Let’s recap: Tom Smith has just spent something like nearly fifteen years meddling in my life under the guise of ‘Christian Brotherhood’ and we’d just left the church we attended with him for a mainstream denomination in our town. He’d led the villagers in a figurative angry mob with torches against us to try and make my husband and myself return to our old church. There was no turning back at this point….
The angry emails proclaiming fire, brimstone and angry celestial judgment started to ease off till after a few years there were only a few every six months or so. The rumors getting back to me about myself were becoming very less frequent even if some of those I had thought were my friends at PCC still acted like I was a radioactive bastard step-child when I encountered them on the streets of my tiny town.
At about the two year mark out of the old church I started to be angry, far more angry than ever before, about the things that had happened, things said and the way the Good Christians there went out of their way to treat me. It was really the first bits of me working through what had happened to me. Damn right I was angry.
The new church had a number of us from various scattered fundigelical churches with hurts, so many that they did a class specially to help us heal. We did a study called “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People” by Dave Burchett that helped me a great deal. I’d recommend it for anyone struggling to make some peace with their hurts inflicted by Christians.
There were still about twenty percent from PCC that still were my friends, that loved me through that tough transition. Through them I started hearing that Tom and Tina were having very hard times indeed. Tina’s illness was worse, now, two years after leaving my old church, Tina was starting to have nerve damage so badly that she constantly scratched parts of her body until she bled. Every time she’d turn up at church she had this or that limb or body part swathed in a hospital issued appliance or seriously large bandage.
In fact, it sounded like Tina had somehow gone off the deep end more than scratching herself into massive infections. Heard that she kept behaving most bizarrely in public including breaking down in tears after monumental mono rants at church and other places. She, very dark skinned with black hair and Mediterranean background, dyed her hair white blonde, donned full makeup and a red low cut dress for church one Sunday. People said her eyes looked crazy, darting this way and that way, More tales were told and quite truthfully, as much as I didn’t like to be around Tina I felt sorry for her because it was becoming increasingly obvious that she had mental issues.
She was having those mental issues in the midst of a place that didn’t believe in mental issues, only demonic oppression. I feared for the poor thing.
At the same time I heard that Tom spent all of his time apologizing for her, trying futilely to help her, to hold down the crazy behavior. All my old friends were telling me that the constant strain of dealing with Tina’s problems had rendered Tom very low and humble, a very different guy all together. I still hated the guy even as I feared for Tina. I couldn’t believe that, humble? No way.
After my husband and I left PCC people started trickling away, just about everyone I was still friends with left. Most everyone with money and steady employment left, which meant the tithing took a huge tumble and the financial troubles started for the church
Out of the blue one night I got a phone call from Tina Smith, several days before I was supposed to attend a teaching at a Maryland church by my favorite worship musician Jason Upton. She called at ten pm and kept me on the phone a good three hours. It was like a train wreck, I couldn’t just hang up because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise plus I couldn’t believe all what I was hearing. Tina babbled, talking about how she could no longer walk but God had blessed her with creative thinking to keep taking care of her home, like being happy she could crawl to replace the toilet paper. I realized pretty quickly between my former social worker background and having bi polar family members throughout my life that Tina was in the manic phase.
While this phone call was going on my hubby simply stood off to the side hearing some of it with his mouth popped open. That night we stayed up late discussing Tina’s state. He’d heard months before that Tina had been diagnosed bipolar but, typically for a lot of bipolars, refused or played games over the medicines, claiming that the meds made her feel like a zombie.
When I rode to the church Maryland several days later with friends Josie and Lynette one of my big fears was that I would run into Tom or Tina because this was just the kind of conference Tom loved. I didn’t know how I was going to react being in the same area as either of them. On one hand I understood how difficult of a time Tom was having because of my history with my own husband’s mental issues before his parathyroid tumor was discovered but there was so much heavy dirty water that had passed between us that I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t see him and clobber him hard with my fist or purse.
Before the conference started when people were busy visiting and picking out seats sure enough Tom came to me. Suddenly, against my will I might add, I had a huge download of compassion for him rush through me. I hugged him, we both cried and laughed a little. Tom started apologizing for Tina’s call and I cut him short, told him I completely understood about Tina and that I had more experience in dealing with mental illness in family members than he could imagine. I forgave him that day, not for him, not for religions sake or any notion of Jesus, but for me. I no longer wanted to carry all that hatred and poison in my soul. Knowing what his future as a keeper, as a caretaker looked like made me look past everything and have compassion.
I know, gentle reader, that you were probably expecting or hoping that I would bop Tom on the head, drag him out of the desert, smother him with honey after stalking him down and releasing ants, or that some catastrophe would happen to Tom, like a meteor falling through the roof of the 7-11 squashing him as he reached for a Twinkie.
His life is still sort of a self-made hell. He’s in the midst of a karmic realignment. Tina gets worse with her muscular disease and mental illness so not only does Tom has to work a full day, he gets to come home to take care of Tina and do everything that has to be done around the house. He doesn’t have time to have many friends or social events any longer. Instead of pushing himself forward to tell others what to do he’s cast into a servant role that I know has to grate against everything he believed in.
Also Tom has no home church any longer. When Possum Creek Church blew apart he made the mistake of falling back into old bad habits. He would talk to both sides of the split and tattle about the other. Once it was obvious he was playing both sides against each other he became persona non grata with both groups. He’s no longer welcome at PCC or the other church formed by the former PCCers.
Isolated, cut off from any group, randomly attending various churches with no church home. His reputation as a trouble maker has preceded him at the few churches he did try to join. A black sheep standing just outside a pen filled with white sheep, always looking in. I know what that feels like and it’s not a comfortable place to be.
Shortly after I saw Tom at the Jason Upton conference he added me as a friend on Facebook. At first it was fine but as time went on and I would rant about women’s rights, health care and other so-called ‘liberal’ issues he would post long long long passages of the Bible and Teaparty type logic. After a few months he finally sent me a message telling me he loved me as a sister in Christ but that my liberal views were making his blood pressure rise so he was unfriending me. I told him I wanted him to do whatever he needed to do for his peace and wholeness.
I haven’t seen nor heard from him in over a year now.
What I learned out of my dysfunctional relationship with Tom is…
- I no longer turn a blind eye to abuse.
- I no longer allow others to abuse me in the name of any God.
- I speak up when I see someone abusing others in the name of God or otherwise.
- I try not to harshly judge people because you don’t know what hurt is driving their own behaviors.
- Trying to control others is a frustrating job that isn’t yours.
- Every person has a story that would break your heart if you just knew it.
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Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blog is Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce