As someone who is a left behind of suicide, religion holds a very odd place. My grandmother committed suicide when I was 9 and the kids in my class told me she was going to hell. My dad told me she was going to Nebraska heaven. I was confused... no one explained this heaven and hell thing to me. To me, my grandmother was deserving of heaven.... she was just sad... suicide was her way of coping. Even from a young age I knew what it was like to feel the desperation of depression... the need to escape... the want to end it all. So, I took it upon myself to be a good christian so that I could get my grandmother to heaven.
I always loved music and in middle school I played in the church handbell choir, in high school I started singing with the church choir and my senior year of high school at least one Sunday a month I would do a solo or a duet with my brother.
When I moved away to college, in 1996, it was important for me to find a church to sing with. It didn't take long since I went to a strict Church of Christ college... being Methodist I needed to find a place where I fit in... to get away from a religion that was shoved down my throat at every turn. In walking distance from the college was a United Methodist Church. I went one Sunday with a friend and met Joan, the Minister of Music, and started singing in the choir.
I made a new family for myself instantly. I soon was part of the handbell choir, women's ensemble, helped with the kids choir and even got some work at the preschool. When I decided to become a member of the church the entire choir stood as my sponsor. There were other people becoming members that Sunday who had one or two people from the church with them and I had the entire choir. I loved being there... it was a safe place for me at a time when my Eating Disorder and depression had the best of me.
I became friends with Joan and she became a big sister to me in many ways. She is the most spiritual person I know... when she prays you know it is felt deep in the heart. I always felt safe when she was in the room... the smile she would give would be reassurance that all is well.
In the spring of 2000 I broke up with a boyfriend I met at the church. It was important for me to wait to have sex until I was married and he felt otherwise. This breakup was the start of downhill spiral for me. My Eating Disorder took over completely, I was put in the psych hospital and that summer sent away to an Eating Disorder treatment center for 32 days. Prayers were sent up for me but it didn't take long for those prayers to turn into rumors. I was a lesbian because I wouldn't have sex with my boyfriend... I tried to cut off all my fat... and who knows what else was going around.
While inpatient my parents disowned me and left me... when I came back the family I created at church were also turning away from me. I was lost.... I had no one. Then one evening I got a call from the associate pastor telling me I didn't belong at church anymore. How I am alive today is beyond me... that was the worst phone call I ever received. In my time of need it felt like I was left by everyone I knew. The next day I sent an email to Joan saying I wouldn't be singing with her anymore... no explanation because I thought it was a group decision to kick me out.
To this day I don't know why and I may never know... that's really ok with me.
I remember that Christmas season I snuck into church to see the Festival of Lights, which was a musical Christmas celebration. I came late and sat in the very last pew. The choir started to sing accompanied by the handbell choir and organ... I didn't even make it thru the one piece and I had to leave. I thought for sure I was bringing everyone in that church to hell with me by just being present. I was tainting the space.
That spring Joan asked me to come back to choir. I gradually came back with a lot of fear and anxiety. I tried to mask it by doing what I was suppose to do even though I felt it was wrong for me to be there. I would take communion once a month and go home and purge the rest of the day to be sure I got it all out of me. I didn't deserve to take communion... I didn't deserve to be loved... I didn't deserve to be loved by God.
The following year I moved away and the scars from the church followed me. I thought I would be safe at a new church but I wasn't. I decided no more church. I wasn't a christian... I was the devil.
In the years since, I have sung in churches as a staff soloist and I have even made it to the church Joan was working for to sing in the choir a few times. Still not deserving, I would refuse communion. The anxiety is always extreme but being with Joan I would feel safe.
Two things Joan has told me that have stuck with me during my time of exclusion.
1. You can be happy with God... you can be sad with God... you can also be angry with God.
2. God told man to spread his word... man is not perfect thus the word is not always spread the way God may have intended.
A few years ago I created this video to help in the healing of what I call a time I was such a bad person even God hated me.
BlueRoad: Dear Pastor from Jaclyn Heyen on Vimeo.
The past few years I would not even go near a church none the less step into one for a service. I do miss singing especially during the holiday season. Holidays are another thing I gave up in the past few years. Trying to find what works for me I try to educate myself in all religions and spiritual tracks. I need some sort of spirituality and am working on what exactly that means to me. Part of allowing spirituality is letting go of this notion I am somehow not deserving.
This last Sunday I had a great opportunity. I was meeting a new friend... .someone who was recommended I connect with that might be helpful with my church past and just a great person all around. I met Christy Wade who is the Pastoral Care Director at LOVEboldly. When we decided to meet on Sunday I asked if she would be willing to go with me to the church where Joan has been working. I had not seen Joan for around 6 or so years... but I knew if I was to step into a church again this would be the opportunity to do so. Christy said yes and we met at church... of course not on a simple Sunday but on a communion Sunday.
We sat in the very back of the church... thinking I would be able to sneak out if needed but this older lady sat at the end of the isle so we were stuck. I had a bit of anxiety and had a hard time staying present throughout the service but I spotted Joan and with Christy with me I knew I was safe.
I decided I would only take communion if Joan was serving... and low and behold she was... and on our side. I had no excuse... I just needed to do it. My heart was racing as I was waiting our turn. When I got up to Joan she gave me the smile, said 'Welcome, Jackie' and gave me a hug. I took a very small piece of bread, dunked it in the grape juice and stuck it in my mouth. You would of thought that bread soaked up the entire glass of grape juice... the taste was so intense. It felt like it weighed 3000 pounds. I walked back to our seat telling myself all will be well. As we got to our pew the lady sitting at the end of the row was putting on her coat to leave and she says to me 'Come back to church'.
Welcome... Come back to church... I about fell over... almost cried. How did they know the right words to say?? Then I realized that should be the only way one feels in church. They should feel welcome and know they are wanted back. Not because we are all sinners but because we are all human and long for community.
One thing I have noticed about church is they try all these ways to get people in the seats. Projectors, rock bands, pyrotechnics... whatever to get people to come back to church. Thinking it is tradition that keeps people away. Give me a good hymn sing any day over the projector induced unison. I actually carry a hymnal in TicTac and I pull it out every once in a while and sing thru the parts of a hymn.
What a mask they wear instead of fixing the real issue why people are not coming to church. It goes back to the people. If the people are not welcoming... not loving of all people... why would anyone want to be a part of that community??
Will I go back to church... no... I am going to stay a human in humanity. Learning every day to love myself, love all people and live each moment for that is all that is given to me.
The scars of church will always be a part of me... a part of my makeup... but now I know the church does not control me... that I am worthy like everyone else. Everyone deserves to be loved and everyone is loved by God.
My heart feels full... I am truly blessed by amazing women in my life.