Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Salvation, United Pentecostal Church

When Salvation Isn’t A Relief

I was ten years old when I had my salvation experience. I took the long walk down to the altar and repented of my sins, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and then baptized. This was supposed to fix the major problems of my life. I wouldn’t have to worry about hell anymore and with the power of Jesus inside me, I should be able to fix most of my problems through prayer. I left church that night feeling high! I felt so loved by God and so close to Him. That lasted about two weeks. Slowly worry and doubt started creeping in. My church taught that you could lose your salvation and suddenly I had a whole new series of problems to be concerned about. Backsliding was preached about frequently and if you backslid you could end up in hell. So really having my salvation experience did not free me from my worries about the rapture and hell. Before I had to wonder if I had reached that magical age when God would decide I was old enough to be held accountable for my sins or if I was still in the clear, now I had to worry about how much sin was too much? At what point would God throw up His hands and say “She is too far gone now!” At that point, I would be lost again until I returned like the prodigal son. Would I know if I had gone too far? Did I go too far today when I watched that TV show? These were questions that plagued my young mind.

We were taught to have faith. If I had questions, which I did, then I must not have faith. This could be really scary because faith is required for salvation. I was already doubting my ability to truly believe because I could not make my home life better. I was sure I must have faith at least the size of a mustard seed but maybe I was wrong. I sure wasn’t moving any mountains. Things at home just got worse and worse. Soon after my salvation experience, I would meet my abuser and then things would really take a turn. I never understood why Jesus did not protect me from Steve. I think because things in my home never got any better no matter how hard I prayed and because of Steve, I really believed that God did not like me. At least when I was a little child I could say to myself that once I was saved everything would be golden, but then afterward I had nowhere to look but at myself. There must be something wrong with me. Now I look back on it and I can see that the adults around me were making me feel inferior. They also really treated salvation like it was a feeling. Church was the time of the week to get hyped! They came for a show and to get their fix. If they left feeling good all was right with the world and everything was ok with their hearts. If the service was more of a downer and maybe the message darker the altar would be full of people coming back to God or recommitting themselves. Once they were cried out and had spoken in tongues they felt high again and they would feel a sense of relief. Growing up within the UPC really was a roller coaster. You begin to crave the Sunday night service almost like a drug, a way to get high in order to get you through the week. By the end of the service, I felt great and everything was good until I walked into my house. Sometimes that feeling would only last the car ride home because it was just a feeling. I would walk into my house and my mother would be crying or fighting with my stepdad, sometimes there would be soft porn on the tv and my mother would be nowhere in sight, and sometimes it would just be black because we didn’t have power. The house felt oppressive and joy and my feeling of salvation couldn’t survive there.

I am sure there are some people who would love to say I was never saved. Maybe that is true but I know for sure that I chased after God. The older I became the harder it was because everything that happened to you in your life was somehow related to some sin you must have going on. If you were sick it was because of some unrepented sin. Mental illness was a demon persecuting you. Are you in debt? You must not be giving enough to the church. In the end, it was your issue if your life wasn’t what God had said it would be. If you couldn’t pray it away don’t look at God look at yourself.

I know that this is not everyone’s experience but it was mine. I’m not willing to argue with you about Christianity or scripture. This is just something that has been on my mind and I have been wanting to share. If you’ve had a similar experience I’d like to hear about it.

Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Rapture, Salvation, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Stress, Trauma, United Pentecostal Church

Set Point Stress

Maverick and I going for a walk in the snow. This is one of the things that helps me cope with stress, especially in the winter.

I have been spending a lot of time thinking and not writing. There comes a point when you have expressed all of the surface junk and everything underneath seems so much harder to put into words. I am at a point in my life, 49 years old when things are not moving as fast for me as they were when my kids were little. I have a bit more time to breathe and time to reflect on things that I want to unravel. One of these things is stress.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t stressed. Stressed about my parent’s marriage, school, money, food, church, and god. Some might say that stress is a normal part of life and I agree with that to a point. Being stressed shouldn’t be your set point and for all of my life, it has been my normal. My first teacher about stress was my mother. She was always stressed and for good reason. Money was tight, her jobs were stress-inducing, her marriage was a disaster, and she was always afraid of missing the rapture. Along with that came other things like untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She and my dad were always overly concerned about being late and so they created a child who is always early and never not stressed about time. Before we could leave the house my mother would have to check all of the nobs on the stove to be sure they were turned off and then check the door multiple times to be sure it was locked. Sometimes she would have to tour the rooms of the house to be sure all of the lights were off. She taught me to always check the backseat of the car for a masher even if all of the doors had been locked while we were away because…you never know. You never know became a big part of my life.

My experiences with the church and the UPC specifically only added to my stress response. I never felt good enough and always worried about my salvation and along with that came all of the end-time theology. The church was well acquainted with “You never know” and so they reinforced that message. You never know the day or the hour when Jesus might return. You never know you might have some unrepented sin hiding in there. You never know what book, movie or music might be a doorway for Satan to get into your heart. All of this made me one stressed-out kid and that in turn led me to be a stressed-out adult.

As you probably know we lay down these patterns as kids. Our brains and nervous systems are being formed and habits are laid down before we can even comprehend what is happening to us. So even after becoming an adult and being in a place of being able to make my own choices about what I believe my default is to be stressed. It’s funny how and when things hit us, it just hit me today that I’ve always been this way to the point of having ulcers when I was in grade school. I have always had what my grandmother would call a “nervous temperament.” So some of it is a natural disposition and a lot of it is learned. The whole time I was growing up and surrounded by religious adults I never felt the peace of god or grace. I felt like my mother, teachers, youth leaders, and others were always wagging their fingers at me saying be careful. Starting really young, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see, for the father up above is looking down with love.” Hmmm kind of a weird song, be careful because he is watching but “with love.” I learned the hard way after my interactions with Steve Dahl that I couldn’t trust myself or my body. My body could really get me into trouble simply by existing. This caused enormous stress and made me wish I could disappear. I started to feel like all men could be dangerous, also stress-inducing because well half the population were men. Along with checking the backseat, my mother would check closets and under the bed when we returned home from being out. She was checking for those dangerous men.

So what do you do when you realize your default is stress? One thing that brings me some relief is moving my body. I like to hike, go for dog walks, get to the gym, and do yoga. I enjoy dancing when I get the chance! I try to remind myself to breathe and I enjoy a hot bath from time to time. These are all coping mechanisms, what I am seeking to do is move my set point and that is not an easy task. There was a time when this would have been an impossible task. Before I started to give voice to my trauma and really deal with it I couldn’t have even approached this work but now I feel like maybe I can start. I am going to begin the process by just trying to move the needle a little bit. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so I’m going to try not to stress myself about stress. One simple thing I’ve been doing is trying to change my self-talk. When I get up in the morning instead of thinking, “I have to do all of this stuff today”, I try to say “I get to do all of this stuff today.” I remind myself that so much of my stress is self-generated and that I can cut myself some slack. I will probably post about this more after I have been working on it longer.

Does my experience sound like yours?

D

Childhood, Fear, Holiness Standards, Rapture, Salvation, Sin, United Pentecostal Church

My Salvation Story

We started attending The United Pentecostal Church in Madison Wisconsin when I was 8. At first we only went on Sunday morning and we rode the Sunday school bus. Someone from the church came by our apartment one day looking for people who might be interested in attending Sunday school. Some Sundays my mother would not answer the door and other Sundays she would take me out to the bus. I think she liked the church but felt guilty about it because it did not line up with her Church of God beliefs. In the end, we went more and more until we were going all the time. We went Sunday morning and evening, plus Thursday night. At this point people were pretty nice to us, probably because they were trying to get their hooks in. Love bombing works.

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts you know that I grew up with a constant fear of hell and the rapture. The seeds of all that fear were planted long before I ever set foot in Calvary Gospel United Pentecostal Church. All that fear was only made worse by the fire and brimstone preaching that often happened on Sunday nights. The night I walked that long road to the altar is burned in my mind. I was 10 years old. We were seated in the second to the back row of the sanctuary. My mother was never a front row woman. Pastor John Grant was preaching about how your name is written on the gates of hell until Jesus takes it off. I was scared out of my mind. When the altar call was given I sat there and debated with myself about whether or not I should go forward. I was a shy child and the thought of walking down in front of all of those people was pretty awful. My fear of hell was worse than my fear of walking forward so forward I went. It felt like it took me forever to get down to the front and when I did I was immediately covered with women. They gathered around me and walked me through the sinner’s prayer of repentance. My only comfort was the presence of some of my Sunday School teachers, although I had never seen them this worked up. After I said my prayer then the rejoicing started. This meant loud wailing and speaking in tongues. Hands pushing me back and forth in a swaying motion. They wanted me to speak in tongues and eventually I did. When I started stammering the sounds of the women around me got even louder. Scary loud. I felt accepted and safe if only for an instant. As soon as this calmed down then they wanted me to get baptized. In the UPC church they get you in that water as fast as they can because if the rapture were to happen or you were to die unbaptized you would not be saved. I knew the drill and got baptized. They let me pick which minister I wanted to baptize me. I don’t know if they let everyone pick or if they let me because I was so young. I chose the minister that was the least threatening to me.

Our baptismal tank was behind the choir pews. Everyone would gather around and watch you get baptized and clap and sing and speak in tongues. After it was all over people came up and congratulated me. I felt high. I know that it was endorphins causing that feeling. I chalked it up to my new-found salvation. That feeling lasted about a week. In the church of my childhood you were never really saved, not for good. You could always lose your salvation through sinning. Over and over I cried out to god for forgiveness. I remember my pastor preaching about a dream he had. The rapture was happening in his dream and he could not rise any higher than the ceiling of his bedroom. Why? Because he was not godly enough. My child mind soaked up all such messages and they fueled my constant fear of what might keep me out of heaven. Our church encouraged us to repent for sins we might not be aware of just in case we forgot something. At ten years old I did not see god as a loving god, I saw him as a score keeper.

Are you seeing the overall theme? Fear. Whether it was the pastor’s sermons, the week-long revivals, or the yearly viewing of those awful movies, my church experience was soaked in fear. Did I forget to repent of some sin? How long had it been since I had spoken in tongues? Was I living godly enough. Tough questions for a 10-year-old. Once I knew the difference between right and wrong I was old enough to be accountable. Pile all of that fear on top of the poverty and my parents marriage issues and life was pretty hard. Being in the UPC church magnified my problems.

From that moment on my life changed. Not in a good way. I embraced the church’s holiness standards with gusto. I tried to live as close to the rules as possible. Next time I will post about that part of my journey.

If you are a UPC survivor I would love to hear from you. Does my childhood experience sound like yours?

D