When someone throws the big-time sell at you, don’t ignore your internal GPS truth system.
I recall sitting at a kitchen table with an earnest couple who gave me the sales pitch of a lifetime about how joining their church would ensure I’d fulfill God’s purpose for my life.
They persistently pounded on the need to be planted, despite my dreams of travel. My television career was in its infancy, and in TV, you couldn’t stay put in the Delaware Valley (one of the top markets in the country) and gain the experience you needed to rise through the ranks.
The thought of moving to Lima, Ohio to hone my craft…and then to a middle market and finally, a big city – maybe even back home to Philly – thrilled me. This was the path I knew led to my desired outcome: A successful career in broadcast journalism.
And I was being told; being SOLD, that staying put was what GOD wanted.
I remember sloppy tears streaming down my face and crying, “But why would God want something for me that I DON’T want?”
“Ah,” they said. “That’s the voice of rebellion trying to talk you out of the will of God.”
Since when do you have to sell someone on the will of God?
Still, not wanting to rebel against God, I acquiesced.
Fourteen years later, this “church” revealed to be a cult, and over the course of those fourteen years I had the very life sucked out of me. Each “sell” involved me taking action counter to my God-given instincts.
Any resistant truth I haltingly uttered resulted in ME as the guilty party for daring to question authority. Chastised for wanting some semblance of normalcy (like, say, dating, establishing credit or having medical benefits), giving credence to my feelings signaled carnality.
Feelings, they said, were liars. Only the spiritually weak listened to feelings.
This was the master stroke of control that made me a walking zombie. I could quote any scripture for any situation, but I had lost the ability to think for myself. Why? Because when I dared to do so, it resulted in “counseling” and threats of disqualification for the ministry.
I often wonder if an alternative universe exists in which I left that table and listened to my heart. Who might I be today?
Fortunately, I believe everything is always working out for me and boy has it. To this day, the dearest people in my life are those that I met in the cult. Those I escaped with are the kind and tender friends who helped me find my mind again. But it took YEARS; even another fourteen, to fully understand the danger of suppressing my internal emotional guidance system: my feelings.
To realize that if it doesn’t feel good, it isn’t in alignment with that which is Divine.
Jesus doesn’t want or need me to suffer for him to prove my love.
And the truth sets you free.
I own my part in the charade because I abdicated my ability to choose for my life. At first, I thought they were more spiritual and would know better than me how I should serve God. Later, I acquiesced mostly just to stay out of their counseling offices where the most vile twisting of truth would render me full of self-loathing and confusion.
The good news is that truth won. It never fails to rise to the top and it will win the day.
And when you truly are flowing with the Divine, there’s no such thing as lost time.
We are eternal beings. And we’ve only just begun.
My parting thoughts on TRUTH and a double whammy WOW:
Saying goodbye is never easy. I’m getting on a plane this week and know that every minute of every day, I’m going to miss my Mark, my bed, my morning coffee (made MY way) and my regular rhythm of life.
I will be moving soon (that’s ANOTHER blog post for another day) and I realize that pieces of furniture I’ve LOVED just don’t fit into the new place, so I have to say goodbye.
And my closet? It’s still got that gown from 20 years ago that PERHAPS my thigh could get into, but for pure nostalgia’s sake, I haven’t the wherewithal to say goodbye to it.
DISCLAIMER: I am DELIGHTED that I didn’t say goodbye to my black leather skirt from 2002. Because for the first time since then, I can wear it again! (Go me!)
Then there are the deep and profound goodbyes that are the signposts of moving on; growing into yourself – and settling into your own self worth.
I posted this meme this week and it was widely shared, but one comment struck me: “Easier said than done.”
No one said it would be easy.
Likely, this “getting rid of what doesn’t make you happy” kind of goodbye will rip your guts out. It will leave you heaving in sobs on the floor. It will cause you to question your sanity.
The comfortable ditch of misery will try to call you back – or at least call your judgment into question.
Seeming friends will call you selfish, or worse, cruel for saying goodbye.
Religious types will muse about your departure with head shakes and concerns about fulfilling your holy calling.
Drinking buddies will say, “You don’t have a problem! One glass won’t hurt…”
But you know you must go.
Whether it is a relationship, or a church, or a job, or anything with which (or whom) you have been entangled, there is a breaking point. And you know, for your own sanity; for your well being; for any hope of having a life of peace and joy, you MUST sever this tie.
Some of you are nodding your heads. You’ve been there and come out the other side. I applaud your bravery.
Some of you are teetering on the edge of the diving board, looking that long way down and terrified of jumping.
I get it.
On the three biggest goodbye decisions of my life I teetered for YEARS. I talked myself out of cutting bait because I kept assuming I was wrong; that I was the problem. So I kept working on me.
That’s not a bad thing. In all that working on me, I learned some great things and grew tremendously. (INSERT PRIVATE JOKE: My friend Cindy and I have coined a phrase, “I learned me something…” when we have an aha moment. It is horrible grammar but makes us giggle.)
There came a point where it became pointless to keep working on me.
The boat only goes around in circles if you’re the only one rowing.
Instead, it was time to do something FOR me.
Leaving is hard. But living a life that is unhappy is harder.
In every leaving, there is a rebirth.
You get to create the life you really want…if you are willing to say goodbye to that which no longer serves you.
More on this topic from our Word of the Week, “PURIFICATION” – and a brand new word to sink into for two more weeks:
There are a few songs that bring out the fight in me when I’m feeling down.
The theme from Rocky always does it for me. Bill Conti’s horns always make we want to jump up and down on the couch with my arms raised in the victory pose.
Then there’s that “I get knocked down, but I get up again” song by Chumbawamba. Its actual title is Tubthumping, but I never understood that (or most of the other words.) However, that fighter’s chorus just gets my blood thumping. (Or rather, “tubthumping?)
Our Word of the Week was WILLINGNESS and the truth is, sometimes I get knocked down and I DO NOT WANT to get up again.
I want to slink into the bedroom with a vat of pistachio gelato, curl under the covers and hibernate for at least a few days. No phone calls; no texts: I “vant to be alone” in full-on Greta Garbo mode.
That’s how I felt when I lost the final round of my Toastmaster’s Humorous Speech competition last fall. I had won the club, area, and district competitions and gave what I felt was my best-ever performance at the BIG finale.
And I didn’t even place.
I smiled through the excruciatingly long awards ceremony, wanting to appear to be the good sport that I hoped I would be.
But I was mad. And I felt robbed.
I swore I would never grace another Toastmasters’ speech competition with my presence and even considered quitting the organization altogether.
No, I am not 9 years old, but I was acting as if.
When the dust settled, I remembered why I got involved with Toastmasters in the first place. I wanted to compete and perfect my craft; I wanted feedback and a track to run on to pursue my dreams.
When you feel like quitting, friends, go back to your “Why?”
Your why is the fuel that will take your legs up to the top of the Art Museum.
Your why makes you willing to try again.
As I write this, I am preparing for a Saturday competition in which I will deliver “How To Fertilize Your Life” – the speech I wrote about a few weeks ago.
Yes, I want to win. But more than that – I want to inspire the crowd assembling at the Gulf Gate Library on a Saturday afternoon. I want to give them something to take with them that will encourage them to kiss their spouses, say thank you to a co-worker or compliment a stranger.
Oh, and yes, I want to win.
My dream is HUGE. I want to be the Toastmasters International Public Speaking Champion. Which means, if I am fortunate enough to win at Gulf Gate this Saturday, I’ve got several layers of the candy cane forest to travel through to get to my destination.
One step at a time, right?
Here’s the thing: We all get hurt. Some wounds are minor bumps and bruises, like losing a speech competition.
Some are more profound, like finding out a church was really a cult and saying, “I’ll never darken the door of another church again.”
My nevers, however, are usually wrapped up in fear. Today I find myself attending a sweet little Center of Light with Mark every Sunday morning and finding joy in the ritual of a spiritual community.
Willingness is not only a trademark of resilience but also of saying YES to life itself.
Let’s not let our failed marriages keep us from being open to love.
Let us try yet again when we fall flat on our faces…
…and not let the past dictate our futures.
We so often wall ourselves up to protect from future disappointments, but then I remember that with every disappointment has come loving comfort by friends who have wooed me back to health. And whattya know, I’m up again and back in the fight.
More on willingness here…and I’ll keep you posted on Facebook about the competition!
Hefty doses of self-acceptance to all of us (no matter HOW the judges rule.)
It’s perfect that the week’s word, beauty, coincides with this planned post to honor my fabulous grandmother, aka Mom-Mom, on the week that would have marked her 111th birthday.
This is what I hope for; that, like my Mom-mom, my time on this earth would be so profound that over 100 years later it still warms the hearts of those I loved.
Edna Ernst Hartsell’s life was a tour de force. Long before independent women were in vogue, she was a career woman, and I still remember her lightening speed on an old, black manual typewriter, spitting out flawless pages (and making quite a racket!)
Many weekends of my youth were spent at her home on Ewan Terrace in Vineland, NJ so my parents could have date nights. We loved learning how to clean (really pretty sneaky, Mom-mom, getting us to think cleaning was fun) and playing jacks or paper dolls on the huge front porch, which was a great gathering place for all of the neighborhood kids.
The best visits were when my sister Shirlee and me were joined by the Shaw Kids, my cousins Johnny, Eddie, Bruce, Debbie and my beloved Kimmy. (I was the baby of the bunch, affectionately called Brendie for many years until FINALLY, Tiffy and Pammie showed up. By the way, do you see a trend? Everyone except Bruce had an “ee” sound at the end of their name. I wonder if he ever noticed that?)
On Friday night, it was pizzas and board games or those soft, snowflake rolls from Catto’s Bakery for perfect lunchmeat sandwiches and running around the perfectly coiffed yard to work off all of our carb and sugar-induced energy. Because my Pop-Pop, the oh-so-handsome Robert Hartsell, was deaf, he didn’t accompany Mom-Mom to many outings (or maybe he just preferred to stay home and garden or cook amazing meals), so I was often her “date” for weddings as well as Tupperware parties, baby showers and a regular calendar of church-related events.
On a road trip with Mom-Mom? You HAD to sing. A long car ride felt like a Broadway show starring rousing hymns like “S is for Sunday School.” There was the upbeat “Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul” and of course, “The Lord’s Army.” (These words are branded on my heart: I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery;I may never fly over land and sea but I’m in the Lord’s ar-my.) Mom-Mom’s signature sound was to sing the base-line, “bum-bum-bum” style, adding a bit of sass and fun to our rolling revue.
My Aunt Joan recalls that when my mother was born, Pop-Pop was on a Navy ship in California. Mom-Mom named my mom Dolores, a name she loved. A nurse came into her room at the hospital and asked what the baby’s name was. When she heard the answer, she gasped, “Do you want to bring sorrow to that child for the rest of her life?” Mom-Mom immediately sent out new birth announcements with the name Edna Elizabeth (her own name.) When Pop-Pop received the second notice, he thought they had had twins! He found out differently when he was able to call home.
But this does beg a question I wish to pose delicately: How could Edna be a better name than Dolores?
The name Edna is anything BUT beautiful. Yet because it belongs to my Mom-Mom, and my Mom, and my sister (thank you GOD not me), there is beauty in it.
Of course, my mom goes by Bette and my sister (Edna Shirlee) goes by Shirlee. Can’t imagine why.
Getting back to memories, during World War 2, Mom-Mom would can everything in sight. Every three months, Pop-Pop would have a weekend leave and would tend to a huge garden. The kids, Joan, Bette and Bobby, would weed it and the pantry would be stocked with green beans, peas, lima beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots and beets. She would even make sauerkraut and grape and strawberry jelly.
Money was tight, but Mom-Mom always managed to take Joan, Bette and Bobby on outings like the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philly. Recalls Aunt Joan, “We would get on the train in Lindenwold to Camden, then take the ferry across the Delaware to the foot of Chestnut Street. We’d walk up Chestnut to the Horn & Hardart restaurant where we could pick out anything for breakfast that we wanted. Mom would give us a handful of nickels and we would go hog wild in the machines. A whole breakfast back then was maybe 25 cents. One year my grandmother was in the hospital on Broad Street, so we went to visit her after the parade and went back to H & H for our Thanksgiving dinner. This was WWII so Pop-Pop wasn’t home. We went back to Camden on the ferry and went to see Snow White at a theater in Camden.”
She continued that tradition of special outings with her grandchildren. Each year she’d take one of us to the big city, Philadelphia, to see the John Wanamaker’s light show.
No telling of Mom-Mom’s story could ignore two facets of her life: Her uncanny ability to coin a phrase and her staunch faith and loyalty to church on Sunday mornings.
If you’re ever at a loss for words, here are some Edna Hartsellism’s that perfectly say what you’re trying to convey:
Need a nap? She’d say “I think you need a bipinsy wook.” (For the uninformed, bipinsy is pronounced BIP-in-zee.)
How to describe a sourpuss? “She looks like she’s wearing a turd for a breast pin.”
Her reply to, “What’s for dinner?”: Layover for meddlers and crutches for lame ducks.
Hot outside? “I’m sweatin’ like a bull.”
Bored with “Go jump in the lake?” Try “Go flop your tonsils.”
Caught farting? Reply, “Better an empty house than a bad tenant.”
Did you clean your dinner plate? I’ll call King William your uncle!” was Mom-Mom’s high praise.
Poor table manners, “I can’t take you to the Bellevue Stratford.”
Reply to “Where are you going?” “I’m going to Manayunk.” (NOTE: We kids didn’t realize Manayunk was actually a real place; we just thought it was a funny word.)
Did something frustrating to Mom-Mom? She’d exclaim: “Help me God!!!!”
Did you really frustrate her to the point of evoking a less than Christian response? “Now you made me sin my soul!”
Gazing upward to consider the answer to a problem? “You won’t find it in the ceiling.”
See someone lazy? They’re “Sitting there like the bells that never rung.”
What do you call the array of treats at a bakery? “Shleck.”
And, whenever you called for her, she would reply from somewhere in the house: “WELL??”
Reading this list it is clear that Edna’s personality had a salty dose of sarcasm; however, her devotion to God and her church provided a sweet balance.
For those of us who spent the weekend, Saturday nights were spent watching Lawrence Welk. We’d pretend her bathrobe was a ball gown like the Lennon Sisters would wear. She’d let us dance on top of her feet around her living room with our hair tied up in rags so we’d have banana curls on Sunday morning for church.
Church was non-negotiable. She was the queen of Sunday School (which meant we always got starring parts in the Christmas concerts.) When passing the collection plate she’d warn, “Thou God See-est Me.” This was meant to dissuade us kids from copping some of the coins when everyone else’s eyes were closed. Getting ready for church, she would take her pot of rouge and put red circles on her cheeks like clown make up. My cousin Pammy would giggle and she’d blend it in.
I remember wading in the ocean with her one summer and saying, “Mom-Mom, who owns the ocean?”
When my sister went to see The Exorcist and I couldn’t sleep, afraid the devil was going to get me, I called her. “Mom-Mom, can I be possessed by the devil?”
“Not if Jesus lives in your heart.”
To this day, I remember how she would kneel beside her bed EVERY night to say her prayers OUT LOUD. I’d always listen, to see if I could get any good dirt on the family (and to make sure she didn’t forget me.)
I didn’t…and she didn’t.
Her prayers completed, she’d groan to the upright position and finally climb into bed, saying, “Thank you GOD for this bed.”
I do the same thing now.
Not the prayers part (sorry, Mom-Mom.) But the exhausted sigh of “Thank you GOD for the bed.” And I think of my sweet Mom-Mom every night as I lay my head on my pillow.
I’ve only scratched the surface here, but I think she is pleased at how her brood turned out. Joan and Bette and Bobby turned into wonderful parents and raised amazing children, many of whom have children of their own (and beyond.)
Not one of us escaped the impact of her life, and for that we are all grateful.
Now for our regularly scheduled parting thoughts on BEAUTY, and the new Word of the Week:
There was a difference between Leah Remini’s 20/20 interview – full of sass, humor and sarcasm – and her later appearance on Good Morning America.
She looked like she’d been crying. And I get it.
Even a decade after leaving a cult, I still have nightmares, flashbacks, tears and torments about my time at the church.
Except for rubbing shoulders with celebrities, I could relate to every component of her book: Friends “reporting” on my missteps or faults “for my own good”; having every injustice performed against me twisted to somehow become MY fault; being demoted and put out to pasture in ministry for daring to ask questions; being the target of smear campaigns against my character and “spirituality” for leaving…
Oh, and keeping the ugly truths from your closest confidants and your spouse – because you don’t want THEM to question their faith or lose devotion to the church. And trying to make sense of it all, somehow, in your mind – because leaving is simply impossible to imagine.
She tried to effect change from within and found it to be a losing proposition. I, too, was a similar troublemaker – and nearly lost my mind in the process.
My heart goes out to Leah; her break with Scientology is still fresh. My heart swells with joy for her, too, and her new opportunity to live life unchained by the scrutiny of a toxic faith. Upon leaving, she likely freed up (at least) an extra 15 hours in her week that she can now use to love on her daughter and husband, enjoy a vacation, or simply do NOTHING.
Least of all, work on herself.
Oh, she eventually will. But with a whole different, happy spin on growing as a human being. It will be an exercise in love, not in fear.
We who leave got there in the first place because we wanted to fulfill our purpose in life; we wanted to be a part of the huge master plan and live a meaningful life. The predators jumped all over that propensity and sucked the time, finances and joy of living from us.
That terrifying line to cross; to declare “This is over. I’m done. I’m leaving” was way harder than quitting drinking or smoking. Because quitting the church was labeled as quitting God and your calling – and if you quit your very purpose in life, where do you go from there?
I was touched by Leah’s mantra: Look at Nicole Kidman. She left and she didn’t die. She didn’t lose her career. She’s okay. I can relate to this kind of self-talk; it was necessary to fight the indoctrinations that predicted doom and destruction for all who exit the fold.
I was also touched by her disarming honesty about her own faults. An admitted loudmouth, troublemaker, rude girl – she preempted the smear campaign with her own admissions of lack.
How does such a smart-ass like her (and like me) end up getting sucked into such a thing?
The Achilles heal is often the need to feel important or special. To matter. To belong. These are not crazy afflictions; they are quite common. For Leah, she was raised in Scientology; I respect her bravery and am so glad for her chutzpah. Who knows how many other people will be emboldened by her public decision?
What are red flags? The two biggest indicators (in retrospect) are the inability to question and the directive to avoid all negative press or people who have left.
If something is real, can’t it withstand scrutiny?
So yes, I devoured her book and boy did it bring back memories. I wish I could thank her in person and give her a hug. I am rooting for her to realize her dreams; for her to flourish in her career and personal life.