How to Set Goals

Take some time today (or everyday) to dream a little bit-not about what religion or “god” wants you to do, but about what you want to do for yourself. Go back to childhood and revisit the things that intrigued you, made you happy, your wishes…and then work out a plan that you can build upon in order to reach those goals.

We all have role models and people we look to as a sort of guide for how to live or how to answer our problems, but the thing is, we have to find our own paths and ultimately we’re the ones responsible for taking control of where our road will lead. Part of life is luck or chance or whatever you want to call it and part of it is hard work. My boyfriend, the director, always says that prayer is doing nothing. Essentially it’s true. Prayer is like wishing upon a star. It’s comforting, but it’s not going to do a hell of a lot. If I sat around praying for a great career as a writer, yet I never sent out query letters or practiced writing, my career would never go anywhere. But I don’t just sit around. I drink a lot.

In all seriousness (the above was a joke-although I do drink), hard work and ambition will get you somewhere in life. It’ll get you where wishful thinking won’t. I don’t want to be a role model, but I realize that people are curious as to how I lead my life. I’m very open, but very private in some areas. My philosophy is this: I set goals (6 month goals; 1 year goals; 5 year goals; lifetime goals) and I slowly work toward them. I’m flexible and give myself some leeway if things don’t turn out exactly as planned on time. You can’t be too rigid in life–you have to sort of go with the flow. You have to forgive yourself, also, but if you haven’t learned that by now, you’re probably feeling so low you don’t know what to do about it.

Take some time today (or everyday) to dream a little bit-not about what religion or “god” wants you to do, but about what you want to do for yourself. Go back to childhood and revisit the things that intrigued you, made you happy, your wishes…and then work out a plan that you can build upon in order to reach those goals.

The State of the Gay

At a Christian University, Harding in Arkansas, some queer students created this zine to tell their stories–the stories of gay Christians.

The college has blocked campus access to their site: www.huqueerpress.com but you can access it and share the zine.

Read it here and share your love with them here: huqueerpress@gmail.com.

Sperm Donors

I’ve made it clear that I don’t have a husband.

Okay, we get it, Lisa.

You don’t have to have a husband to have a kid, these days. It’s not 1950.

There’s adoption, foster care, and…sperm donors.

You pay like $500 and go in to see the doctor and get the sperm inserted into your Vag and wait to see if it takes. Sometimes it can take a few tries.

So, it’s kind of costly.

But, lets face it. I’m 30, going on 35. Once you’re 35,  your egg count and quality decreases rapidly each year. Once you’re 38, a doctor may have to interfere by In Vitro to get you pregnant. After 40, I think pregnancy is pretty much not going to happen naturally. Or at all, but of course it depends on the woman.

Not to mention the complications after 35: higher rate of miscarriages, higher chances of having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities (aka Downs Syndrome, etc).

Maybe I’m a bit of a head case. I mean, I am only 35. I mean…30.

I still have 5-8 years, right?

 

Babies

Awww, the baby!

 

I’m going through a baby craze right now.

I’m 30.

I’m not married.

I make money, and am working steadily toward reaching some of my life-long ambitions.

So, what is it about babies that are so intriguing to me right now?

They throw up on you. They wake you up in the middle of the night. You can’t just carry them around like a purse and set them down. You actually have to keep up with them. Not like my cat, which is pretty independent when I’m at work. I don’t need a cat sitter. I have a litter box and a few toys for him.

Babies aren’t cats.

Sometimes I psychoanalyze myself. With the marriage and babies thing, I’ve come up with this: maybe the reason I want a home with a husband and a baby right now is that I was involved in a group (Master’s Commission/Our Savior’s Church) that summed up womanhood into two activities:

motherhood

and

marriage.

Maybe that’s not it. But, it’s probably a significant portion of my obsession with marriage and babies.

Waiting to Get Married

My dating life has gone through a radical change.

I used to date Christians only. They had to be super spiritual, really love Jesus and read the Bible a lot. Past that, I don’t know if I considered much else.

Now, I date men who are not religious, respect me as a woman, and can handle a saucy woman. Sauc-y!

When I was still into uber Christian men, the only thing I wanted to do was walk down the aisle and pop out some little chickadees of my own. Maybe decorate my house, too. Oh, and collect tea cups.

I never gave myself the time to discover my own hobbies, my likes and dislikes, if I liked fried eggs or boiled eggs or poached eggs. (Notting Hill reference, 🙂 )

I was waiting. A Lady in Waiting, as a book I once read called it. One of those women who was waiting for my Prince Charming to come sweep me off my feet and solve all my problems and take away my loneliness. Waiting for a spouse to COMPLETE MY LIFE.

Until I found my spouse, there was nothing worth living for.

Eventually, I decided that was unrealistic, kind of co-dependent and desperate.

I had to become the  tYpE of            person who

a) was happy and <3 in love <3 with MYself

b) solved my own problems

c) resolved my own feelings of loneliness by creating hobbies, other friends and things that would keep my active mind going.

 

Where Do I Stand? by Aaron Gates

 

Where do I stand?

A Guest Post by Aaron Gates 

After leaving a church group that I had been “professionally” affiliated with for five years I had a lot of questions to ask myself. I had to ask myself where to go to church; who my real friends were. Everyone I associated with on a regular basis I went to church with. When the dam finally broke I was engaged and about to start pre-marital counseling with the pastor. I was living with a family from the church. Two of the teenagers I worked closely with in the youth group lived in that house. It was a Thursday afternoon when I had finished up my extremely heated conversation with my pastor by telling him I was going to find somewhere else to go to church. When I got home I told the guys that I had a disagreement with Pastor S. and would not be going to church with them any more. When their Grandmother got home a little later I gave her the same vague description of why I was leaving. She said something very interesting to me. She said, and I quote, “You know what really happened is going to come out so you might as well tell me.” She was right and I knew it. So I responded, “You’re probably right but you aren’t going to hear it from me.” I promised myself I would not bad mouth the pastor to any of the church members or anyone affiliated with the church.

To this day I have not.

I have had more opportunities than I can count to tell people how badly I was treated. How violated I felt by people I trusted. I could have told the truth. I did not. Unfortunately I was not afforded the same courtesy.

The people at the church had always talked about our relationship as if we were family. So when I stopped attending that church I did not know what to expect.

Would they continue to treat me like family, or was I only family when I attended church with them?

So I was hurt when I realized that I was only a family member when I was a church member. I felt like I was mourning the death of myself; like part of who I was died, because part of me did. A huge part of my life was over, and I felt empty. I was stressed out by trying to live up to the expectations and standards that were set for me from the time I was 18. Then I felt broken and lost.

 

The conflict at the root of everything was that my relationship with God was founded on what I had been taught and told and made to experience. My relationship with God had been corralled in a direction that a pastor wanted me to go. I had a need to find out what I believed and needed to reconcile that with all that I had been taught for the past ten or so years.

I had to decide for myself where I stood.

What do I believe? That is a scary question.

I wanted to know if believing in God was even worth it. It took me a very long time to work everything out.

I wrote that like I have it all worked out. That’s funny. I don’t!

However, there are some things I know. I know that God loves me and He sent His Son to the world for that reason. I know that I chose to live for God before I went to Masters or to the church. I know that my relationship with Him is based on our mutual experience with each other. I believe that He is the way the truth and the life and no one can go to the Father except through Him. I also know that everyone has a different reaction to difficult situations and I don’t expect everyone to believe that. I know that in the church that God wants to see in the world there is room for everyone and room for different opinions and different convictions.

Some will say that there is only one way to be a Christian. I know that God made every person on earth different. Based on that, there are roughly six billion ways to have a relationship with God and it is not my place or anyone else’s to determine what that should look like for anyone. I also know that I lost sight of God because I was more concerned with what a group of people thought about me than what God thought about me. I know that I will never be in ministry in any capacity again, by choice.

But most importantly, I know God.

 

My name is Aaron Gates I live in Gulfport, MS with my wife Jenny and brand new daughter Rebecca. I have been blogging about my experience as a Christian and a new dad since August 2010. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about your experience in Master’s Commission, ministry, or anything else, I’d love to hear from you: aaron.p.gates@gmail.com.

Check out my blog.

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.

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.