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A letter about leaving Christianity in mid-life

By Susan ~

This is a letter I sent to my loved ones that have been concerned about me...

Hi Family and Friends:)
Many of you have been interested/concerned/curious about my recent stepping away from the church/christianity, and I wanted to take some time to share my heart so you can better understand my decision.
First off, thank you so much for loving me.
It has been a long journey.  
I once was a wide-eyed, the-world-is-my-oyster-as-long-as-I-love-Jesus kind of a girl.  I was unwavering in my faith and wanted nothing more than to live my life well, pure from pretty much anything of ‘the world’.  I was the girl that my friends would apologize to after swearing.  I felt SO guilty after drinking beer in Jen Carter’s basement in Grade 8 that I promised God I would never go to a party again.  I was always trying to bring other teens to youth group or a DC Talk (Kevin Max tho'....such a dreamboat...) or Micheal W. Smith (less hairspray and tanning cream please!) concert, or anything, especially, that would have an altar call.  For our dry grad event at KSS, there was a contest for the best skit.  My friends and I decided to do a dramatic 'demons vs angels' skit to a narrative song by Carman.  So yeah, I was that girl.
(For your viewing delight, please see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGKbhYmBVKs )  
Naturally, after high school ended, I went to 'Youth With a Mission' which is about as all-in as it gets.  We were a bunch of charismatic young missionaries ready to change the world with...you guessed it...more Carman skits!!!  There were hundreds of people in Waikiki blessed by our amazing 18 year old selves flinging our arms out like Jesus on a cross, followed by some stellar hip hop/cheerleading moves to the music pounding out of the ghettoblaster (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ghetto-blaster).  
On another note, we once ‘witnessed’ to some Pearl Harbor naval officers who gave us a ride down Kalakaua Avenue in a limo...they must have been so touched by our powerful testimony;)
I digress...
The next 10 years were exactly as I imagined them to be.  I married my youth group love at the tender age of 19, we bought a house, I worked and Josh went to school, we moved to California after Josh was offered a great job in Silicon Valley, and began to plan for a family.  I had a blues band that I absolutely loved performing in, but I often felt guilty for performing in ‘the world’ and I questioned my motives constantly.  Am I just giving in to the world?  Am I still a humble servant?  Do I come across as prideful?  Should I be showing off like this?  I so wanted Jesus to be proud of me and I hated the thought that I may be failing him.
Ugh.  I so wish I could go back and tell that girl just to let loose and rock out like a 24 year old musician in San Francisco should:)
After trying to get pregnant for about a year, Josh and I finally conceived our baby girl twinsies.  It was a beautiful pregnancy besides the ridiculous morning sickness, and in Aug 2004 our hearts came out into the world in the form of our Gracie and Rose.
I was so ready to be their Mom and damnit, I was going to be amazing at it!  I put a lot of pressure on myself which ended up making my (then-undiagnosed) anxiety disorder even worse.  I was having panic attacks within days of their birth, I couldn’t eat a thing, and I remember calling the doctor and telling him I was positive that I was dying because my legs were too skinny:)  I didn’t show this part of myself to the world, as I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for this great gift that God had given us.  I put on my smile everyday and told myself to be thankful and I prayed for strength to be the best Mom I could be.
20 months later, I found myself in the Mental Health Unit at El Camino Hospital, handing in my belt and my earphones, and closing the door to the naivety of my youth.  Hasta la vista, babay.  I had been pushed to the end of me and fell into a deep, dark depression that took years to climb out of.
In this season, I clung tightly to my faith.  I felt that this must be a lesson for me and I continued to try and see the positive as often as I could.  Perhaps this is happening to me so that I can be a help to others in this situation?  Or maybe God wanted me to witness to those people in the psych ward?  I mean, God must have a plan for all this.  Since he ‘knows the plans he has for me’, he obviously had this all sorted.  Okay then, onwards and upwards, push, push, push...back to church, back to music ministry, back to bible study, back to the only thing I knew.
The next 8 years were basically me trying to be as faithful a servant as possible.  I was going to win God’s favour like a beeotch!  Ne’er was there a person that wanted to be a better Christian.  I was attending a church that placed a lot of value on church involvement, so I took every course I could, led worship, joined a mommies group, stressed out about whether or not we were tithing enough, sat in the front pews (as a leader in the church I was expected to always sit in the first few rows and to keep notes) and basically just devoured what I could of the bible in expectation of freedom from depression and anxiety.  If God’s plan was for good for me and if he wants health for me, then he and I were going to be TIGHT!  And I was going to kick this thing!  Hurrayyyyy!!!!  Go team!!!!
When I wasn’t at church, I was struggling.  The church building and community made me feel hopeful so I loved being there, but when I was at home, my anxiety had to be constantly managed.  I lost my shit on my daughters from time to time, with one awesome memory of actually damaging my vocal chords from screaming so loud.  I got up early each day to do my morning devotions and went on many long drives with calm worship music playing...and I kept believing for my full healing.  
At this time I encouraged our family to make a switch to a much smaller, more charismatic church in our community.  I loved that the worship time (which was always very calming and life-giving) had no limit and that they were fervent in their belief that God could work miracles.  For 3 years we served faithfully there and enjoyed the small community.  
Around this same time, several of my family members began experiencing significant, life-altering challenges.  Their pain affected all of us, and I found myself trying (and failing) to balance my need to try and help them with my need to protect my fragile nervous system from stress.  Ultimately, the weight of my loved ones struggles, coupled with the ongoing anxiety disorder that I had been living with for 8 years, crushed me.  I found myself, once again, in a bed, body shaking, darkness overtaking me, and living minute to minute.
The leaders of the church we were attending believed wholeheartedly that the struggle I was going through was the result of demonic oppression/spiritual warfare.  Over the course of 2 weeks, my leaders (who were operating with only the best of intentions), screamed and prayed over me that the demons leave my body.  At one point, they asked me if I had any sins that I hadn't asked for forgiveness for.  I spoke out personal and intimate struggles that I never would have shared with the male leader had I not been in distress.  
But, the prayers didn't fix me, so I went to my doctor and my beloved Psychologist...and they used their years of education and experience with my disease to bring me to a place of health again.
But, the prayers didn't fix me, so I went to my doctor and my beloved Psychologist...and they used their years of education and experience with my disease to bring me to a place of health again.As my nerves began to calm down and the seratonin receptors in my brain got themselves sorted, I began to see clearly for the first time in a very long time.  I was able to do things that I hadn't dreamed of doing for years.  I felt powerful for the first time in over a decade and on many levels it felt like a re-birth.  
I began to rebuild my life using my passions and talents as a guide rather than the expectations that I felt 'the church/the bible/God' had for me... and it was amazing.  I made music without feeling guilty about it.  I took my physical health more seriously and got my body in shape.  I began a non-profit organization in the inner city of Vancouver and was blown away by the response from the 'secular' community.  I had always had the feeling that people were good, but that the Christians were the ones that had it really sorted.  However, I found that many people in 'the world', are quite amazing...full of love...so ready to serve the poor and the hurting, so compassionate, so empathetic and open-minded.
Open-minded.  That was a new concept for me.  Because as much as one can try to have an open mind within the constraints of a faith, there are always barriers.  Like on the Truman Show when his sailboat punctures the outer wall of his bubble world, christianity has a wall where full acceptance can't happen without that person 'becoming a christian'.  I was Truman and I had arrived at a place where I simply could not keep a closed mind anymore.  
After coming to an understanding of the real and deep pain that many people experience on a daily basis, I was unable to look struggling people in the eye and tell them that God has a plan for them.  Sometimes life is just plain old messed up.  I get so angry by meme's on facebook or instagram that say that "God works all things out for good".  Because...when your baby is dying, or your spouse has cancer, or your house is burning down....that is not, f-ing good!  There is absolutely nothing good about it.  (PS.  My apologies to anyone that I have ever said that to...ugh...)  

In the charismatic circles I ran in, there is a lot of listening to and speaking out God's voice.  We all would get deep in prayer to listen to the Holy Spirit and then share or write down what God was saying.  I often thought that I had heard from God and to be honest, that is all very confusing to me now.  For instance, I was sure I was going to adopt an African son and I even had his name picked out.  For years, that name was my password on many things.  That obviously hasn't happened and naturally that messes with my head a bit!  If I didn't hear him in those moments, did I ever actually hear him at all?  Have I been brainwashed by my environment since I was a child?  
OMG this is getting long.  Blessed be those that have read this far;)
Okay, so here I am, at mid-life, with an entirely new perception of life and faith...which pretty much trickles down into every area of my life.  I feel free, far more free, in fact, than I have ever felt.  But it is very challenging as I am questioning basically everything I have ever been taught up to this point.  
As you can imagine, this has been very difficult for me, and for some of my loved ones (and it may be hard for you too:).  I ask only for grace, and peace, and love, as I redefine myself (once again).  
I have decided to step away entirely from the christian faith for now so that I can experience life outside the ideals and expectations of the church and can sort out where my beliefs lay.
Thanks for loving me,
Susan


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