Finding a Therapist

Today, I’m back at the therapist search. After moving, I ended up losing a great therapist who specialized in cults and destructive groups. She’s not accepting new patients, so that’s a bummer.

Searching for a therapist is HARD work. Right now, I’m fortunate to have two things I didn’t have before: a job and health insurance. This makes the search WAY easier.

Up until now, I’ve had to search for a therapist who offered a sliding scale (they offer you counseling services for as little as $10 a session based on your income) or attend therapy at my University Counseling Center (which were free, up to 8 sessions).

I’m now searching for a therapist who specializes in cults, PTSD or anxiety. How do I know to search for that? Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to see a psychologist and psychiatrist in my days (thanks to Kaiser Permanente and CSUN’s Counseling Center), and those have been the diagnoses. So, I try to narrow down my search to someone who deals primarily with those issues. Also, take time to familiarize yourself with terms such as CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) which is what your therapist will most likely use.

If you haven’t already done so, check out International Cultic Studies Association. They provide resources, articles and this helpful page on How To Find a Therapist.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers some information on PTSD, including Finding and Choosing a Therapist. Here, I went to Anxiety Disorders Association of America, where you can do a local search for therapists who specialize in anxiety disorders. Also recommended by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is Sidran: Help for Post Traumatic Stress and Dissociative Conditions. There’s an article on the site called What to look for and how to choose a therapist.

After looking at various resources from NAMI to Psychology Today, my advice is simple.

  • If budget is an option (if you have little to no working budget for therapy), ask around for referrals from a University or a city/county mental health office. If you can’t find individual therapy free or low cost, consider group therapy or classes in your area.
  • Look for someone who specializes in your specific issue. Do some research. Know what your symptoms mean, or at least have an idea before you go.
  • Be picky. If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist you chose, there’s nothing contractually binding you to stay in that relationship. If they’re not qualified, or tend to give you the impression they’re not a good fit, feel free to ask them for a referral.
  • Go as often as you feel comfortable, or as often as you can afford.
  • Remember that attending therapy is good for us (cult survivors) but it’s also something that can reopen existing wounds. Make sure you have a good support system of friends and family members who understand that this may be an emotional time for you. Sometimes an hour session can bring up emotions that last hours, days or weeks. Don’t be afraid of this, but just realize it’s normal for this to happen.
  • You might find it helpful to write things down. I keep notes of events I remember that I want to speak to my therapist about. I journal after visiting the therapist about what we talked about and any thoughts I had about it.
  • TIME HEALS and time changes things. Sometimes it takes years of therapy, years of talking about something traumatic, and even medication or alternative treatments to see improvement. Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect change to come over night, but do keep working toward it and preserve your energy for positive improvement, positive relationships and a positive future.

Submission

Submission

It’s a dirty word, that every feminist hates.

Every rebel,

every child of Satan,

every one who is outside God’s blessings

hates the word SUBMIT.

 

It’s a dirty word that godly leaders hate to use, but they do it anyway, for our own good.

It’s for our benefit that they ask us to submit, to obey, to be subject to what God tells them.

Right?

That’s what I was taught for years. And it’s total MANIPULATION, CONTROL, AND ABUSE.

I pulled out my journal from 2002.

It was a notebook I kept in Master’s Commission, during my Second Year. The first year I’d be considered a “leader” and a “real discipler.”

It was also the first year I was put to work in the offices of Master’s Commission and had to stay up at all hours of the night discipling young women. Yet, I paid tuition to do this.

Several thousand dollars.

I paid.

To work.

In this notebook, I kept journal notes ranging on the subject of dating to how tired I was performing Hell’s Alternative (a play our Master’s Commission wrote terrifying “sinners” into accepting Jesus).

On this particular page I’d opened, the infamous phrase nearly highlighted itself: “SUBMISSION BEGINS WHEN AGREEMENT ENDS.”

Nightmares of Nathan haunting me with these words are going to flare up tonight.

I’ll bet you a dollar.

I’ll probably be standing over my own grave, next to Satan, with Nathan cursing me saying, “Submission begins….when agreement ends! Remember Lisa? If we don’t agree, you should SUBMIT! SUBMIT WOMAN!”

Haunting little montage playing out in my head.

Control tactics are subtle.

And they suck.

Think for yourself.

My Cult Life.

Survey Time!

I’d like to see what you guys think about a few things. Please feel free to comment or email me your opinions (mycultlife At gmail Dot com).

I’m restructuring the site, and want to organize the content in a way that will serve you guys best.

  1. What articles do you see here that could be improved? What type of improvement would you like to see?
  2. What information would you like to see here, that isn’t already listed or is difficult to find?
  3. Would you like more cult/educational resources or more of my personal blogging?
  4. Would you like to see more stories from former Master’s Commission students and cult members? If so, what sort of info would you like to see in their stories?

Master’s Commission International Network Updates Affiliate Info

I’d like to take a moment and thank the Master’s Commission International Network for finally updating their Affiliate requirements to include several core suggestions I made to Lloyd Zeigler and Eric Hunsberger in 2008, regarding the ethical treatment of students and staff members.

In that letter, I asked them to do the following:

For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the students:

  • Safe “complaint” system established that a student can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
  • Guidelines established involving limitations on how much a director can dictate of a student’s “self-discipline.” Including, but not limited to dating, entertainment, music, clothing, etc.
  • Establish clearly that the Director or Staff Member is NOT the voice of God for the said students and staff members and in no way should exercise such grossly misguided authority.
  • Protection of the student from authoritarianism of a Director’s or Staff members by revoking a group’s affiliation with the MCIN, if deemed necessary.
  • Guidelines and hours set to protect the student from over-work, long term exhaustion or fatigue, or physical ailments due to over-work for no (or very little) monetary payment. Following the laws that the Department of Labor establishes, according to www.dol.gov
  • A board of directors for each Master’s Commission that should include parents of students or staff members. Also, a safe “complaint” system established in which a student or staff member’s parent(s), guardian or friend can go to without retributions in order to bring to the attention of the MCIN any matter of harassment, mental harm, destructive teaching, or all manners of an unhealthy group or cult-like teachings.
  • Regularly monitoring of activities, and teachings to prevent further development of patterns of cult-like teachings, destructive and harmful teachings and practices.
  • Encourage students to engage in open relationships with their parents, family and friends and not to exclude or hide anything from them. To develop an “Open Campus” policy and Parent’s Board for parents to question policies, procedures, pay scale, work load and work schedules.

For the future of the MCIN, I would like to suggest the following for the safety and wellness of the staff members:

  • Set, enforced guidelines regarding pay scale for staff members relevant to actual work done that would be in the secular environment in the specific metropolitan area. Additionally, following the Department of Labor laws on employment and minimum wage.
  • Provide some type of minimum paid sick days and funeral leave standard to secular work place.
  • Provide access or information to health benefits or coverage, and adjust pay to appropriate for health care. (Note: Health care and health benefits do not mean the state run insurance!)
  • Provide paid vacation for full-time staff members, relevant to secular workplace.
  • Provide mileage compensation for job related driving.
  • Allow for staff members to date at their discretion, under advisement of the pastor only if the said staff member requests the advisement of a pastor. Take away the “No Dating” policy for students or staff members who are beyond their First Year. No dictating, scare tactics, or harassment of the staff member’s choices of dating.

Perhaps the greatest issue not covered is the issue of a person who leaves Master’s Commission (most groups included in this) is often ostracized. To ostracize is to: 1. exclude, by general consent, from society, friendship, conversation, privileges, etc. Ostracizing is what some modern churches do, but it’s wrong. If you don’t follow their tenants, you get excommunicated. After serving MC for several years, I followed the voice of God to go home. This voice of God that I heard was contrary to the voice of the pastors. What’s ironic here is that I followed the voice of God, but was shunned from their ‘bubble’ and my reputation was ruined within that ‘bubble’ for not obeying the pastor.

***

I recently saw that the M.C.I.N. website has been updated (as of this writing in 2011) to include some of what I suggested then. The following items have changed for the better (changes notated in blue, with my comments following in black):

Requirements of an Affiliate of M.C.I.N.

14. Must have a no dating policy for First year Discipleship Students. Must also provide that all Staff, Second and Third year Discipleship Students are free to date, with limited supervision from Affiliate Director, Senior Pastor and Staff unless specifically requested by such Discipleship Student(s) or Staff.

15. Must ensure that, although the Master’s Commission program is an intense discipleship program, Discipleship Students will not be alienated from their families and will assist Discipleship Students in maintaining strong familial relationships.

16. Must provide each Discipleship Student one (1) full day per week for personal/leisure time.  Additionally, Affiliates must provide Discipleship Students the additional time reasonably necessary to maintain the familial relationships discussed in paragraph 15 above (as an example, but not a limitation, when the family of a Discipleship Student lives out of town, state, etc., Affiliate shall provide the time to such Discipleship Student reasonably necessary for travel to maintain a healthy familial relationship).

17. Must maintain familiarity with and comply with all municipal, county, state and federal labor laws (e.g. wages, health benefits, retirement security, employment rights, safety, etc.).  Without limiting the foregoing, Discipleship Students and all Staff must be guaranteed payment at least equal to minimum wage for all employment activities unrelated to their study/duties with Master’s Commission. (This one is worded tricky. It appears to say that Master’s Commission Staff members will be paid at least minimum wage, but it’s saying “all employment activities unrelated to duties with Master’s Commission. Therefore, the labor issues aren’t fixed, making Master’s Commission a playground for unethical treatment and labor law abuse. Also, Master’s Commission staff members MUST be paid a salary, in my view, since they devote more than 40 hours a week to running a ministry they rarely get paid to run. They often volunteer for several years of their life, with their parents supporting them financially. This is WRONG!)

18. Must be a full time Master’s Commission program. (Trainees not able to work at a job) (Considering the above, this is NOT good!)

You can read the Affiliate Requirements in full here.

How Rumors Get Started

My advice for the day: Verify what people spread online. You never know when that thing you instantly repost or talk about hasn’t been verified. I personally verify everything I can on this site, before I post it and even after. I make sure my stories are correct, or they are personal experiences that I can verify.

Why is this important to my readers? For years, I sat in church and didn’t always verify what I was being taught. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I found inconsistencies. Sometimes I’d question and find that no one else felt similarly, so I kept it to myself. The point is, whether it’s an Internet rumor, or religion, we must always take the time to ensure that what we believe in and what we are being told and taught are verifiable and hold weight in the real world, not just the supernatural la-la kooky, “my pastor told me so” world.

Doubt: It’s Not a Curse Word.

Who Died and Made You King?

There’s a relatively new song out called King of Anything by Sara Bareillies, which you’ve probably heard. I heard it today on the way to work.

There’s a part of her lyrics that really stand out to me.

Who cares if you disagree? You are not me

Who made you king of anything?

So you dare to tell me who to be

Who died and made you king of anything?”

I don’t really think this needs explaining. I think it’s pretty clear that I love these lines and if I had a “life” motto, this would be it. 🙂

AAAWBVVG5EM3

I Can’t Hear God Anymore, A Review

In Wendy J. Duncan’s book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, she tells an eloquent and heartbreaking story of when she first joined Trinity Foundation, a cult in Dallas, Texas led by Ole Anthony.

She opens the book with a quote from Margaret Thayer Singer: “Remember that none of us is beyond being manipulated by an intense, dedicated and persistent persuader…”

I’m already won over. Not only is it true, but it’s asserting that we, those who’ve left cults and abusive churches, are as normal as anyone else and our story could have happened to anyone. I already feel at home with Wendy’s words.

Duncan acknowledges the hours she’s spent researching, interviewing, and reliving her past, which is something I immediately can relate to. The amount of behind the scene hours that go into a blog seem tremendous, but to tackle the subject in a book is more than double. Duncan has quoted some well-known experts in field in her writing, to her credit and our benefit. I was introduced to several new books and experts that I knew nothing of before reading I Can’t Hear God Anymore.

The Same Ol’ Jargon

Some of Ole’s lingo is immediately recognizable to me, and it creeps me out and comforts me. I’m creeped out because Duncan’s description of Ole is so similar to my former pastors, Daniel Jones and Nathan Davies. For example, Doug and Wendy wanted to marry after dating for seven years. Ole took the same position that Davies and Jones took with me and many others: it’s the pastor’s job to be a “spiritual covering” and counsel you on who you should date or marry. As with Doug and Wendy, my leaders convinced me over and over that it was my sinful nature that wanted to date a particular man or think about marrying another one. The Trinity Foundation even uses the term “rebellious spirit” which is something that many of of us female former Master’s Commission students identify with. We were all told we had one.

I’m comforted, though, upon realizing that what I went through really is what I’ve assessed it to be: a cult. Over the years, I’ve shared with Master’s Commission friends that my therapists have said Master’s Commission was a cult, and upon further research, I determined it to be a cult. They looked at me really funny and some of them even said, “I thought you were crazy.” Many friends have given me the impression that I was dumb, or over reacting. Yet, I persisted in my research, and found more and more evidence of it being a cult. What Duncan does in her book, I Can’t Hear God Anymore, is map out the characteristics of a cult based on Michael Langone’s book, Recovery from Cults:

A cult has some form of excessive authoritarianism, but they’re different from the military because the military explicitly states the authoritarian structure and there is an accountability to an authority outside of the group.

A cult also exhibits excessive devotion to some person, idea or thing.

Uses a thought reform program to persuade, control and socialize members (i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices.)

Systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members.

Exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals.

What makes Duncan’s story even more reliable, is an article written about Ole Anthony, in The New Yorker by Burkhard Bilger in 2004. Televangelists were afraid of Anthony, because “over the past fifteen years, Anthony ha[d] waged a guerrilla war against televangelism—”a multibillion-dollar industry,” as he describes it, “untaxed and unregulated, that preys on the elderly and the desperate.'” (Bilger)

Already, I realize that Ole Anthony is a dichotomy. He’s got some common ground with some of us who believe that televangelists are a fraud who prey on people. He also later began ministry to the homeless, which he was praised for.

Anthony was described as an “evil child” by his Lutheran minister when he was six years old, and according to Burkhard Bilger, the writer for The New Yorker, the evil child continued into young adulthood where he stole cars, shot up heroin and lit a cross on fire.

After starting The Trinity Foundation, Anthony had been accused of leading a cult. “At one point, a man named Bob Jones (name changed at his request) brought in a list of pointed questions from the organization Cult Watch, and read them out loud at a meeting. “You know what a cult is?” Anthony told him. “It’s a place where someone tells you what to do in the name of God. If I ever tell anyone what to do around here, they should shoot me.'” (Bilger)

Anthony was confronted with his cult like characteristics and like the true charismatic leader he is, he denied it and put his life on the line to back up his claim.

Another interesting similarity to Daniel Jones and Ole Anthony is their recognition for community service. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Jones joined the PRC (Pastor’s Resource Council, under the Louisiana Family Forum, a strongly Right-wing conservative group, who’s anti-gay, anti-feminist and pro-life) so his church could do some relief work. They received congressional recognition. Anthony began taking homeless people into his church community and his efforts reached the White House. President George H. Bush wrote to him, “Word has reached me of your outstanding record of community service. Barbara joins me in wishing you every success as you continue to set a fine example for your friends and neighbors.” (Bilger)

Duncan explains in her book why Anthony and leaders like him are so well-praised by prestigious groups such as Congress and the White House: “Cults depend on strong charismatic leaders. Without a charismatic type of leadership, cults cannot develop. Charismatic leaders have a strong need for power, enormous levels of self-confidence, and an unshakable conviction in the correctness of their beliefs. When a leader has the quality of charisma, he is able to arouse an extraordinary level of trust and devotion from his followers.

A Psychoeducational Approach to Recovery

To recover from the abusive environment of the cult, Duncan shares from Captive Hearts Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Madeleine Tobias and Janja Lalich. To promote healing and transitioning, Tobias and Lalich recommend a psychoeducational approach: ” a process of gathering knowledge and understanding of the cult experience and is a critical part of working through the shame and humiliation of finding yourself in a spiritually abusive group.”

Duncan also recommends professional help (as do most cult experts), and the support of former members. The group of former members she and Doug met with gathered to heal and provide support. They also identified words and phrases that were specific to The Trinity Foundation and “reclaimed” those words and “unload[ed] the language” of it’s cultic meaning so that the words and phrases that once triggered unpleasant memories would now hold new meaning.

I think what’s on most of our minds, and what was on Duncan’s was reestablishing her relationship with God. She examines how the groups such as The Trinity Foundation and other cults “uniformly distort God’s grace and character” and how it was most difficult to recover her relationship with God. Wendy and Doug decided to try a liturgical church such as Catholic or Episcopal, since Doug felt that evangelical churches were ruined for him by Ole.

I’ve often felt very similar, actually. On my departure from Master’s Commission and Our Savior’s Church, I attended a few different churches alone or with friends. I tried the Chi Alpha group at my university, the local Foursquare church, a few non-denominational churches, and some others. I felt most at home in a quiet Catholic mass my friends had invited me to.

I went with two friends, who “showed me the ropes.” They told me when to get on my knees, what page the song was on, and how to hold my hands to receive communion. The only thing I had trouble with, was that I was on the verge of a break down anytime I went. Anything church related made me want to sob in the middle of service, and this Catholic mass didn’t fail to make me cry. But, when I went, I cried in a different way. I cried because it was different than the evangelical experience I’d had. It was quiet, and reverent, instead of showy and loud. I could hear my own thoughts and prayers, rather than hear the person next to me praying out loud or yelling to God. When the priest gave his message, he read from the Bible and gave limited personal interpretation. It was thematic, but not contrived or full of personal opinion.

Wendy Duncan’s book is one I’ve enjoyed reading, and one that brought me to tears. More than that, though, it’s smart, genuine and encouraging. I’ll leave you with her discussion of Matthew 18 (a passage of the Bible which deals with a brother sinning against a person): “Much later, we were discussing this Matthew 18 issue with another former member, and he observed that if you do not feel safe to go to someone to discuss with them how they have offended you, then that person probably does not qualify as your brother. He has a point. I would not advise a friend of mine who was leaving an abusive husband that she was obligated to go meet with him to explain to him why she needs to leave. Once that sense of covering is broken it is broken, and the task for someone who has been abused is primarily to find a place to be safe and to heal.”

In Wendy’s words, let’s “go find a place to be safe and to heal.”

For more information about I Can’t Hear God Anymore visit: Dallas Cult or purchase on Amazon.

You can also read an article The Dallas Observer did on the book here.

If you live in or near the Dallas area, you can attend Individual Counseling Services with Doug Duncan, MS, LPC a professional counselor licensed in the state of Texas, or their FREE Support Group held on the fourth Saturday of the month.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review.

 

 

 

 

Cream Cheese and Memories

We’ve all had a moment where we pick up something or hear a song and it takes us back to a specific moment in time. I’ve been having that experience lately with whipped cream cheese. The past few mornings, I’ve been off work and have been waking up to a bagel and coffee at home. As I spread the cream cheese across my bagel, I’m taken back to the years I lived in the Phoenix, Arizona area and first attended Master’s Commission.

After my first year in Master’s Commission Phoenix (which is now Master’s Commission USA, and I’ll refer to Master’s Commission Phoenix as such), I took some time off to work and figure out how to pursue ministry (since my future plans changed drastically after being in Master’s Commission). Many mornings or afternoons, I’d drive to Einstein Bros. Bagels (and no, I’m not getting paid to endorse them, but I would accept sponsorship from them in the form of their honey almond shmear) and get a bagel and coffee for breakfast.

Master’s Commission USA was less of a militaristic boot camp than Master’s Commission Austin (the group is now called Elevate 3D, after getting kicked out of the Master’s Commission International Network) was. Because of that, I have some pretty decent memories of my time living in Phoenix, since I was able to experience the city from time to time.

Master’s Commission USA wasn’t perfect, though. My year there wasn’t something I’d do over again. I was constantly conflicted by what I saw displayed as “Christlike” and what I’d learned was Christlike. I thought to be Christlike, a person should be themselves, be kind and study the Bible to the best of their ability. What I learned in Master’s Commission USA was that to be Christlike, you should compete for a celebrity status, show off your performance skills, and worship God with an outward display louder and better than anyone around you (yelling and screaming, jumping and dancing, and waving your arms were all smiled upon). Becoming Christlike wasn’t a pleasure; it was a task and it was expected of us.

I was absolutely confused, because I wasn’t the type of person that would be accepted in that type of group. I was shy, academic, and independent. I didn’t sing. I couldn’t dance, and I didn’t really like yelling in church. So, I changed. In all honesty, it wasn’t like I changed strictly to fit in. In fact, I tried to stay “me” as much as possible. But, each day we’d have some kind of activity that reinforced the “normal” Master’s Commission behavior. If we weren’t like everyone else, we soon started becoming like them, or being taught how to act like them.

We’d start off prayer in the church sanctuary every morning and we’d be surrounded by our fellow students. Some would be pacing the church floor, shouting out their prayers. Some would be laying on the floor crying out for their freedom or someone else’s.

After prayer, we’d have a number of activities to do, but sometimes we’d have dance practice. I was kind of girl at high school or junior high dances that either didn’t go because I couldn’t dance and so had a fear of dancing, or stood around with a group of friends and couldn’t even sway to the music because my rhythm was off. Now, all of a sudden, I was supposed to be in a large group of my fellow first year students and learn choreographed dances in one afternoon? Oh god.

I wasn’t the only white girl, but I was surrounded by students of different cultural backgrounds and let’s just say that most of them were coordinated. It was terrifying to learn these dances, and even worse when everyone was picking up the dance moves and I wasn’t.

We’d move on to human video practice, which is where Master’s Commission staff or students had taken a song (Christian or not) and choreographed movements to tell a story. Sometimes it was acting. Sometimes it was dance-like moves. Either way, to me it was hard. I was an actress in high school plays, but I’d had no major roles. Not to mention, it seemed like everyone in Master’s Commission had been an actress, a singer, a musician or something creative and done bigger and better performances than I had. Which may have been true…or it may have just been the competitive environment I’d stepped into without realizing it.

Because I failed to learn dances and was horrible at human videos, and because I couldn’t sing, there wasn’t any ministry left for me to do with the exception of janitorial work and discipling people in the youth group (which we were required to do). At Phoenix First Assembly of God, we often had celebrity ministers come visit. On one occasion, Joyce Meyer came to hold a conference. While I wasn’t allowed to attend, because we were busy with our Master’s Commission duties, I was allowed to help out the church janitor clean up the church after the sessions got out. The entire weekend, we spent cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming the three story mega-church.

Although I never got to travel, and experience what all the other students were experiencing on the road, I was able to stay in Phoenix and attend every church service. This allowed me to meet some really wonderful people. I made friends with dozens of people and families. It was so nice to meet families who’d invite me over for a Sunday afternoon lunch and a movie, especially since I was away from home for the first time. On my day off (which I had in Master’s Commission USA and not in Master’s Commission Austin), I’d have people to go have coffee with, or go shopping with and that was really nice.

My experience in Master’s Commission USA wasn’t awful, admittedly. It doesn’t haunt me like my time with Master’s Commission Austin and Elevate 3D in Lafayette, LA now does. It did derail my plans for college for several years and led me into a misguided relationship with God and ministry. Because of that and many other reasons (including their unethical treatment of staff members across the entire network of affiliated groups), I don’t support Master’s Commission and I don’t endorse it.

Since starting this blog, though, what I’ve learned is that when you become a staff member in Master’s Commission, the negative experiences really tend to grow. I’ve spoken with many former Master’s Commission USA staff members who have a very different perspective of the same year I was there simply because they were on staff. They knew Lloyd Zeigler better, had a different relationship with the other staff members, and most importantly, saw everything that was behind the scenes. Sometimes, what we as first year students saw on the front end was incredibly different from what we were told was happening or what happened. My own experience on staff with Master’s Commission Austin and what is now Elevate 3D is a testament to that. As a staff member, you’re held to a certain level of responsibility that students aren’t and that often has a negative effect. Though, in Master’s Commission Austin and Elevate 3D, many former (and current) students have emailed me or spoken to me saying that they had experienced much of what I had.

My experience with Master’s Commission is bittersweet. I met some great people along the way, and lived in some wonderful cities filled with entirely new (to me) cultural elements. I even traveled to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Myanmar. I learned to cook crawfish etouffee and blackened alligator. These experiences are special memories I like to remember.

But in Master’s Commission, I was convinced that I would be a better Christian if I were in the group and in ministry. I developed an elitist Christian mentality, where I believed I was better than the typical church member (also a sign of a cult). I felt I had to invest my energies into constant prayer and Bible study, and had to restrict any fun or recreation and worse yet I had to deny my ability to get a college degree, start a career and start a family.

I wish I’d never met the Master’s Commission group when they came to my church and my high school to perform a school assembly. I’d be long finished with my master’s degree, and be better off psychologically. I don’t believe in the cliche, “Everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe that I’m responsible for my choices and my actions. I also believe that I can still make the most of my life, can still achieve my goals, and can eventually heal to a point where I’m not haunted by my time there.

I do feel a little like someone who’s gone through war, or a terrible divorce, instead of someone who joined a discipleship program. Instead of the claims they promised, I find myself battling nightmares and being afraid of people and new situations.

After Master’s Commission, I stopped journaling, because it was something we were forced to do while there. Journaling was something I’d done since I was a child, because my favorite writer, Ann M. Martin gave me writing advice to “journal every day.” My love for journaling was destroyed after seven years of forced note taking and writing.

This blog has restored that love for journaling, as you can tell. And all the therapists are right–journaling is extremely therapeutic. Even as I write these blogs, knowing my inner thoughts are going to be seen online by thousands of people, I still feel like it’s my own personal journal. I feel a great sense of relief when my head is cleared of these memories, instead of letting them sit inside, rolling around, and getting mulled over and over and over.

I also feel a great sense of relief that I should be able to eat a bagel and cream cheese without having to necessarily associate it with much of the negative things I’ve dealt with in life. We’ll see. I’m sure you’ll hear from me soon if the cream cheese keeps me thinking about all of this.

No Years Resolutions

Welcome to 2011, my dear friends. A few years ago, I stopped making new year’s resolutions. Maybe it was in rebellion to all that I felt Master’s Commission was. In Master’s Commission, I grew to look at myself more as a project who needed work. I always felt guilty for the thoughts I had, even if they were good. I always thought I should change-be something or someone else. Rather than viewing myself as a unique person who had some great qualities, I constantly dogged on myself for the faults I saw in myself.

And New Year’s was just another time for us to focus on “changing” and “better ourselves” and “working harder” at our self-control and discipline.

So, I decided to stop all that nonsense. I also decided to stop looking at myself in a negative light, as someone who had to be changed, and to look at myself as someone who was pretty amazing, creative and individual. In order to do that, I decided to stop making New Year’s Resolutions temporarily and just practice appreciating the person I was.

I also used to spend hours on end in Master’s Commisson being “encouraged” to always improve my time management, so I could squeeze more projects into one day. We read all those business and self-improvement books that are filled with ways to finish your entire to-do list in a day. Most of the time, then, my to-do list wasn’t even stuff I wanted to get done. It was something I wasn’t getting paid to do for someone else. Now, I do things for myself, and then help others. I simplify my time. I spend a good amount of time saying no to needless responsibilities (that sometimes others are just too lazy to do) and tasks that I didn’t choose, but someone may have pushed onto me. I relax more. I realize that I’m ambitious enough throughout the day that some relaxing at night isn’t going to hurt me. And if the to-do list doesn’t get done, there’s always tomorrow, or next week. Eventually, if it’s important enough, I’ll find time for it. If not, I’m not bothered by some unimportant things not getting done.

I don’t force myself to read more, exercise more, do more, be more of something else. I just don’t mind going through a new year at the same pace as the last one, and being the same person as I was last year.

For many of us, who’ve been recovering from the teachings of Master’s Commission, it’s helpful to take a moment and strip away the guilt, the self-criticism, and stop beating ourselves up. Recognize that you’re a good person, who’s worthy of love, who is great, and has a good heart.

Lastly, I’m by no means not telling you to make a New Year’s Resolution. In fact, I’m probably going to start getting back into the “resolutions” game this year with my own new set of goals. However, I’m going to do so knowing that it’s in my best interest (and not the interest of someone else), and not because someone encouraged me to do so, but that it’ll make me happier as a person.