Finding a new fellowship
X and I attended our former church together for over 10 years. When this all started that church was as helpful and supportive as they knew how to be. I kept attending and I was blessed to have good friends there. I remember that when the whole thing blew up a friend asked if I would hunt for a different church, not because she thought I should, but because she wondered if the old church would trigger me since I attended with X for so long. I replied that I felt safe there where people knew and loved me and I didn’t want to show up on the doorstep of some new place, me and my emotional and spiritual baggage, and announce, “Hi! I’m Ellie and I’m needy.”
I grew up in the church and there are several ministers in my family. I know that people often turn to the church when they are in crisis, but many don’t want to surrender. They don’t want to seek God. After getting used by such people, the church can get calloused to new folks who show up so very needy. I don’t think they mean to. The churches are probably being cautious. I don’t know. I also remember my friend, the one I mentioned in a comment about anonymous letters and such. I recall her struggle to find a new fellowship. I remember how she worried and she “didn’t want to show up and cry ‘I was hit’ and have people feeling sorry for [her].” I only recently realized how much that conversation with her affected me for 20 years. First of all, HE HIT HER. She didn’t know to frame the abuse in an active voice like Barbara is teaching us to do. And second of all, we aren’t responsible for what others think of us. Whether they feel sorry for us or respect us or hate us is their choice. If we are kind and authentic, we are doing our part.
Well the former church is still a good place. But it’s not the place for our family now. God has moved us to a wonderful fellowship that really knows how to deal with abuse and abused. Wow, I am blessed. Of course I didn’t know anything about this place in the beginning. I listened to several sermons online and I investigated what they believe. Then I emailed to relate a little about myself and what is going on in my life. I asked to meet with a pastor to see if he thought the church would be a good fit. I was upfront about my faith, my trust in God, my denominational background, and my marriage. I did that all in the email so I could make sure I communicated what I wanted to.
I ran into a deacon who was very encouraging and who reassured me that I will be safe there. I met with a pastor who related very well to my experience. I was assured that I wouldn’t be handed “How to Submit” books and I would be loved just as I am. Next I went to a women’s Bible study. A super cool looking lady, very trendy and fashionable – way cooler than me, asked me to sit by her. Each lady introduced herself. When it was my turn I said my name and that I was becoming a single mom. I still couldn’t say “divorce” at the time. I requested prayer for X. Then I said, “Hi! I’m Ellie and I’m needy” and everyone laughed.
A sweet family had us over for lunch one Sunday. I was used to doing things without X because he works all the time. But I wasn’t used to the idea that these people will never know him. I have also spent half my life being a WE and using terms like we, us, and ours. This was still a pattern in my speech and I would catch myself in the middle of “our” and change it to “my” and I am sure I sounded like I was having a stroke. I wasn’t embarrassed for me. If they want to judge me, they will be missing out on a great friendship. I know that now that X’s voice isn’t roaming around my brain so much anymore. I was concerned that they might not know what to do with me, that I would be this weird awkward single mom in their home and they would be worried about saying the word “love”or “anniversary” and upsetting me. But they were very gracious and we had fun.
Because I was so upfront about what’s going on, others who relate to me and need encouragement or who have encouragement to offer have gravitated to me. One lady came right up and whispered, “I think we might have a lot in common.” And we do. She’s not ready to leave, but she’s learning and she’s getting stronger. I don’t want sympathy and I think that’s easily observed. I do want help to know what to do sometimes and that help is there when I need it. And I want to offer help and encouragement to anyone who wants it. This is another reason I’ve been so forthright about what’s going on in my life.
I know that not everyone has been so blessed to have a church like the one God has led us to. I feel blessed and thankful. I think that God has put us there perhaps because this church is involved in training future pastors. Maybe God is placing these young men in this church where there is a great spiritual support system for survivors so that these men can be equipped to build more save havens in other parts of the country. I hope so.
Do you have any tips to offer survivors who are seeking new fellowship? What should we look out for? How can we find a good fit?