There’s no easy way to start this post. In, quite literally, the time it took to snap our fingers, our lives completely changed. Looking back, it was 100% a spiritual attack. (And this is coming from a girl raised in the Southern Baptist Church. I don’t throw around phrases like “spiritual attack” flippantly!) From the time it took to load up our U-Haul and unload it at our new house, our lives were turned upside down. I can tell you about the time the kids on our street would gather together and chant, “Jesus sucks!” whenever they saw our family. Or, about the young man in our neighborhood who would writhe on the floor, covering his ears, when we’d start to sing worship music. But, instead, I’m going to tell you about how our oldest son entered into a storm cloud of depression that consumed our family for years.
Like a light switch, his personality completely changed. We chalked it up to hormones because he was entering that phase of life, but it was more than that. There was no reprieve from the darkness. He was consumed with every bad thought that entered his mind and the more he tried to push it away, the worse it became. The guilt was too much and eventually the tears and helplessness overtook his sweet soul. I prayed and fasted, searched the scriptures, nothing was elevating the oppression and we became desperate.
At this point, we hadn’t been back to a Sunday morning service at our church for about 5 weeks. I needed space to breathe because my attitude and heart were toxic. I knew it. That’s what made all of this so painfully difficult. I didn’t trust leadership in the church for a multitude of reasons and if I couldn’t trust them with teaching my family truth, how was I going to be able to trust them to lead us through this. After living through the darkest week of my life… up to this point… I called the two people I knew would be honest, no matter what. They are STILL the people I call, despite moving to Arkansas a billion years ago, whenever we need advice and trusted discernment.
After explaining the situation with our son, they told us we needed to call our pastor. They assured us that despite our current situation, he loved us and that he and his wife were the closest thing to family we had. And she was right. What many people don’t know is that in our will, we entrusted two couples with the responsibility of raising our four children if something should ever happen to us. The first was this couple in Arkansas and the other was our pastor and his wife. We considered them family. We spent holidays with them; they watched our kids when we went to the hospital. They were family… and that’s what made this all the more difficult. But, I knew she was right and humbled myself to ask for help.
I remember the call like it was yesterday. I remember calling while I was in the car, stopped at a stoplight in front of the grocery store by our house. I remember the receptionist, a dear friend, picking up the phone and I remember praying in my head that she wouldn’t put me straight to voicemail. I remember pleading with God that our pastor would actually take the call when he knew it was me on the other line. I remember the rush of adrenaline I felt when I heard his voice on the other end of the phone. I began telling him about our son… how in less than 24 hours his personality had completely changed, how his mind was consumed with thoughts he couldn’t escape, how I would hold him as he cried, pleading with me to help him and unable to do anything that offered true, lasting comfort. I remember crying uncontrollably, desperate for any bit of hope and direction our pastor could offer. But, that was the last thing I received.
By the time I finished explaining everything, my car was safely parked back in the driveway. I turned off the ignition and sat expectantly for wise counsel. This was, by the way, a man who had studied biblical counseling in college, he would undoubtedly know how to walk us through this darkness. I was expecting him to offer us a time to come in for a conversation and to pray. I was expecting him to ask how my son was doing. I was expecting for compassion and a shepherding heart. What I actually received fell inexplicably short of those expectations.
There was a short pause after I stopped speaking. I still remember twisting my car keys through the ring claps, gripping them so tightly my finger tips were turning white and began to ache. The soft sound of hiccups, proof of the previous deluge of tears, interrupted by one disjointed comment, “Well, Deirdre. I don’t know what to tell you… that’s tough.” I’ll spare you the remaining dialogue. (I almost remember it verbatim. I have a CRAZY memory, especially when it comes to moments that leave an indelible scar on my life.) But, long story short, our pastor, a trained counselor, advised us to visit the Focus On the Family website to find a counseling referral for our son. PLEASE, LET THAT SINK IN. There was no offer to meet with our son, or with us. There was no offer to personally refer us to someone he trusted. There was no offer to pray with us. We were simply advised to find a referral on a website. The end. And he NEVER called to check up on us. Not once.
I remember hanging up the phone, unable to grasp what just happened. It took a few minutes, but the anger finally began to boil in my blood. I remember being able to almost taste the adrenaline in my mouth. It was like I had been sucking on a mouthful of brand new, shiny pennies. Then this horrific sound escaped my mouth. (Only three other times has this happened in my life: when both of my parents died and at another pivotal moment about 18 months after this incident.) Looking back, I felt betrayed and abandoned by the church… at a time when I needed it the most. Our family DESPERATELY needed a shepherd, a pastor. We soon began to realize, after talking to so many others, TRUE pastors were hard to come by. Those entrusted with the spiritual shepherding of their flock were being replaced by gifted orators who could captivate an audience.
We recently saw the pervasiveness of this conundrum while traveling. Our family makes it a priority to visit different churches when we’re on the road, but making that decision can prove difficult when there’s a plethora to choose from. Interestingly enough, the BEST filter has been eliminating those who promote their pastors’ books or speaking tours on their church websites. (And PLEASE hear my heart on this: I don’t have a problem with books and speaking tours. I’ve benefited from the words of many men and women a faith through these mediums. It’s more about the culture we’ve created where pastors use their roles in the church as a stepping stone to “bigger” platforms…. especially when it comes at the cost of shepherding the flock entrusted to them.)
At this point, our family hadn’t officially left the church in question, because I had committed to leading the Women’s Bible Study for the summer and was still spear-heading the young adults ministry. But, we were transitioning to another church. I was hopeful this experience would be better… that a season of healing and restoration was upon us. It seems almost laughable now because our family was about to walk into a nightmare. But, God is SO GOOD and He most definitely used this impending season to propel us into our current mission. Be The Change Youth Initiative most certainly would NOT exist today if we hadn’t walked through those fires.