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Do the 99 righteous sheep bleat, "Whatever it takes"?

by Vyckie @ No Longer Quiverin --

The twenty-five years I lived as a born-again Christian was not just about living out the Quiverfull philosophy of welcoming all of the babies which the Lord chose to bless me with ~ it wasn't only about homeschooling, home fellowship, modest dress, sheltering our children from worldly influences and faithfully serving as a submissive helpmeet to my husband.

When I first experienced the Lord's grace and forgiveness ~ when new life in Christ became my reality ~ I was overwhelmed by His love for me and His mercy toward me ~ an undeserving sinner. I read the story about Mary, the harlot who anointed Jesus' feet with expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair ~ His praise for this unworthy woman touched me deeply, "Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." (Luke 7:47) Given my mixed-up background and all the guilt and shame which I carried in my heart even at the young age of 17, the relief I felt at having the assurance of the Lord's acceptance compelled me to love much ~ after all, He had forgiven my multitude of sins and had raised me up from the insanity of a dysfunctional home life ~ how could I give Him anything less than my wholehearted devotion in return?

I listened often to the music and programming on Christian radio ~ one of my all-time favorite songs was "Never Thirst Again" by Lulu Roman Smith. The lyrics were so meaningful to me that I purchased the soundtrack and tried to sing along. I wanted to be able to sing that song as a part of my testimony of God's grace in my life ~ unfortunately, my singing voice is not all that great, so rather than singing along, I had to be content to listening to Lulu Roman sing about the Woman at the Well:

Come see a man who told me all the things I’ve ever done
You see I’ve always been a loser but today this loser won
Now the guilt is gone and I am like a little child again
And I can’t wait to see another day begin

My brother, Jimmy was saved not long after I was, and he was so thrilled to discover that there is a book in the bible with his name on it ~ he read the five chapters of James over and over. I read it too ~ and we often talked about how faith, if it is genuine will produce fruit. We did not want to be hypocritical in our walk with the Lord ~ if we saw someone hungry or needy in any way ~ we could not imagine not doing whatever was within our power to help ~ even if helping meant being inconvenienced or sacrificing our personal comfort. As redeemed children of God, it only seemed natural that we should show our faith by our good works ~ not to earn brownie points with Jesus ~ but as an expression of our gratitude for all He had done for us ~ saving us while we were yet sinners and making us whole, pure ~ a spotless bride fit to dwell with Him for all eternity.

As a Christian, not only was I committed to being the Lord's "hands and feet" ~ I was often the recipient of Christian charity as fellow believers seemed genuinely eager to minister to our growing family whenever we expressed a need. When I was pregnant and on bed rest, several ladies brought meals, helped with housework ~ one neighbor picked up a basket full of Warren slacks and shirts once a week and ironed them for us. Whenever I had to take the girls to Minneapolis for their check-ups or surgeries, the ladies in our homeschool group brought meals for Warren and the children who stayed at home. Over the years, Christian men helped Warren with household and car repairs, gifts of cash, food, etc. It was a blessing to know that we had friends ~ brothers and sisters in the Lord ~ who could be counted on to come through for us when we were struggling through the various trials of life.

There came a point when I really could not handle all the stress for another minute. Whenever possible, we did the same. I remember even during our toughest times, we always tried to make time for friends who needed encouragement or practical assistance. We did what we could ~ and when we couldn't do anything else ~ we at least would make a point of letting our friends know that we were praying for them and that we cared.

There was an extremely stressful point when everything was unraveling for our family ~ Warren's personality disintegrated until he was impossible to deal with, our oldest was hospitalized in another state, I was questioning everything that I'd ever believed about God and the bible, three girls had surgery in Minneapolis within a six-week period, my uncle ~ who had challenged me to rethink my literalistic approach to the scriptures and had become my best friend and support ~ cut off all contact leaving me alone to navigate the world sans the firm anchor of my fundamentalist beliefs, my health went FUBAR ~ with depression, anxiety, low blood pressure, chronic pain, etc. leaving me barely able to function. In the midst of that overwhelming crisis, I still made the effort to encourage a friend ~ a Christian single mom who was struggling with depression and discouragement. I talked to her on the phone and went to her home to read the bible and pray with her.

That was just the Christian way. And even at that time, when I was not exactly sure whether I actually was still a Christian or not ~ it just seemed right to reach out to my friend in need. All of this is not to boast about what a good and righteous Christian I was ~ but only to say that the Christian walk, as I understood and practiced it, is all about loving God ~ and that love for the Lord is expressed by love for our neighbors.

There came a point when I really could not handle all the stress for another minute. I told Warren that I needed a break ~ and he responded by taking the kids to his mother's house about three hours away with the understanding that his mother and sisters would help him take care of the kids while I rested, de-stressed and tried to recover my health. Once there, however, Warren's friend, who was the pastor of a home church, convinced Warren that our whole problem was my lack of submission and failure to uphold his authority in the eyes of the children. They prevented me from seeing or talking to my kids ~ using them as bargaining chips to force me to comply with a list of demands which they had determined would solve our marital problems ~ including trying to force me to go to a "counselor" who bragged to me on the phone about how he got a woman whose husband had cheated on her to apologize to him for not being attractive enough (after bearing seven children) and for getting angry and not immediately forgiving him for his unfaithfulness.

Rather than getting the rest that I needed, I found myself embroiled in a nasty custody battle to get my kids back. When I first went to talk to my lawyer, he told me that I was going to need at least five people who would be willing to write affidavits for the court testifying to any abuse by Warren which they had witnessed. "Five?!!!" I cried in a panic, "I can't get five people to say anything against Warren ~ everyone likes him ~ and I always cover up for him ~ no one even suspects that there are any problems." I felt so doomed ~ maybe I would never see my children again.

Well, it turns out that my attempts to uphold my husband's reputation were not so successful as I had imagined. A fellow homeschool mom helped me out by talking to friends who knew Warren ~ and I was amazed to hear person after person tell me, "I knew something was not quite right ..." In less than two weeks, we had gathered about thirty affidavits for the judge. Church friends, neighbors, home school moms and dads, those who worked for Warren ~ all testified that he was extremely demanding and controlling. His best friend stated in his affidavit, "He sucked the life out of me."

At the hearing, the seats on my side of the courtroom were filled to capacity. The show of support was tremendous. Even though all of my Christian friends believe "God hates divorce" and felt strongly that divorce is a tragedy ~ they recognized that in our family, the abuse had severely harmed the children and they agreed that this was a situation in which drastic measures had to be taken to stop the devastation.

I knew that in divorcing my husband and gaining full legal and physical custody of my six minor children ~ I was facing the huge challenge of finding healing for myself and my children and putting our lives back together. I was SO worn down and tired. It was tempting to think that I really wasn't up to the task. Sitting in the courtroom, waiting for the judge's decision, I turned around for a moment and looked at the sympathetic faces of all my friends who had taken the time from their busy schedules to appear in court on my behalf ~ and I knew that my children and I would not be alone ~ we would make it through just fine because we had a support system of caring friends.

When I brought the kids home they were all sicker than they'd ever been ~ they all had pneumonia ~ Berea had an ear infection so bad that her ear drum had ruptured ~ Lydia Jean had staph infection. Within days, I was sick too. I was so grateful for a homeschooling friend who came over to help ~ she brought all her home remedies to soothe the children and gave them back and neck massages to comfort them.

Just as I was feeling hopeful that the worst of that stressful period was over, I got a phone call from Pastor Tom, whose Rescue Mission ministry we had supported monthly for over ten years ~ the same man who came to our home and prayed with my grandmother just before she died ~ Pastor Tom had visited with us on numerous occasions, and although he thought we were a wonderful family, he also witnessed Warren with the children and had been concerned enough several years earlier to pull one of them off to the side to ask if she was okay. I was so relieved to hear the concerned voice of an old friend as he asked me, "Vyckie, how are you doing?"

Knowing that Pastor Tom has been through hell on several occasions and would understand if I didn't smile and respond, "Oh we're doing just fine," ~ I was prepared to pour out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth ~ I was going to tell him that I couldn't remember ever feeling so utterly exhausted and overwhelmed, I was confused and afraid and I didn't know how I was going to manage, I was going to tell him straight how I was questioning and doubting and my faith was so shaken ~ I couldn't pray and my source of strength seemed to have disappeared along with my confidence in God and the bible ~ I needed help and I was so glad that he called 'cuz I knew he'd have an encouraging word to cheer me up and keep me going.

"Honestly, Pastor Tom ~ I'm having a terrible time," I began...

"Well I have to tell you the truth, sister," he interrupted, "it's only going to get worse, and it's never going to end."

Pastor Tom went on to tell me the story of his son ~ a prodigal who had fallen away from the Lord and had turned to a desperate life of drug abuse and alcoholism and ungodly living. Every day, Tom would pray for his son, "Lord, do WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring my son back to You." After many years of hardship and struggle, Pastor Tom's son ended up in the hospital with a bullet hole in his head ~ and that is when he finally repented and turned his life back over to God.

"It took a bullet hole in his head," Pastor Tom explained, "and, Vyckie ~ that is what I'm praying for you ... I'm praying that same prayer ~ WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring you back to the Lord ..."

I could not believe what I was hearing this pastor say to me! He was blaming me for losing my faith ~ and he was praying that I would be progressively miserable until I repented of my doubts and unbelief.

"I'm sorry, Tom ~ but I have to go," I felt physically ill and could not talk anymore.

In the following months as I pulled myself together, got the kids into counseling, made the decision to enroll them in public school, adjusted to a new "normal" with the kids having friends and experiencing dangers and adventures which they had previously not been exposed to, as we worked together to learn about mutual respect and boundaries and trust ~ and especially when times were tough and it seemed like our family had gone completely crazy and there was no hope for us ~ I thought of Pastor Tom's words ~ "It's only going to get worse and and it's never going to end."

Despite my pastor friend's gloomy prediction, things actually turned around fairly quickly for us ~ being out from under the daily rule of a tyrant made everything seem so much better almost immediately. We were able to relax and start enjoying ourselves and each other. My health improved and I suddenly had energy ~ something I hadn't felt in so long that at first I didn't recognize the sensation. My kids, who initially had felt bad about their dad being all alone, began to thank me almost daily for leaving him.

It wasn't long before I realized that my supportive Christian friends had disappeared. I made excuses for them ~ of course, they are all busy with their own families and they probably figured I'd call if I needed anything.

We were doing okay ~ I had new friends ~ especially Lieutenant Heather, the pastor at the Salvation Army church. When I confessed to Heather that I don't actually believe in the bible or the Christian God anymore ~ she did not shun me ~ in fact, she's very friendly and appears to have no fear whatsoever that her faith might be contaminated by my unbelief. Despite the fact that when I was a strict fundamentalist Christian, I would have considered Heather (a female pastor ~ gasp!) to be a nominal Christian ~ if she was saved at all, she has been very accepting of me and my heathen rugrats. Although she is expectantly hopeful that I will one day return to a simple faith in Jesus ~ she is not pushy or preachy and she never suggests that if I would only repent, all my troubles would vanish forever.

So, my kids and I have been getting on okay. I take comfort in our new support system and we're working on learning strategies for overcoming the trauma of abuse and moving forward into the future in freedom ~ and I've been too preoccupied coping with our situation to think very hard about the fact that my Christian friends have absolutely nothing to do with me. "Whatever" has been my motto.

But lately, it's starting to really bother me.

He was praying that I would be progressively miserable until I repented of my doubts and unbelief. It is not as though I've moved away and disappeared off their radar ~ most all of them are still my "friends" on Facebook ~ so they know about No Longer Quivering ~ they know about the Born to Breed program ~ they've seen the article in the local newspaper, "Losing Her Religion" ~ they hear rumors ~ oh the rumors! ~ about how I'm neglecting my kids (one story circulating says that my son, Andrew tried to kill himself by drinking bleach ~ another says I'm welcoming a paraphiliac into our home to molest my youngest daughter) ~ there are speculations about my relationship with the man from Kansas City whom I met on the Internet ~ they know that I've been having panic attacks lately and have been told that I actually have gone crazy ...

I can't imagine that all of this is not alarming to my conservative Christian friends. At the very least, they must realize that as a single mom with six kids at home ~ trying to recover from an abusive relationship while also tending to the emotional wounds of my children ~ I'm in a desperate situation. Not to mention, these old friends believe that my loss of faith means I've bought an express ticket straight to Hell for me and my kids.

So where'd everybody go?

Seriously ~ just a few weeks ago at Walmart, I watched an old friend from the home school group turn around and herd her children in the opposite direction when she spotted me coming down the aisle. Nothing against me, I'm sure ~ she probably was just in a big hurry to get the grocery shopping done and get her kids home and fed before time for their Awana meeting.

I honestly don't get it.

Okay ~ so maybe they weren't such close friends as I had imagined ~ maybe they're all super busy and just really don't care. But what about Jesus whom they profess to follow? Is He so indifferent (or possibly non-existent) that He would not bother with prompting His followers to stop by or call ~ could the Holy Spirit not lead one of them to send me a note? (I'm pretty sure that He did not inspire the email which one Christian friend recently wrote asking which of my kids I would kill in order to not have lived the life that I've lived.)

What think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matt. 18: 12-14)

Of course, it's not the righteous sheep's responsibility to go after the one who has strayed ~ they must stay safely within the fold and trust that the Great Shepherd will defend His flock and rescue any who get lost or are carried away by the wolves. Perhaps their role is only to pray, WHATEVER IT TAKES ~ and when they hear rumors that the sheep which went astray is floundering ~ possibly being devoured ~ do they rejoice? Do they bleat out, "It's only going to get worse and it'll never end"?

I'm not saying that the two dozen or so Christian friends who sat behind me that day at the courthouse should be here helping us out, fixing the car, encouraging the children or praying for our family ~ but I can't help wondering about the stone-cold silence.

It's too depressing for me to speculate about what my Christian friends must be thinking. When I try, I cannot come up with one plausible explanation for their shunning which fits consistently with their claim to be followers of Christ. I have to stop trying to figure it out. While they may be praying, WHATEVER IT TAKES ~ I'm thinking, "Whatever." If God needs to put a bullet hole in my head to get my attention ~ then really, who needs a God like that?

Pastor Tom ~ you were wrong ~ it hasn't gotten any worse ~ and it's not going to last forever.