not come across as condescension ... because that is definitely not what I am feeling.

Friday, August 13, 2010

More Blessings...

It's been a full week; busy, FUN and full! My grandsons have come for overnight visits (WITH their parents) twice in one week. First they came with their Mommy (Monday morning) while their Daddy was on a youth trip with his church. They then went home Wednesday and returned again today with their Daddy (while their Mommy is in Atlanta overnight with Pax for a friend's bridal shower). We went swimming Tuesday at Mark and Anita's. 

It's a treat to spend extra time with the boys. I have also enjoyed getting to spend time with Rebecca and Danny. We've gone swimming. We've shopped for a new Legos set at Target. We've gone out to lunch. And I've cooked. Tonight we had Chicken Parmesan with Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus. Of course, the boys wouldn't eat that. They ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead. One day, when they are older, they will learn to appreciate Grandma Shari's cooking.
   
Little Pax is really growing. He will be four months old on the 26th. He is all smiles. He's laughing and cooing. His big, wide open mouth smile reminds me so much of his Daddy at this age. Well, let me show you what I mean ...
I posted these pictures on Facebook, so you may have seen them there already.

To add to the excitement of the week, I finally made a decision and bought a new cell phone ...
the Droid X. I love it. I have learned how to use it surprisingly fast. Of course, I played with it for four or five hours this morning. It's so much more than a phone. It's a mini computer.

I have been behind the times. I have never had a Palm Pilot or an iPod. I have never even had Internet connected to my cell phone until now. I didn't know what I was missing. I am like a kid with a new toy. I love the look on Joshua's face in this picture (so excited over his new Star Wars Legos). I think I may know exactly how he feels!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Two of My Blessings...


These are my two oldest nieces, Lexi and Karlie. I took them and my sister-in-law to Maggiano's for lunch today to celebrate Karlie's 16th birthday (Monday). We feasted on Fried Zucchini, Caesar Salad, Italian Bread w/olive oil, Lobster Carbonara, Garlic Shrimp Linguine and a Dessert Sampler of five mini desserts (Cheesecake, Apple Crostada, Creme Brulee, Nona's Pound Cake, and Spumoni). It was so delicious. But even more enjoyable than the food was getting to spend a whole afternoon with my nieces and their momma. It's another special memory to add to my treasure chest of memories. These girls probably have no idea how special they are to me. They have always been special to me and I am so very thankful for our close relationships.

Up until Karlie, I had a son and four nephews. Our family had nothing but boys until she came along. So you can imagine how special she was. And she seemed to know it at a young age. When I think of Karlie as a baby, I think of a baby Cleopatra. She had a way of looking at you that communicated, "I know you adore me. I'm not sure I will bother to smile at you today." And we all just fawned over her and begged for her attention. Until...

Lexi came along two years later. And Karlie had to start warming up if she wanted to hold our undivided attention because then we had two...and Lexi smiled all the time!


From the day they were born, I have adored my nieces. I already loved being an aunt to all of my nephews. They were no less special to me. (Just ask them.) But it was fun to finally have little girls in the family.

From an early age, they loved to spend the night with me. And any time they wanted to come, I wanted them. Some of my favorite memories are of times like this when I'd fix them up (various hair-dos and outfits) and they would pose like little professional models, changing expressions from one click to the next. We had a ball. And I have literally dozens and dozens of photographs. I just don't have all of them scanned. But this one should give you an idea of how much personality these girls had early on...


I will never forget doing their hair the morning of Danny & Rebecca's wedding. They were absolutely stunning. And the stunning little redhead is another one of my nieces, Ashley. Nicole had not arrived yet. (I now have four nieces and five nephews, plus a great nephew and great niece. And if you add in the ones I have through my marriage to John, I have even more!)

This picture was taken August 3, 2002 (Danny & Rebecca's wedding day).


Only Nicole (6) and Jackson (18 months) are missing from this "cousin" picture eight years ago...


Monday, Karlie will turn 16 years old. Lexi is right behind her, turning 14 in September. The time has flown. And I know it will continue to fly. It's hard to believe I have a 32-year-old son and three grandsons (almost 5, 3 1/2 and 3 months). The youngest nephew in this picture (Matt) will be 19 in October. And the other nephews (Jared, Justin and Brett) are all in their twenties. It has always been a personal ambition of mine to make every niece and nephew feel special to their Aunt Shari...because they were and are and always will be.

I had to plead a bit (not too much) with Karlie and Lexi to take pictures today. I told them one day they will look at some of these pictures and say, "Remember when Aunt Shari was young?" (relatively speaking).

When they were still reluctant, I said, "You will need pictures with me for my funeral someday."

We laughed.

Sweet girls. Sweet memories. I had a blast today and I only hope that one day when they reflect on times like these, the memories will mean as much to them as they do to me.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I finally made it to the Bell Buckle Cafe...

. . . and I was not disappointed!

This afternoon we went to Bell Buckle again. We wanted to see the interior of the house I mentioned in my last post. By the time we finished talking to the agent, it was a little after 6:00 and we hadn't eaten. So I suggested we could stop and eat dinner there. I have been wanting to go for the last seven years. But for some reason, I just never have. In fact, prior to this week, I had never even seen Bell Buckle. It was even smaller than I pictured. I knew it wasn't a large town, but I realized I had envisioned a square. Instead, there is just one strip of storefront establishments across from the railroad tracks. And one of those establishments is the Bell Buckle Cafe.

I was so excited to finally see it. I can't tell you how many times I have heard: "YOU haven't been to the Bell Buckle Cafe yet?" I think the shock and amazement has had something to do with my reputation as a "food enthusiast." Just about everybody around here has eaten at the Bell Buckle Cafe.

I had a big salad at Newk's today for lunch and I wasn't exactly starving. I could have skipped dinner tonight. But I wasn't going to miss this opportunity. I was tempted to try one of their hamburgers, but really didn't want to eat beef. So, instead, I had a vegetable plate. My selections were white beans with ham, fried red potatoes, tomatoes & cucumbers, and vinegar coleslaw. My grandma used to make vinegar coleslaw and I always loved it. John had the creamy coleslaw with his dinner and he gave me a bite. Both were excellent.

My vegetable plate came with an old fashioned cornbread flapjack on top of the food. I love cornbread and beans, so I was happy to see this unexpected "extra" on my plate. John had a grilled chicken breast with red potatoes, creamy coleslaw and red beans & rice. We were both very full after our meals, but we shared a piece of Oatmeal Cake with Caramel Sauce anyway. John told me how good it was and I'd already heard from friends that it was a "must have" at Bell Buckle Cafe. So I couldn't leave there without tasting it.

It was scrumptious. It was so dense, it reminded me of a bread pudding (but better). It's served warm with a generous amount of caramel sauce spooned over the cake. Even though it wasn't a huge piece of cake, I can't imagine eating the whole serving myself. We shared a piece and still left a few bites. Next time, I plan to try the Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake. The first time I visit any restaurant, decisions are very difficult for me. I want to try everything in one visit.

If you have never shared a meal with me, you probably cannot imagine my enthusiasm for good food. A friend once asked John, "When she eats a piece of celery, does she say it's the best celery she's ever had?" I was really excited to finally eat at Bell Buckle Cafe. And, of course, I knew I would have to share the experience on my blog. My blog can use a lighthearted entry every now and then!

Oh yeah, they had the cutest Bell Buckle t-shirts. One version said: "What happens in Bell Buckle stays in Bell Buckle." And then there was another stack that had "stays in Bell Buckle" crossed out and underneath that it said: "beats you home."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trusting in Advance

This afternoon I drove to Shelbyville to see John at the dealership and go for a little drive out into the country. This is not something we normally do, but John is looking at property everywhere right now because we are trying to figure out where we're going to live next. When we bought the house we currently live in, the plan was to live here two or three years, then sell (make money) and downsize. We bought this house because we got a good deal; it seemed like an unbelievable investment opportunity. (It's more house than two people need and there's a lot to maintain, but it has been fun living here.) Unfortunately, right after we bought it the economy plunged and so did real estate values. So we've stayed three and a half years and we're still not sure exactly when we will try to sell it. But we're thinking about it a lot. And it could be any time.

One of John's favorite things to do is look at property. Many Sunday afternoons we cruise around looking for open houses and new construction that has not been locked up tight. John is always looking for a deal. And the last few days he has been telling me about some property in Bell Buckle he wanted me to see. So I offered to drive down to the dealership today and ride over with him to see it (Bell Buckle is not far from the dealership). I'm not sure how much I would like living such a distance from a real grocery store. It's a very rural area. But it is a tranquil and beautiful setting. John has always wanted land and this house has 4 or 5 acres surrounding it. So that's the draw. I wanted to see the property, but even more than that, I liked the idea of going for a drive with John in the middle of the day.

~~~

I had Oprah on in the background while writing this post and her guests were Laura Bush and her daughters, Jenna and Barbara. Jenna told Oprah that her mom always told her to marry someone she enjoyed spending time with. And she did. She married someone she is very compatible with; they love to do the same things and they enjoy each other's company, which makes their married life "easy." I know exactly how she feels.

I know everyone says it is, but marriage is not always hard work. When two people bring out the best in each other and love spending time together, it can be quite easy. And when you add respect, kindness, laughter and genuine appreciation to compatability, the rewards of marriage are endless.

~~~ 

I had put several Eagles CDs in my CD player before I left the house for Shelbyville. One of them was "Hell Freezes Over" - the first reunion CD. This is a CD I listened to A LOT when I was driving back and forth to Lipscomb in the fall of 2002. It was one of the most anxious and stressful times of my life. Music is like a time machine. It takes you back.

There is a song entitled "Wasted Time" on that CD. The lyrics did not precisely fit all of my circumstances or feelings at the time, but these words certainly did:

You never thought you’d be alone this far
Down the line
And I know what’s been on your mind
You’re afraid it’s all been wasted time
 
The song took me back to that very rough and uncertain time in my life; a time when I didn't believe my future was exactly bright; a time when everything I had ever thought defined me had blown up in my face. Not just a marriage, but everything I had built my life on. I was starting from scratch in more ways than one. Thankfully, I was beginning to understand forgiveness and grace.
 
In those weeks and months, I could not have imagined any aspect of the transformed life I have today. But God had a plan of redemption for me that was bigger than my imagination.
 
Eight years ago, because of disappointment and despair, I wondered if I had wasted the best years of my life. But the truth is that not a day was wasted time. God has taught me so much through adversity. Most importantly, He has shown me over and over that He is faithful and I can trust Him. He is working all things for my good. I don't struggle to believe that. I know it's true. God has proven it to me over the course of my life. And even when John failed chemo - although it was deeply disappointing and I was afraid - I knew God had a plan. I know He loves us.
 
There is a bigger picture that only God sees. That part I don't struggle with. But I have many times struggled with fear; fear of the unknown and the fear that God's plan won't line up with my plan. And because of that I love this quote:

"I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse." 
~ Philip Yancey
 
No matter how you may be feeling about the failures or disappointments in your life, remember that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. And what is big and scary to us is no challenge for Him.
 
Trust in advance.
One day everything will make sense in reverse.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Big Blessings in Small Packages

My grandsons:
Pax (3 mths), Joshua (4 yrs, 9 mths), Andrew (3.5 yrs)

These blessings are the joys of growing older.

By the way, Happy Anniversary to their Mommy & Daddy tomorrow!
(Danny & Rebecca celebrate their 8th wedding anniversary August 3, 2010.)
Without the two of them, these blessings would not be possible!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Thoughts on Prayer...

As you know if you've been reading for a while, I have been trying to be more disciplined and consistent in my prayer life. I thought I would share some of my struggles. Perhaps someone else struggles in a similar way. Please feel free to offer feedback or share your own thoughts on the subject.

In my book I wrote about how difficult it is for me to pray out loud in the presence of others. I become extremely self-conscious. In any other setting, I am seldom at a loss for words. Public speaking has never fazed me. But when put on the spot to lead a prayer, I become nervous and inhibited. If I pray from my heart, I cry. If I try not to cry, I feel like I'm offering a speech rather than a genuine prayer.

Because most of my friends are not this inhibited about praying, I have wondered how much this may have to do with my religious upbringing. Women never lead prayers where I grew up. Actually, in most cases, there wasn't a person who said/lead a prayer in a corporate setting (other than saying grace over a meal). In the church group I grew up in, everyone muttered quiet prayers of their own simultaneously. Some were loud, but most whispered softly. I've heard people say (who were not accustomed to this kind of praying) that it sounded kind of like chanting. But what I remember is that most of the time I wasn't praying. I just closed my eyes. I don't remember praying much in all those years except at a time of need, desperation or crisis.

When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I prayed for her. I asked God to heal her. He didn't (at least not physically). In my book I shared about how I had asked God to give me a Scripture and I opened my Bible to the blank page between the Old and New Testaments. Meanwhile, all around me people were receiving Scriptures and experiences saying my mom would be healed. But she died. I've prayed for many people to be healed who ultimately died.

Because I don't view faith as a form of positive thinking, my faith has never suffered as a result of God not answering a prayer the way I wanted Him to. I know there's a plan. I know all of my prayers are not according to His will (no matter how much I want them to be). And I really do believe He is working all things for my good; even the hard things. I don't ever remember doubting His love for me. But I always wondered if the details of my life actually mattered to Him. My mom prayed for parking spaces. I never could pray about trivial things. I thought it was ridiculous to think God cared about the insignificant details of my life. And I have never liked to ask Him for things. Not because I don't want His help. I think it's because I feel unworthy and insignificant. I no longer believe that God doesn't care about the details of my life, but I still wouldn't even consider asking Him to give me a good parking space.

My struggle with prayer is not about faith or thinking He doesn't hear me. I know He does because there have been times when I absolutely knew I "heard" a response from Him (not an audible voice, but an inner voice that said something to my heart). Some of the prayers I have received the most undeniable answers to were prayed one time. And other prayers that I prayed over and over seemed to go unanswered. This confuses me.

The easiest and most natural prayers for me are just thanking God for His grace and mercy to me. Prayers of thanksgiving just roll out of me and evoke such emotion. Those are the prayers I offer all through the day, as I go to sleep at night, when I wake up in the morning. I am so aware that everything good in my life is a gift from Him. And I know that many of the hard things I've faced have also been for my good. I have learned and grown so much as a result of things I have suffered. I believe that is why God ordains suffering in all our lives. I don't resent the challenges He's placed in my path; or that He has allowed to be there. I'm thankful for the way He has redeemed my suffering and even my bad choices.

The prayers I struggle to pray are the "petitioning" prayers. I have a prayer list. When someone asks me to pray for them, I try to write it down so I will remember. People frequently say to one another, "Pray for me." And I often wonder how many people actually remember to pray after saying, "I'm praying for you," or "You're in my prayers." I don't want to say those words to people lightly. So many times I have felt the need to tell someone, "Well, I'm not exactly a prayer warrior. I say little prayers throughout the day..." I feel the need to be honest about my inadequacy in this area.

When I pray for the people on my list, I always wonder one thing. I have even asked God this question. But, of course, He hasn't answered it. I wonder why God wants me to ask for the same things over and over, day after day. If He already has a plan and knows the outcome; if He is only going to answer according to His will; and if I trust Him to know what's best; Why does He want me to go down a list of items day after day petitioning Him for the same requests? I just don't get it.

There is a part of me that doesn't want to ask over and over. Even when I pray for John, I struggle with not understanding why God wants me to beg Him for John's health or healing. I feel more peace about just putting John (or others) in His hands and trusting Him for His will. Pleading for a certain outcome at times feels like torture to me. And I find myself not wanting to do it. The reason I do is because His Word tells me to. So there must be some benefit in this exercise. But so often I find myself just not wanting to pray. And that makes me feel like a failure as a Christian.

Surely prayer is not this difficult for everyone. I wonder why it is so challenging for me. And because of my perfectionistic upbringing, this leads to my feeling that I am a disappointment to God, that I just don't measure up and never will. Surely if I loved Him the way I say I do, I would not struggle so with prayer. As I typed that last sentence, my eyes filled with tears.

I'm doing so-so with my efforts to be more disciplined. The struggle is still there. I have had a lot of distractions the last week or so and my resolve has wavered. But I'm not giving up. I've asked God to help me grow in this area. I get tired of hearing myself repent for failing again and again. Perhaps I am viewing it as performance because that is how I am hard-wired. Then again, I don't know how to shake that totally.

I just felt like sharing my struggle. Maybe it will resonate with someone else. And maybe one of you who IS a prayer warrior will pray for me to someday be one too. I feel that I am still in my infancy ... except when it comes to being thankful. I can't imagine how I could be more thankful in my heart. When I think of God and His love for me, I am filled with gratitude. Even in the things I can't fully understand, I trust that He has a reason and a purpose for everything. I accept that all of my questions won't be answered in this life. I just wonder at times if I'm the only one like me, or if someone else has these same struggles.

Somehow, I don't think I'm as unique as I might be tempted to believe.