Motivation: Popular phrasing is SHTF Prep. (S&*! Hits the Fan) Between social stress/unrest in our country, the pandemic, the potential for a major earthquake in my part of the country and the fact that I just read a book set in World War II France with food rations and starvation… well, I feel motivated to save some food the same way I try to save money in case of emergency.
The Long-term Goal: Save 1 year’s worth of food, which does not have to be rotated or replaced for many years, to feed each member of our family 1,500 calories a day or more. Include water-purification supplies and a few non food essentials.
Short-term Goal: Save 1 month’s worth of food and a little bit of water.
Plan/Process: Save a little at a time, as I am able, focusing on staples that will last a very long time. I will NOT be rotating through this food and using it regularly. Instead, I will label the foods with the expiration date and donating or using it a year before expiration.
Supplies and storage area: An unused basement, an unused shelf, 5-gallon buckets, 5-gallon-sized Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers. May also purchase some pre-packaged #10 cans. More shelves will follow… I hope.
You can view the live document where I am collecting my research about what to store and what I’m storing.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH… I’m doing most of my research (reflected in this blog and on my living document) by googling and searching a variety of prepper web pages. A great, long-standing resource is the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS).
My process, in pictures, for long-term food storage (my first time!):
Collect buckets. They do not have to be food grade, but I decided I wanted mine to be.
Collect Mylar Bags made for 5-gallon buckets. If you don’t have a Winco, the cheapest I could find online was $1.40/bag (when you buy 50) but most online options were closer to $2.50+ per bag.
Stuff your bag into the bucket.
As you pour in your dried food, shake and tap regularly to settle the food. More will fit and there will be less air left in the bag… which is important.
Pull the top of the bag to make it flat again so that you can seal it shut.
I did five buckets for my first day.
A nice feeling of accomplishment!
Recommended amounts of oxygen absorbing packets for 5-gallon bags according to USA Emergency Supplies, a commercial company (not government) is 2,000-4,000cc oxygen absorbers. The Winco package had instructions for 1500cc per 5-gallon bucket.
You’ll need to have oxygen absorbing packets available for this style of food preservation. The lack of oxygen is what makes the food last longer.
Ready to iron shut. Flat irons (for hair) or other heat sealers might be easier. This was easy once I got the ironing board the right height.
It was fast. After this photo, I pushed out the majority of the air and finished sealing it. I’ve heard that the melted seal is an area that sometimes fails, so I made my seam fairly wide and went back and forth twice.
Closed up! I’m going to wait a day to make sure their seal holds . They should look vacuum packed tomorrow as the 20% of oxygen in there is absorbed by the packets.
Labeled with: Contents Packaged date Expected expiry date
Looks great the next morning!
Ready to put the lids on!
I used bucket lids with a rubber gasket to further reduce air flow. The mylar bag is the important part, but if it fails, the bucket will still slow the aging of the food some and keep it dry.
Ta-da! Note: This shelf has a much higher weight limit if I take the casters off…. but it’ll be alright (barely) on the casters and more convenient too.
All shelf life expectations below assume best case scenario storage: No oxygen, no light, cool temperatures.
Staples with a 25+ year shelf life: Dehydrated Apple Slices
Beans, Pinto Dried Carrots
Popcorn (to pop or grind)
Spaghetti (or other pasta)
Other Essentials – life span not researched by me yet
Cream of Tartar (for making baking powder)
Other “good ideas” in my opinion – life span varied, but most 15-30 years
Dried Peanut Butter
Dry Milk (nonfat)
Meat (freeze dried beef)
Meat (freeze dried chicken)
Powdered Fruit Drink
Non-food items I’m considering:
Cat and dog food
First aid kid
Grain mill, manual
Iodine,Calcium Hypochlorite (pool shock), or some other chemical water purification method
Kleenex or cloth tissues
Menstrual pads (fabric?)
Thieves or other cleaner
Tube feeding backup
Water purification filter system
Volume reducing: If I’m successful in a year’s worth of food, that’s 7 people x 1500+ calories/day x 365 days = 3,832,500 calories. That much would take an enormous amount of space. I am interested in researching to learn which long-term-stable foods are more compact.
Fats/Oils: Finding any oils that store long term
How to know if something is rancid
How to use Pool Shock for water purification
What cleaning agents will last a long time? (Bleach lasts less than a year!)
I am often a micromanager of our household and was pretty successful at it when the kids were younger. I like organizing the home to be most efficient and comfortable and I like prepping events or activities to be orderly and enjoyable. With money, I like it going where I expect, doing what I want, and not running out. Early on, we had a really small income. And now that our income is larger, the volume of expenses is greater. My early money-management techniques and decision-making processes need to evolve with my family! And… so I’m blogging to try and do that.
Shopping with the girls recently.
For several years, I’ve struggled to keep my spending within the budget plan that I’ve set for myself.
Aside: I love budgeting. I use a program (used to use Microsoft Money but now I use AceMoney Lite) to track my expenses. I sit down at my desk about once a week and copy every transaction from my bank account to AceMoney. I double-check that the balances match and I assign a category and subcategory to every transaction. These are the best way I’ve found to keep track of what I’m doing with my money. Once a month, I run a report from my program that shows the totals for each category/subcategory. Those values get entered into my written budget. My typed budget. Whatever. I use excel to write my budget numbers down and transfer my monthly totals there once a month to see how I’m doing.
And how I’m doing is consistently overspending in most of my discretionary categories. (Mortgage payment, phone bill, water bill are not discretionary. Grocery choices, household supplies, hair cuts, hiking gear, etc…. that’s where the problem lies.)
I save all year to be able to buy fresh, local produce in the spring and summer!
So I’m sitting down to think out loud. Why am I struggling to limit my spending? What changed that made this harder? What thought processes have I added or abandoned? What can I do differently?
-Making more money means I can buy things I couldn’t before.
-Buying things I couldn’t before makes me think that I can afford to buy ALL the things I couldn’t before.
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.” Charles Dickens
-Being overspent or overburdened emotionally, physically, schedule-wise, or in any other way means something has to give and support is needed.
-Healthy eating, home cooking, careful prioritizing, etc….. are the give.
-Fast food, easy food, activities of respite and relief are the support.
Once again… overspending.
-Prioritizing expenses is how we have always decided where our limited, finite money will go.
-The amount, the volume of expenses has increased tenfold at least as the number of children has increased, the ages of the children has increased, and our own adult lives have gotten more complex too.
-I’ve gotten lost in the sheer volume of options and given up prioritizing carefully.
It’s been tricky to “find” the money in the budget for backpacking, but it’s been SO GOOD for our family’s health. I need to give it a permanent spot in the budget to make more careful decisions in the future.
Hey – that’s pretty good progress for one morning of journaling/blogging!
Self reminder: Just because we have more income than early in our marriage doesn’t mean we can afford everything!
Self awareness: Stress makes me reach for expensive solutions. Choose the less-expensive option more often.
Preparation: Attempt the list-making solution for complex priorities. Write down what I think I need and refuse to make the purchase until 1 week or more has passed. Choose a good place to keep this list.
As I get close to present (part two got all the way up to about five years ago (2015ish) it’s getting messier and messier to blog through. I’m unable to condense this into just talking about spiritual and faith-based development any more. It’s going to get personal and if I get to the present, I’m going to be talking about hot topics that I am confident a significant percentage of you will disagree with. Is gender a spectrum and is there still racism in the United States and stuff like that. So if your heart rate is increasing already, you should probably take a pass on this post and go pet a puppy or something. I welcome conversation, but I am processing hard stuff about my own personal development here and my own personal development is not a topic for debate. I will exercise my freedom to ignore/delete any comments here that call me a damn fool or question my value or rightness before God.
Oh, and family and friends… I cuss sometimes now. Even more in my head than out loud, but ya know, some things don’t change easy.
This is a good time to talk about how I think about myself. How I thought about myself. What I expected of myself.
I did the stuff. We have loads of beautiful memories.
Homemade donuts with cousins
As the years went on, I became able to do less and less and less. I was not able to fix some things. For me, it was autism, developmental delay and attachment disorder. One little boy whom I love dearly was the first to turn our life on its head. I expected things of myself that I couldn’t do. I actually don’t want to get into that right here. But it is IMPORTANT stuff that I couldn’t do. They are true heart goals that I was failing. I don’t know how much of it was an idol of an image that I was aspiring to that the church created… how much of it was perfectionism as a personality trait that was getting crushed… how much was the conversation of depression that showed up with my depleted physical state… and how much could have been avoided.
Blog attempt falls flat.
A day passes.
Another day passes.
It’s time for me to step back and evaluate what I’m doing and why. I am revisiting my spiritual history, both long past and recent, to get a better understanding of where I am now and why… and what I believe and why – particularly as it relates to religion and spirituality.
This process of review and assessment cannot happen without honesty. Testing my faith without honesty would be a waste of time. Testing my faith without being willing to reconsider everything lessens the authenticity of my review.
Birthday’s of the past…
It’s not easy to ask questions that allow myself to go all the way to the question, “Am I even a Christian any more?”
Brian and I sat on the front porch (Hiding from the children and dinner.) and talked about that. He asked my why it was scary to me to consider if I am not a Christian. Firstly, because I’m “supposed” to be. Christians are taught to fear Hell. Secondly, because I have made 37 years of life choices based off of this Christian foundation. Would I regret life choices if they came from a place of error? There are other things, but I want to move on.
As I sat on the front porch step, leaning on the shoulder of my best friend, life partner and soulmate, I saw the sky.
River day with Great Grandpa… Back when we could travel more easily with Jordan.
I cannot believe that the world and universe created themselves or always just existed. I believe in a Creator.
I saw the beauty… the wild beauty of the clouds against the sky and the tall fir trees reaching up toward them… and I believe that the Creator knows and loves beauty. I believe the Creator must be good.
As a person interested in the sciences, I am somewhat aware of the incredible, impossible complexity of all of Creation. The detail work of the Creator goes beyond our ability to see with the most powerful microscope… so I infer that S/He cares about every bit of Creation. That means God cares about me.
I believe that a person named Jesus existed and I believe that He represents the heart of the Creator’s love for us… putting away patriarchal behaviors, putting away rules and prejudices and loving and teaching us in person, by example.
I want to rush through the end of my spiritual journey now and then articulate some of the things I DON’T believe and try to articulate where I’m going from here.
It’s ironic that I’m going to spend a little time here judging churches for being judgemental…
I left off when we were attending a local church, but weren’t truly accepted or loved. We did not feel valued or important. We were given the impression that we were an imposition even. Though our children were still small, they were very well behaved in church. We worked hard to show up on Sunday clean, well-dressed, and equipped to make it through several hours of service and small group with babies in tow, including Jordan who has Down Syndrome and Autism. They encouraged us to use child care there…. and then didn’t provide competent care. I kept my children quiet in service except for the occasional wiggle or whisper, but one Sunday they asked us to leave service so we didn’t distract the pastor. (I didn’t.) We signed up for our kids to participate in the Christmas service… every one of my children were put in the baby angel choir, despite some of the kids being much too old. We decided not to perform. We participated in a small group where we shared our hearts and supported the other families. Since leaving, the only contact we’ve had with those families is one family trying to have me hire her son for piano lessons. While I was just home from the hospital.
Do you see why we need to be honest? Because if we just look right, but don’t honestly care for one another, we hurt each other!
Preparing to welcome a baby brother.
We church hunted again. We found another community church with a great children’s program. We attended for a year and volunteered and went to classes and initiated conversations with families and leaders to get to know them. Our children made friends and we began to feel at home. We decided to pursue Daniel’s adoption while we were there. We volunteered how 10 month process was going to leaders and members we spent time with and I asked for prayer regularly. Jordan often struggled to go to church and we were very visible as he and I often sat in the lobby during service… or Brian took him to walk around outside. Time came for us to adopt and bring home Daniel. I spent two weeks in Bulgaria with an emaciated and scared little boy who wouldn’t eat or drink. We got home and were admitted to the hospital for a week. We got home. Nobody called. Nobody showed up. Nobody checked in. Orphans are close to the heart of God’s business. Nothing. A friend outside of the church initiated a meal train with a mom in our church for us to help. Time went by and we showed up at church for the first time with our new family. There was no special greeting. We came. We left. We didn’t return. I should also share that my older boy was struggling with big emotions and behaviors and we tried, very directly (with emails and phone calls) to find a way to get him to church. Their advice was to wait for summer. We were NOT VALUED OR WANTED by the institution of this church either. While two families reached out to support us individually (which is pretty awesome, considering how short a time we’d known each other), the church as an institution and culture did not “see” us.
El Roi is a name of God. It means He who sees me. And, by implication… cares about me.
All four of us here… standing for hope in the midst of heartbreaking loss.
Church… has failed us. Over and over.
The message of the church if I listen to their words is: “Love. Hope. Grace. Humility.”
The message of the church if I listen to their actions is: “Rejection. Incapacity. Requirements. Pride.”
Is it any wonder that I need to go through this process of deconstruction?
I have often wondered, or even asked God directly, “Why in the world did you choose people to represent your church!? People suck. We’re terrible at love and grace.”
So my religion is stripped down and I’m learning what it is I still believe.
I believe in the Creator. I believe He’s good and that he cares about me. I believe that the message of the gospel is less about Jesus’ name than it is about the message of hope and grace and love and tenderness and compassion.
Special needs forced me here.
If we hadn’t adopted, we could have maintained the image required of church attendance indefinitely. But we didn’t. There are things that changed when we invited brokenness into our home. And for the record, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Brokenness. Special needs. Attachment disorder. Trauma. PTSD. Autism. Developmental Delay. Physical differences. Wheelchair use. Chronic illness. Chronic fatigue. Syndromes. Etc.
It means that we cannot all:
Sit quietly in church service
Behave nicely in children’s services
Serve in church
Show up on Sunday regularly
Show up in person at all
Participate in group activities
Attend a potluck
Stand in the lobby
It means that we need:
To be seen and wanted and needed
To be supported
To have activities adapted
To have differences welcomed
Others willing to be uncomfortable
Others willing to change
Am I not valuable to God? Are my children not made in His image? If you attend a church that CANNOT make space for a child or adult that makes funny noises, struggles with behaviors, needs an adult sized toileting/diaper changing area, and cannot access areas that don’t have wheelchair access, then you are NOT welcoming the least of these. And that grieves me. You are missing out on real life.
Did you see the video some time back of the pastor who showed up at church dressed as a homeless man? Was he welcomed and invited in? What about an individual who looks or acts funny? Is your church body healthy enough to develop relationships with each other? The kind of relationships where you’re not threatened by weakness and neediness? Do you feel the kind of love for each other that compels you to acts of service and sacrifice for each other?
My oldest son… we hope we can continue camping together!
Because that’s the kind of church I long for. One that understands and does not shy away from suffering. One that identifies with the broken. Actually, I’m slowly finding it. It’s not in a building and I don’t know if we’ll ever attend church in a sanctuary again. At this point, we’d need extraordinary support to pull that off. And I’m not convinced it’s necessary.
The heart of the Gospel is love. Love is an experience of relationships. And we’re slowly finding and developing a few relationships. We’re awfully isolated and few people are comfortable standing in the suffering with us. But those I’ve met who have experienced or are continuing to experience suffering… the kind where it’s beyond endurance or fixing… they reach out a hand in solidarity.
So here I am. Unfixed.
My wedding band, created a few years ago, reads: “Stand Fast. Made Whole. Poured Out.”
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
My faith has changed, but it still stands fast.
My hope is for the broken things to be made whole. And for many broken things it’s too late. So my hope is set on eternity.
My love is poured out. Continually. All I have. All He gives me. Gushing or barely dripping. For myself as well as others.
Be willing to challenge your beliefs.
Stripped down faith.
Cleaned up and pulled together for a snapshot.
Yes, conservative and fundamentalist friends… this means that I will not support rules that exclude. Obviously, I am talking about MY OWN experiences with “the church” as I’ve experienced it in the middle class white church of America. Yes, segregation in churches is a thing.
I do not support the exclusion and damnation of LGBTQ+ people. They’re people, dammit, and don’t deserve that damnation from the church. If (IF!!!) the Bible is against gender as a spectrum and love and devotion in non-heterosexual couples, then that STILL doesn’t mean excommunication and judgement. Our job is to love and support each other, not to condemn. If you want to make a big deal out of this, then make a big deal out of smoking, gluttony, anger, hate, and selfishness. Because they’re way more damaging.
I do not support the judgement and “looks” given by the church to divorced, incarcerated, impoverished, intoxicated, addicted or otherwise “unclean” groups of people in the community. The church ought to welcome homeless people to camp in their parking lots. We ought to serve refugees and support abused women and make space for individuals who are still in the grips of addiction. It’s messy, y’all, and it hurts. And it’s still the right thing to do.
Churches should do a better job of practicing intolerance of spousal abuse and related.
I am no longer a Republican and please don’t defend Trump to me. I hate even calling him President Trump, because he and what he stands for is so distasteful to me.
White churches need to stop ignoring racial bias and begin to stand with the hurting.
That’s all. I feel flat like a balloon. I think that means I’m finished! For now.
Graduation and moving and finding a new church
First baby and first home church
Those things I believed then
About special needs and adoption and those things I believed
Moving and community-searching
Being broken meant…
New house, new church… new wounds
New church again and new wounds
Healing (therapy, medication, selfness…)
The new stuff… who am I?
I’m writing about my journey as me. As Rachel. The whole me. The person I expected to be is not who I am. The person I was told to be, I am not. The person I tried to be, is impossible. Who am I? I have always been me, but I don’t stay the same.
I have experienced a lot of growth lately and I’m struggling to understand what it means and who I am now. To get to know myself better, I am using this blog to do a process of deconstruction and reconstruction… or perhaps it’s better to say that I’ve undergone maintenance (deconstruction and reconstruction) and am now doing an inventory and inspection. I need to name and observe my story to see better where I am now. This is for me.
My adult years are so much more complex than my young years. And I’ve wrestled with and “unpacked” them so much more than recent years. I can review my childhood and put experiences in little “boxes” that make sense to me and which help me to understand why I am who I am now. It’s MUCH harder as I write this next chapter. I’ll probably over-generalize and forget important people and events and offend or hurt people in the process. I’ll do my best to be genuine and honest, because in this process, that’s important for me.
I began my story here – explaining how I became a questioner at a young age. I got as far as my marriage to Brian, my best friend and sincere, loving soul.
After a year of marriage, Brian graduated college, we bought a house in a new town, and I became pregnant! Where Brian’s family was seriously risk-averse and lacked confidence in any of our choices, I remember thinking more along the lines of, “Finally, life is getting a move on!” I was excited and alive, Brian had a much better job than we’d had until then, and life was good.
Owning our own house meant the thrill of demolition if we wanted! haha
It was good (GOOD) to spend time together with Brian in our own bubble of acceptance and love and mutual respect. It was a season of validation for me, that there wasn’t anything wrong with us, that we could do this adult thing, that I was desirable and beautiful and smart.
I assumed that most mainstream churches were going to be “fine” since none were perfect and most weren’t going to be as problematic as those I’d been to before. We attended a local Calvary Chapel, because they were just minutes from our house, and attempted to get plugged in, both to the community and to the leadership. It fell really flat. I felt like a number and though it was comforting and familiar to worship there, I was never known. I wasn’t rejected, but neither was I accepted. Our attendance became sporadic.
Our first baby was born. I had developed my first close adult relationship (Hi Hollie!) and followed that strong, tired mama to the place where she had recently found community. There was nobody at Calvary Chapel to tell that we were leaving… and they didn’t have a cry room for those of us with colicky babies, so we just switched. I met my first mama friends! There is something so neat about relationships built from shared experiences. This church had components of many of my earlier churches, but felt so much healthier. Many homeschool families attended, but there was also a private school in the building. Many people had large families, but nobody was expected to “have lots of kids or be less-than.” It was moderately sized, but the pastor took time to learn our names and accepted when we invited him to dinner. This was my first ever and so far my only HOME church. I had my first two babies while there, did short term foster care, and went through our first special needs international adoption process while going there.
Me and my babies headed to church, I think.
There were a lot of things that I believed when I was there. Most of them actively taught at this church. Some I still agree with, but not others. I think many of these beliefs are integral to the conservative white, middle-class Christian’s experience:
Being an involved parent important and valuable
You should nurse your baby discreetly
Being a sincere, church-following parent will reduce the likelihood of your child getting into trouble, turning away from the faith, etc.
Be responsible with your finances and you’ll be okay financially
Be responsible with ______ and you’ll be okay ______
Prayer is powerful
Be diligent with important disciplines
Be intentional about praying for each other
Living a non heterosexual lifestyle is a sin
People who sin by living a non heterosexual lifestyle should experience church discipline, up to and including exclusion from church services and activities
By exclusion, climate change, racism, disability rights, and other progressive social issues are not serious issues
I’m not sure if I can think of more right now. Suffice to say – it was a place where we were supported and welcomed, encouraged and blessed. However, there was very little diversity (of any kind) within the church and I saw struggling people shamed by members of the church for their struggles and little acceptance of anybody who could not hack the expected behaviors and lifestyles. Mental health struggles, chronic illness, and poverty were thing that we should be able to rise above. Our children should be able to sit politely with us in church if we wanted. They should be able to participate in Sunday School. It was and still is a beautiful church family… but I don’t know that my family today would be welcome there.
Let me move on and get back to my story about ME.
My beautiful babies and my little house – a safe and solid base.
Brian and I decided early on to pursue “social justice” in the form of adoption. We provided foster care briefly for several short placements. We went through trainings that opened our eyes to the reality of much deeper social needs than we ever expected to be a part of our lives. And then we decided to pursue adoption.
At one point, we considered adopting a little boy whose file showed a severely neglected little boy in Bulgaria…. only 10 or 15 pounds at five years old. We brought his file into an offered prayer time with elders at church to ask for prayer. This situation was outside of all of our experience and they prayed for us. And… they counseled us to be cautious. They cautioned us about the ramifications on our family to bring somebody so broken into it. They were right, of course. But they were also wrong. At one point, we were asked, “Why don’t you adopt a child that can make more of a difference for the kingdom?” THAT, I was dumbfounded by. Unless dumbfounded means speechless, because I wasn’t and I choked out an admonition that none of us is more or less valuable or important to God!!!
Jacob died in 2011 before a family could get him out of the hellhole of an orphanage he was in.
Brian and I spent a lot of time in prayer. And eventually, we were impressed that we should adopt TWO CHILDREN with disability from an orphanage in Bulgaria. It went against everything conservative… it was highly risky. Risky. We could be broken. We could lose the ability to maintain the image of a family who has it together. We would be spending a boat-load of money for just two tiny, broken souls. Inefficient. Not guaranteed. Risky.
And we said yes. They said, “I don’t think it’s wise, but we’ll support you.” We felt loved. I have no advice for anybody considering stepping into risky, scary, life-altering, possibly catastrophic waters except…. suffering and struggling and failure do not mean *wrong.* Serious and never to be done flippantly, but it’s not a-Christian to do hard things. I’m pretty sure most of my Christian heroes lived in the midst of suffering and trial.
Anyway, a week before we flew to Bulgaria, one of our sons-to-be died unexpectedly. Held forever in my heart and never in my arms. The repeated cautions to play it safe felt cold and distant from the love of Jesus when the lack of action caused and continues to cause these children to suffer and die.
We honor the name we gave him: James Edward Davis, after his adoptive Grandfathers.
A month after our adopted son got home, I became pregnant unexpectedly. And 6ish months after adopting Jordan, while hugely pregnant, we moved over an hour away and lost contact with our church family. We were well beyond over-extended… my son’s special needs meant he was overwhelmed by leaving the house or any changes whatsoever to his routine among other things. We planned to find a church and a supportive community near our new home.
Kind help from mom and friends as we packed to move.
Brian had a huge relief in terms of work stress because of the move and our homeowner stress was also reduced by renting. We had two 2-year-olds and a 5-year old and I was due to give birth any day. Finding a rental and moving homes was very challenging and we arrived totally spent. I was struggling with depression, but didn’t know that’s what it was. I was still trying to do the things that I expected of myself as a homemaker, mother, wife, and citizen. I put out a lot of effort (for years) to develop relationships with local church communities. Brian’s parents were more supportive than early in our marriage… but not available for practical support. It was around this time that my Dad gained freedom from the Two by Two church and in the spiritual-life-explosion between my parents, they moved to Africa for several years to support some communities there! So yeah, they weren’t available to help either.
Burn-out hit and it hit hard.
A special dining-out day in a cold restaurant… which descended into exhaustion when Jordan had a blowout and I had to change his screaming 3-year-old self on the filthy restaurant bathroom floor within earshot of the other diners. I think I ran out of wipes.
Before I talk about burnout… and failures by churches and congregations, it’s important that I acknowledge the gift of love and acceptance by individuals at different times. If I don’t mention you, it’s not because your love wasn’t felt. It’s because the part of my story that I’m digging through today is the hard parts. The broken parts. It’s as much about what things were NOT as much as things that were. Hang in there with me. I’m processing this as I go.
We limped. We started attending one congregation, but we got some weird, unhealthy vibes from some leaders and decided we should try elsewhere. (I question whether that was the right choice, but it’s the choice we made.) We visited SO MANY churches for one or more weeks. When we bought a house a year later, we began attending another church due to proximity and a wish for a local community.
Despite all my efforts, we were terribly isolated. Relationships aren’t built in a day. And I discovered that most churches are neither equipped nor supportive in any manner of families that are struggling. At most, it’s acceptable to talk about that stuff in a small group, but don’t bring your upset into the sanctuary. God’s acceptance of our imperfection was sometimes preached, but only as an excuse for not being able to serve. “You’re not Jesus” the church people would say, “You can’t do it all.” Or, “That’s not my gifting” or “Maybe __ can help you, I’ve heard they have some experience with that.” There were “God bless yous” and “You should ask for help” and “Please take your children out of the service” and when we cried for help, nobody came.
Well, I shouldn’t say nobody. Our pantheist neighbor invited our children to play outside in her yard and kept an eye on them when they were outside and was so kind and supportive, babysitting my kids when I asked. Also, before they left for Uganda, my dad came and helped with the kids when Brian and I were too sick to get out of bed. When I went to the chiropractor, somebody who worked there offered to watch my four babies while I was adjusted. The church we almost became a part of sent us meals when my baby was born, even though we were strangers to them. The atheist mother of a friend of mine came and entertained my “big kids” for a few hours multiple times.
It’s not fair to blame church for our suffering. We chose a really hard road. And it’s not fair to say that we were abandoned by church, because we didn’t have established relationships here in the new town. But we struggled to find those who had patience for our long-term struggles and suffering… or who could interact with us with acceptance. Very rarely did we find practical support. Often, we had church leaders and members deliberately push us away. Often, we were a desired body to sit in the pews, but not somebody who was desired to develop a relationship with or relate with outside of Sunday morning. We learned that it was expected for us to handle our own issues without support or even compassion from the institution that prides itself as being the “hospital for sinners.”
Successful in many areas of life, some things are just hard. This was a successful Costco trip, never you mind Jordan’s diaper leaking through or the puddle I found on the grocery floor and didn’t tell anybody about.
Struggles and suffering became as much a part of my life as success and triumph. And success and triumph began to look different to me. And patience (with people and with experiences) developed in me. And compassion became stronger in me. And many doctrines of the Bible and of faith and of how church should look and behave was stripped down and then stripped down again. What things I put on the list of essential doctrine became fewer and fewer and fewer.
And God. What happened with God? He seemed silent. Quiet. Absent, even. Somewhere in the suffering, faith became an exercise of leaning on truths that God is good and God exists and God loves me. And there have been regular cries to Him of, “I trusted you and I took a leap of faith…. I trust that you’ll catch me before I hit the ground!”
Jesus, take the wheel. This is getting so hard to think through.
My faith journey.
My personal journey.
My journey with the church.
Thinking through possible chapters:
My early faith walk.
The first deconstruction.
The teenage years.
As a young adult.
The years when things unraveled.
Revisiting beliefs again: social, political, doctrinal
A beautiful, powerful, intelligent, long-time Christian friend of mine hit a stretch of life and had a string of experiences that torched her religion. Right now, and not surprisingly, she no longer claims, nor wishes to be a Christian. That’s strength and honesty, friends, because the tearing down of lifelong belief systems is painful. (I’m proud of you _____! Don’t stop learning and leaning into healing and truth!) I’m also part of a small group where women are processing the deconstruction of their faith. Some are still believers and some are not, but everybody there has had some integral part of their faith decimated. For many, it’s the recognition of wrong social pressures by our/their elders in the faith.
There’s a lot of things we believe, because we’re told to. Deconstruction is the process of pulling things apart to see if the structure is sound.
I feel pulled between different emotional places and schools of thought right now. There’s cynicism and bitterness directed towards everything/everybody religious… and hope and clingy-ness for everything familiar that make it difficult to be thoughtful and to reason honestly. It’s important to allow this process, though… a faith untested by fire is… well, untested. I feel somewhat threatened by this process, but nothing like my friends. This process is familiar to me, but it’s been a long time and I haven’t delved deeply in many years. My history is so much longer now than it was before… I’ve decided that I need to think it through “out loud,” because I am struggling to process it all.
I deconstructed my religion for the first time when I was in first grade.
I assumed my parents were right, that God was real, that the way we did church was normal and ideal, that my elders were right, and that everything would stay the same. When I was in the first grade (That’s about age 6), my mom spoke up… she disagreed with both doctrinal statements and the unquestionable social norms of the church. My dad didn’t agree with her, but my mom stood her ground. And thus, my parents became spiritually divorced. Everything felt normal in our house, a generally functional, healthy, supportive and loving home, but my parents disagreed on “church” so adamantly that we children attended a church with mom one week and a different church with dad the other week.
Here are some things that I had assumed were truth before the split:
God is real
God is good
The Bible is right My dad’s church is the right church (If you read the wiki, it’s worth looking at the revision history)
Girls should wear skirts and have long hair in buns
I would grow up and “profess” at church
TVs are bad
Prayer should use specific phrases and words (Such as “thee” and “thou” and “Our Father in heaven.”)
It shook my young world to have my parents disagree about something as integral as the Creator of the universe. Also, anybody not part of my Dad’s church, the Two by Twos, was assumed to be going to Hell. As a child, that bothered me a lot… what kind of God is so ungracious to a child who is questioning the legitimacy of a church for good reasons? And yet, my Dad’s earnest devotion to God and what he believed God wished was compelling.
My parent’s marriage survived but their spiritual separation continued for the entire rest of my childhood and is the backdrop of my early spiritual story and is the reason I am a confident and determined challenger of church beliefs and expectations.
I learned: God is no God if He cannot be challenged.
As a child, I decided that I would throw out all religion and start from scratch. I would read every single book on religion and decide what was right. You laugh, because you know that’s impossible, but I didn’t know that. I began… I read a book my mom published about the Two by Twos and a terrifying book about one man’s escape from demonic power as a leader of some part of the New Age movement. I attempted to read the Bible. I also talked at length with my grandfather, who also left the Two by Twos and who welcomed late night conversations with his small grandchild.
And that’s as far as I got. Nevertheless, I decided a few things:
*The spiritual realm is real. (Meaning, we are more than just physical creatures and there are other creatures and powers that exist beyond the physical realm.)
*We and the universe were created (The math-aware side of me finds evolution to be impossible and the created world too marvelous to just *exist*)
*God cannot be evil and must be good (It seems to me that the original state of the universe is good and that it is degrading… and not the other way around.)
*Because the Two by Twos said it was the ONLY right way and because both my parents believe in God…. the Two by Twos must be wrong.
*God must be strong enough to handle the questions and doubts of His creation.
And then over a few years, I rescinded my decision to study all religions and decided that the Bible was really God’s word.
The Two by Twos do not welcome questions or deviation, though. They demand childlike faith (Not the endless-questioning kind of child! The kind of child that follows trustingly wherever they’re led.) strict adherence to dress code, study and questions only within subject matter that is approved… and strangely, discourages discussion of spiritual topics outside of assigned times. Those people who have a Bible but are not part of the Two by Twos are “lost sheep” and lamented, but not chased, though if repentant, you can be “welcomed back into the fold.” Other churches are wrong and people there are not Christian and are going to Hell.
Naturally for me, a child Christian born of questioning parents, I began wearing pants most of the time and pierced my ears, not so much as a rebellion (okay, it was a rebellion) as to make a statement that I was confident of my salvation even though my Dad and my Dad’s church believed I was lost. I stood on my own faith from a very young age and it didn’t match my parents’.
A happy childhood, but an intense child.
My mom eventually gave up on going to church (and on reading her Bible as I learned later) though I could find my dad studying his Bible every morning, writing in his tiny handwriting. The way my parents made space for me to find my own way was appreciated. Watching my dad with his Bible was endearing. But finding a belief system or church was challenging. In my teens sometime, I began going to church every other week with my friend’s family. I also went to some youth groups irregularly. As soon as I could drive and I was released from the requirement to attend the Two by Twos, I drove myself to church every Sunday, attending a church that my friend’s family went to.
I hopped into a new fire there!
My parents allowed me to become a successful horseman!
I spent my teens attending Household of Faith in Gresham, OR… the church pastored by the father of Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was a large-to-me church of primarily homeschooling families. I learned a whole new set of social norms here that I assumed my parents agreed with (though I learned later that they didn’t). My questioning was not squashed here, but always, everybody assumed I would agree with them if I just studied it the way they did. They believed in predestination and I think all of the Calvinistic beliefs. They valued children such that small families got an eyebrow raised at them. They supported homeschooling so well that they excluded the validity of any other schooling option. Dating was sinful as well as any physical connection between interested parties. Courtship was the only way to go. Parents played a huge role in their older children’s lives.
And….. I went without my parents. I drove myself. I sat with my friend’s family.
And that meant that I was “other” somehow. Again. Didn’t fit in. Too independent.
At social events, I was excluded by my peers. Eventually, as I began to enter adulthood, my “Sunday family” even refused contact with me any more and wouldn’t let me spend time with their daughter any more, never you mind that their daughter was also entering adulthood! (I won’t get into this story here, but we eventually invited that daughter to move in with us against her parents wishes in order to make the transition to adulthood.)
I can’t remember when I realized that Household of Faith was unhealthy. I can’t remember when I stopped attending. But I still carry built into me, feelings of righteous judgement and deep-set shame for anything in myself or others that deviates from the image they built of what is a good Christian. I was soaked in the modesty culture, courtship culture, etc. etc.
What is a good Christian? What is a good church?
I exited my childhood with a strong faith in God being good, in God being real, and in the Bible being truth… but without a faith community that supported me. Instead, I had been a part of multiple communities that looked sadly, patronizingly, and disappointedly down at me, imperfect and lost and (alas!) unfit. I was rejected. I was not a lost sheep. I was a blemished/faulty sheep. It was and is a deep wound and I resent/ed it. Bitterness has been a tenacious root that I continually deal with. And I developed a deep distrust of faith leaders who claim to have found the best way. That seems smart. Also, when a preacher says something that I disagree with, I run away and don’t want to hear another sermon. That is not a healthy response.
But time went on. My story continued. I still believed that I could find a church community. The Bible preaches grace. And hope. And the concept of each believer being a part of a body… the head is Christ and we are all loving and caring parts of the body. And we are not designed to be cut off from the body of Christ. So I didn’t give up. Surely, we could find a church that could love us, even if it wasn’t perfect.
My boyfriend/fiance/husband was part of a very small church that welcomed and loved me until the day I began dating Brian. Both he and I were challenged when we started dating… his reputation was stained and I was rejected. We continued going to his family’s church every other Sunday while we attended a small, broken church of broken people on the off weeks. We were openly accepted and welcomed at that small country church. Also, my parents supported and welcomed my relationship with Brian. They knew a good thing when they saw it! Brian’s parents were openly against our relationship, because they didn’t believe I was good enough for him and they thought he should complete his college education before we married.
We persisted. We rejected the rules that had constrained us and caused us to be unsuccessful socially. We separated ourselves from our parents (in many ways, not completely), married and started a home together. We learned how to budget, work, go to school, make house, etc. We were poor and didn’t know it. I don’t remember if we were still going to church, but I think we were still driving way down from Portland, OR to Colton, OR to worship and learn with Timber Valley Church. (Hello Timber Valley friends!) We were tired and busy like only young people can sustain!
We’re just a typical, atypical family in the Pacific Northwest. We homeschool, love Jesus and are learning as we go.
We have three beautiful daughters, born in 2007, 2009 and 2012 and two handsome sons from Bulgaria (one born in 2009 who arrived home December, 2011 and one born in 2013 who arrived home in 2017).
After learning about the need for adoptive families of children with special needs, (and here and here) we began the process to adopt our son Jordan (who has Down Syndrome). He arrived home on December 3rd, 2011!. We were in process for Daniel (who has arthrogryposis) January-October 2017. You can see photos from our trips to Bulgaria by looking at June and Nov/Dec 2011 archives and May and October 2017.