Ariel and I were supposed to go ice climbing this weekend. We have a group of a dozen that meets in Ouray, CO every year for a weekend of amazing. Unfortunately, Colorado's weather has been so warm lately that on February 10th they closed the ice park for the season. (As bummed as I am, I also can't help think of all the hotel/store owners in Ouray who are not making the income this year they are used to).
So, with having already taken an extra day off work, and being in the mindset that we were going somewhere fun, we tossed around a few ideas for Plan B. We settled on Texas. I lived there for 8 years, still have a few good friends in the area, and Ariel has always wanted to meet my closest friend there. So, five days before boarding the plane we bought tickets and informed people we were coming.
Despite the short notice, we were able to visit with a few people who are very important to me, people who I spent 8 years of my life working and playing and praying with. And although it was wonderful to see them, and that IS mostly what I came away with, I was also extremely saddened by what I heard. You see, we all worked at a ministry together, and that ministry is crumbling, and crushing people as it falls. I was saddened by the common thread through the conversations. Adults who question their worth. Children in counseling. People who have no desire to step foot back in church. Marriages that are ending, some bitterly. People who are broken, disillusioned, angry, sad, and a myriad of other feelings that should never come from - as Ariel put it as we were driving home last night - people who were so dedicated/committed/gung-ho for Jesus that they gave up everything: friends, family, retirement, education, careers, relationships, houses, businesses, children...everything.
It also made me realize I am one of the lucky ones. I got out not because the ministry was not valuing people (although it was/does), or because there were dishonest things going on (which there were/are), or because it is imploding (which it is). I got out because my marriage was, ironically, doing some of the same things. And although the ministry had something to do with my marriage ending, and although I am still affected by what I experienced there, I do not feel most of my hurting can be blamed on the ministry. I got out under the wire, so to speak.
Many, many people are in the process of picking up pieces, whether they left five years ago (me) or within the last year or two. Though our issues are different, everyone is at different places of trying to get a good handle on life again. Everyone. There is not one person I have talked to, either on this trip or previously, who has left because of ministry-related issues and is also completely fine and not struggling with anything, though maybe there are some.
Yet one of the conversations offered all the encouragement I needed. It was a comment made after we had finished a dinner and visit that left me feeling just as filled fellowship-wise as food-wise. We were standing outside the restaurant door saying our goodbyes and one member of the couple mentioned how the conversations about their personal story were often good to tell, because they were part of the healing process. Then she said, "We tell it differently now than we did a year ago."
That really, really resonated with me. Because isn't that what it's all about? If any of us are telling the same story now that we told a year ago, no matter the subject, I wonder if there has been movement or growth or insight gained. It doesn't even matter if the story gets better or worse, because either way, if the telling is different, the story-teller is also different. Wiser. Better equipped. Less hurt. More informed. Smarter. Hopefully happier. More content. Hopefully less worried or bitter or fearful.
One of my other friends, also at the end of our conversation, told me how proud she was of me. I was so taken aback by that that my response was simply, "Why?!" She told me it was because I had put my life back together so well (I assume she meant since leaving Texas, and since my divorce). I would have to agree that that is mostly true. I am happy to say that I feel very whole and fulfilled in almost all aspects of my life. But there are thing in my life, too, that I am struggling through, though they are not ministry-related. There are stories that I look forward to telling differently a year from now. I have no idea how they will turn out. I don't know if things will get better or worse. Hopefully the retelling will be on an upward trajectory. But even if it's not, I do know I will be wiser, better equipped, and more informed, and that's something.
By the way, I cannot end this post without mentioning that the ministry I am talking about is called Gospel for Asia. Please do not support them in any way. If there are any doubts about what I am saying, googling them will shed more light.