Tag Archives: cult

A Dream Goes on Forever

A little known Todd Rundgren song is a favorite of mine: A Dream Goes on Forever.

My interpretation? Our dreams sustain us through difficult times. They are unsinkable corks, bouncing up as lifesavers (sometimes despite our best efforts to drown in our sorrows.)

Like flowers yearning to break through the cracks of cement, these resilient buggers called dreams stretch onward and upward.

“A dream deferred makes the heart sick…”

Oh, boy (or oy vey!) I’ve had some sick hearts over the course of 56 years. From not getting the part of Dorothy in the 4th-grade play (and instead, cast as the Lion) to watching my younger friends marry during my single 20’s and 30’s, life dumped some #$%^@ on some of my dreams.

“…but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” – Proverbs 13:12

Beating out thousands to land a job as one of the original QVC Show Hosts! Finally walking down the aisle to a packed church cheering the end of my single days!

Some of you quizzically read those last two lines, knowing that I was unceremoniously dumped by the shopping network and cut bait on an unfulfilling marriage after 14 years.

Hey, weren’t those dreams fulfilled supposed to be trees of life?

Well, they were. For a season.

My tears dried after losing the part of Dorothy. Life went on. Life marches on! What mattered SO much once is just (as my friend Roseann likes to say) a pimple on an elephant’s ass.

Gotta love my spicy Roseann-isms.

Thoughts of dreams stirred my soul this week when immersed in a Sex and the City marathon. The show begins in their twenties with invincibility fueled by cosmopolitans and a fabulous foursome of friends. Over the course of a decade we watch breakups, losses, cancer, babies and so much more that Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte could never have imagined.

Had they a crystal ball, they might have avoided most of their adventures to avoid pain.

And so might have I, as I pondered this photo from my past:

This photo captures the moment in time when I prepared to graduate from college. Already working in my chosen field, there was no doubt in my mind I would be the next Diane Sawyer.

It was my dream to write and speak words. To use them skillfully to inspire and inform.

Also, to be fabulously wealthy and famous. (Look, I’ve never claimed to be Mother Theresa.)

Oh, had I a crystal ball I would have definitely bypassed that QVC audition, kept driving past the church (that ended up being a cult)…

…but in the choices made to avoid pain, I would have lost some of my best stories. And my best friends.

I may not be Diane Sawyer, but I’m really glad to be Brenda Viola.

Yes, Viola. I loved my ex, still hold affection for him, and love that last name. It fits!

Just as I have changed over the years (my taste for pitch black, sky-high hair replaced by golden highlights), my dreams also evolved. Some have come true! (Published author, anyone?) Some remain to be fulfilled.

But that’s the beauty of life.

I believe the dreams of our hearts are Divinely planted. And they must grow! They will materialize in perfect form when the gestation period has ended.

But aren’t we supposed to learn lessons from disappointments?

Sure!

And once learned, we move forward. To think that life is meant to be a constant string of lessons learned from heartbreaks runs counter to the idea that God (Source, the Divine, All That Is) is good and life should be happy.

I believe life should be happy.

Perhaps my message today is if you are pregnant with a dream, don’t abort it.

Turning your back on your dream is to turn away from your very self.

Your dreams are intertwined with your gifts and answer the question, “Who am I?”

They light you up. You feel most alive when expressing from that deep, holy part within you where the dream lives.

This is what you were made for!

John Russo croons a standard from the Rat Pack. My sister, Shirlee, acts on a moment of inspiration and whips up a calligraphy masterpiece. Artists are brave souls!

I have friends who claim they don’t have dreams. Oh, but when they express their gifts, they so beautifully live their purpose.

Maybe that’s a better word…purpose.

But I’ll stick with dreams. And I hope you stick with them, too.

On this topic of how what we want evolves over time and how when WE change, everything changes, here’s this week’s video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7S8BZ-CNsc&feature=youtu.be

If your dreams are feeling choked, your hope has been deferred, and you feel a bit adrift – take heart. We all weather such storms. These, too, shall pass.

Ask for the grace to help in time of need (and don’t be afraid to ask for help.)

Much love –

Brenda

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You Don’t Have to “Sell” the Truth

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 bawled.

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:

https://youtu.be/I01_2fOZ47w

It is rare to have a two-word WOW. I wonder what opportunities to put yourself out there on behalf of someone else will present themselves this week?

Let me know what happens as you take them!

Much love,

Brenda

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Forgiveness and Gratitude (and a New WOW!)

It’s been a deep dive into the topic of forgiveness these past two weeks, which has spurred reflection on some of the low-lights of my life story.

Remarkably, when I look over my shoulder, where there used to be painful stings, there are instead wellsprings of gratitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been WRONGED.

Yes, used and abused. Baited and switched!  Misled and taken advantage of, too.

There could be a host of sad country songs written about the girl who was 100 pounds in kindergarten, whose dad died when she was 10, who gave her all to a church cult, married a man she hardly knew, became alcohol dependent, and then left him 14 years later to enter uncharted territory.

Can you cue the wailing?

Except, all there is, for me, is gratitude.

That 100-pound little girl learned to develop more than a pretty face to survive.

My dad’s death gave me the gift of appreciating the fragility of life and the importance of saying “I love you” as if it could be the last time you see a loved one’s face or hear their voice.

The cult, while trying its darnedest to warp my faith in Spirit and destroy my trust in people, still gave me some of the best friends a girl could ever have.  They will be with me forever, as the sad and angry memories fade into nothingness.

My marriage?  We made it to Sarasota – together!  I think we are both grateful for the journey that got us here. Plus, there’s no doubt Duane Viola will be my friend for life.  He loved me and jumped through a million hoops set up by the church to help me escape.  I’ll be forever grateful for the years we were partners in life.

Finally escaping the dullness of an alcohol-soaked life and the strength it took to become truly sober led me to today’s clear-eyed focus, and a desire to live-life fully.  (I am eternally grateful that the many falls and near misses didn’t “off” me prematurely – and I am grateful for the forgiveness offered to me by many who I offended with my slurry behavior.)

And then making a break to chart a new course as a single woman at age-54?

Well, that story is being written as I type these words today.  But I think Rascal Flatts said it best:

I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through

I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you
That every long lost dream lead me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms

This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
Yes it did

I think about the years I spent just passing through
I’d like to have the time I lost and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You’ve been there you understand
It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
And others who broke my heart they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know it’s true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
Yeah

And now I’m just rolling home
Into my lover’s arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you

That God blessed the broken road
Ooh, ooh
That led me straight to you

Yes, wounded.  But, yes, healed.  And I wouldn’t trade a thing that led me to this lovely, holy space in this life.  

Friends, I hope you can say the same.

Here’s an exhortation to take us from the word FORGIVENESS to a new word to end the month of January 2018:

May we each know with CLARITY our next step forward!

Sending you bunches of love and gratitude for the connection we share.

xoxoxox

Brenda

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Thoughts on Troublemaker: Leah Remini’s Book on Scientology

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.

Leah, the best is yet to come.

 

 

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