The wooden swing I sat on creaked as I slowly swung back and forth, languidly trailing my bare feet over the cool green grass. I felt tears welling in my eyes. My heart ached. I felt empty inside.
It had been over a month since we had left the church I loved. I had made multiple attempts to spend time with my best friend Kelly, despite the many irritating things she had done. Once I make a friend, I like to be friends forever. I didn’t want to lose her simply because we left the church.
My entire way of existing had been drastically altered. It was as though my very foundation had shifted. I knew each and every person in that small church. For the three years we had attended, I had finally gotten the support, encouragement, and appreciation I had always craved but never gotten in a church family before. It was as though I had finally reached that perfect niche in church family and then once I found it, it was cruelly yanked from my grasp.
Tears spilled out onto my cheeks. I missed my friends. I missed seeing familiar faces every week who smiled at me and truly cared how I was doing. I missed the pastor, for even though he ruled with a dysfunctional and controlling hand, he had used to treat me in a loving, kind manner. He had been like a second father to me. I missed the group of girls I had always hung out with. I felt incomplete, alone, and isolated.
I longed to see my friend, Kelly. I had attempted to get together with her multiple times and had asked her parents’ permission to take her to lunch for her upcoming birthday, but they would never give me a straight answer. I had emailed them three different times as the date drew closer, and each time they gave me the same answer, “We are traveling a difficult road right now, and we can’t answer at this time.”
What kind of a noncommittal, inconclusive answer is that, anyway? I smeared my tears away and gritted my teeth with irritation. I just wanted a yes or a no answer, it was simple. I didn’t understand why Kelly’s parents didn’t just say what they really thought.
My phone vibrated with a text message. Apparently, there was going to be volleyball at the local Sonic downtown tonight. I brightened. Volleyball sounded like the perfect way to burn off some stress and forget my troubled feelings for a few hours.
Within minutes, I was in flip flops and volleyball shorts and headed down to Sonic. As I pulled up, I saw the bright yellow volleyball flying up and over the net. There was a large group already there. I felt better already. The people who primarily played at Sonic were people I knew from church and local kids.
My eyes searched the crowd for familiar faces and landed on a thin, tall girl with a wild mop of curly dark hair. It was Kelly!
I quickly found my way to her. “Kelly!” I grinned at her and extended my arms for a hug. “How are you?”
Kelly wouldn’t meet my eyes, and her hug was halfhearted. My heart sank at her cool behavior. I wanted to scream with frustration. I wanted to ask her what her parents were saying about me and my family, what was really going on. “I’m good, Lotte. How are you?” Her tone was indifferent, almost robotic.
“Um, I’m ok.” I decided to cut to the chase. “Is your mom or dad here?”
My abrupt question caught Kelly off guard. “Uh, yeah, I think my dad is still here, I just got here.” She pointed him out and I marched over to where he stood, my heart pounding.
“Sir!” I decided to be as respectful as possible, hoping it would gain me favor.
“Oh hello Lotte.” Neil looked tired, and he eyed me warily.
I forged on. “I haven’t been able to spend any time with Kelly lately and I have been trying to get an answer from you guys for weeks now. I want to take Kelly out for her birthday. We would just go to the city and come back after lunch, nothing super special. Can I please have an answer?”
Neil’s gaze turned icy. Chilled, I backed away a step. “Don’t challenge me, Lotte. You will have your answer when we decide you will.”
I wasn’t about to be set aside so easily. “I need to know! If you’re going to say no then just SAY IT! I just want a yes or a no answer. I can’t plan anything for her birthday if I don’t have an answer. I have a life you know.”
In the space of five seconds, Neil’s gaze turned from ice to malevolent fire. “How DARE you challenge me?!” He nearly shouted. “You are being disrespectful right now, young lady!” He advanced on me and I retreated, frightened. “Don’t EVER challenge me, it is not your place!” Without another word, he stalked off.
I swallowed hard, my hands shaking. He had NEVER treated me like that before. I was in shock. Was I really being disrespectful by simply asking for an answer? In my heart, I knew I wasn’t. I felt sickened. Obviously, the regard he once had for me was long gone. I had never been looked at with such contempt and venom. I felt like a flower that had been stepped on, my petals wilting beneath the heavy burden of Neil’s heel.
Without another word, I fled the volleyball court and sped away in my car. I could hardly see the road through my onslaught of tears. How could he treat me like this? How could a family we have loved for 3 years turn their backs on us simply because we left their church? We didn’t say anything against them. We just left. It wasn’t fair. My heart was crushed by their rejection.
Despite the pain I felt, the response I had just received only confirmed what I had already suspected. The pastor I had once looked up to and the family we had been close to no longer wanted us in their lives. Because we had not conformed to their version of “perfect,” we were no longer desired as friends. And once again, I was outside the “clique,” no longer the favored one because I challenged behavior I didn’t understand.
I felt as though all the positive aspects of church life I had finally enjoyed were like demons laughing in my face. A cruel taste of having a church family before being taken away. I think it would’ve been better if I’d never gone to that church at all. I can’t bear losing everyone I loved and knowing that they are speaking falsehoods about me and my family. I wept bitter tears all the way home. Lord, I don’t understand! My heart cried out. Why did we grow so close to these people only to lose everything now? How can this be Your will that people treat each other like this? Where is the grace, the love, the acceptance?
This isn’t My will, child. You know that I love you. The still small voice whispered in my head. I stilled, and my tears slowly abated. My will is that My children love each other, not alienating away from people who are different than they. I ate with tax collectors and sinners. And the “religious” were the first to point the finger at Me, their Creator.
I took comfort in this. It was true. Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, had been judged harshly by the Pharisees because He had taken the time to befriend and reach out to the “sinners.” I knew that the pastor and his family were wrong for treating people the way they did. Though it gave me a degree of comfort, my pain was turning to anger now. How could they do this? How could they cut people off who simply don’t go to their church or don’t believe everything exactly the same as they do? Sounds like a cult to me! The thought horrified me. Looking back on the years of controlling, isolating, and bizarre behavior, I realized that the church HAD been more like a cult than anything.
Lord, please help me! My heart cried out. Help me to not grow bitter. Help me to see them with YOUR eyes. To see people with YOUR eyes. I never want to treat anyone the way I and my family have been treated by these so called “Christians.” Help me to love people, as You do. I looked up, finally dry eyed.
I swayed on the wooden swing at my house, moving in the gentle breeze. “I will endeavor to love people. I want people to see the love of Jesus in me, not to feel judged and rejected, as I have.” I whispered to myself. “God forgive me if I ever do to others what I have had done to me by well intentioned “Christians.”
I was exhausted. Wearied by a lifetime of church going and dead, empty religion, surrounded by people who wore their righteousness in various badges like church service and other empty acts devoid of real feeling or love—purely performance for the accolades of other Christians with their masquerading masks on. Everyone hid their true feelings, hid their imperfections, and hid their pain. The failure of this most recent church was the final straw. I was done. Utterly exhausted. Sick of pretending and trying to be perfect.
If I can’t find a church that has both spiritual depth and genuine, loving people who don’t judge, then I would rather not go to church at all. Ever. The thought shocked and disturbed me. I had been a church goer my entire life, having been taught that the value of church family was irreplaceable and needed for a healthy Christian’s growth. Well, look where that has gotten me. Heart sick and soul weary. I just need a break. Time to forget a lifetime of hurts.
Then and there I made a resolution to myself. I am not going to get deeply involved in a church again until I am SURE they aren’t going to treat me like this. I would NOT be burned like this by church again. I clung to the hope that loving, non-judgmental Christians existed in a church body. Somewhere. I just had to find them.
My heartbeat quickened as I waited for the anticipated call. I had a new guy. His name was Cade. I love that name, sounds so masculine! He was of medium height and had piercing, intelligent dark eyes and dark hair. I was intrigued. His picture looked clean cut and handsome.
I absently drummed my fingers on my desk as I perused the dating profile I had spread out before me, showing all of Cade’s information. I was getting this down to a science. We were friends on Facebook and he seemed normal, although I had noted his status posts seemed rather…emotional for a guy. He seemed to have a lot of ups and downs. Still, he was in the military and had recently joined, so I chalked it up to his difficult environment.
My phone rang and I picked it up. “Hello!”
His voice sounded like he’d just gone through puberty, still a little crackly. “Yes, is this Cade?”
“Yes, hi! How are you?”
Pleasantries and conversation commenced. I silently evaluated what I heard, picking up on his personality and idiosyncrasies. I always did this, taking in everything I could about a guy and putting all the pieces together after a few weeks of talking.
Cade told me about how hard his life was in the military and that he was allergic to horses, berries of any kind, and peanuts.
“You poor guy!” I exclaimed. “I would be so sad if I was allergic to those things!”
“Yeah, it’s kind of a bummer.”
“So changing subjects, what made you want to try a dating site?” I asked.
He laughed cynically. “Well, given the fact that 99% of girls hear the word military and run the other way, I thought this might give me a chance of finding someone.”
“Aw really?” I feigned surprise, knowing this was my first instinct as well. It had been my mother who had convinced me to give young Cade a chance, even though he was in the military.
“Yeah I know, it’s stupid. I have a steady job and good benefits. I’m better off than a lot of guys, actually!” His tone was defensive.
“I’ll bet you are! So have you met anybody interesting on the site thus far?”
Cade laughed and again it was cynical. “Well yeah, but it didn’t work out at all like I thought.”
“Basically, I was talking to this girl and she seemed super interested in me. I arranged to drive to see her and she lived several hours away so it was no small feat! I got there, and basically she ignored me! She barely would talk to me, she seemed totally disinterested, and I wasted a trip. I don’t know if she changed her mind or what.”
“How weird!” I shook my head. “Sounds like she gave you the run around! That’s so wrong!”
“Yeah, I haven’t had the best experience with girls in general.” His sigh was self-pitying.
“I’m sorry, that’s hard. Why haven’t you had good experiences? What do girls generally do?” I could tell Cade was beginning to let his guard down and get comfortable with me.
“Girls are just stupid and shallow! They always want this “perfect guy” to romance them and always tell them what they want to hear and pay for everything and he has to have the perfect skin and build and muscles!” Frustration and bitterness oozed from his words.
“I’m sorry girls have treated you badly. Maybe I can change your opinion of the fairer sex! Not all girls are shallow and vain, you know.”
“Oh I know, it’s just hard to find a good one. They all expect me to be perfect.” His tone was despairing.
“Maybe you just haven’t met the right one!” I smiled.
Well don’t be so overcome with enthusiasm here. I thought, amused. Then Cade surprised me.
“I have been really impressed with you, Lotte. I’ve never talked to anyone like you. You seem fun, easy to talk to, level headed, and sweet. I am very interested in getting to know you.”
I blushed with pleasure. “Thank you, Cade! I would be interested in getting to know you too! You seem nice and I’ve enjoyed talking to you!”
We agreed to continue talking on a regular basis and pleasantly concluded the conversation.
Weeks passed. Cade and I continued talking. Although I didn’t dislike him per se, I definitely wasn’t crazy about him. There was a sort of desperate neediness about him that completely turned me off. Not obvious, but definitely there. I felt like I was suffocating. He was ALWAYS calling me or texting me about how hard the military life was and how depressed he was and on and on it went. I began to dread his calls for fear of another whine session. I felt bad to not feel more empathetic, but as I’ve said before, I was used to manly men. Men who took it on the chin and didn’t whine about everything and say how hard everything was.
It was Monday night which meant competitive volleyball at an indoor court where my brother and I enjoyed playing. Derek and I walked inside the church building and a wonderful sound met my ears. The sound of volleyballs hitting the floor, the wall, and extended arms as people practiced. There were two courts to play on and everyone was getting warmed up. I couldn’t wait to play.
My phone began to vibrate. Glancing at it, I saw it was Cade. I grimaced. Please don’t be another whine fest…please be happy today. I silently wished and answered the call. “Hi Cade, how are you doing?”
“Hey Lotte. I’m…feeling kinda down. I was hoping you could cheer me up.”
I wanted to shoot myself but I rallied the troops. “Sure, what’s going on?”
It was more of the same stuff I had heard. Being in boot camp was hard and he missed being home and he was depressed and the workouts were hard, etc. I had heard it all a hundred times by this point. The first dozen times, I had been empathetic, but now my patience was wearing thin. Cade was a constant wet blanket, an Eeyore to my Tigger. Not only was Cade clingy and needy but he was depressed half the time and incredibly insecure. All of which I pitied, but I couldn’t fix for him. Happiness had to come from within.
I did my best to listen and cheer the guy up. Thirty minutes later, I disengaged myself as politely as I could and engrossed myself in playing volleyball. As I smacked the ball over the net with skill, I felt a bit of my annoyance ebbing slowly away. Volleyball is therapeutic. I don’t know if I can take much more of this Cade guy. I have about had it.
In the last five weeks that we had talked, Cade was always courteous and nice to me, but increasingly needy and often moody. All of which was not attractive to me. I wanted a man who was well balanced and didn’t NEED me to survive, but WANTED me to enhance his life. I was all about enhancing, not being someone’s oxygen tank. I nodded inwardly. Yes, I think Mr. Military Man is about to get canned.
But you can’t let the poor guy down while he’s going through military boot camp! That would send him over the edge! Then he would be super bummed out! My conscience complained.
I knew this was true. I sighed. Fine, I will wait to tell him until AFTER he finishes boot camp. I’m not heartless.
It was going to be a long next couple of weeks.
I poured my heart and soul into writing Cade letters and trying to keep as upbeat and encouraging as possible. I felt sorry for the guy. I knew basic training was hard and he was taking it hard. I sent him a letter a week and listened attentively when he got a chance to call me.
At last, the end of his military training was over. I waited one more week, and then made my move. Cade, I texted, I need to talk to you as soon as you get a chance. Please call me.
Ok sure! His response was immediate. Within seconds, my phone rang.
I DREADED these conversations. I always agonized over what to say, trying to make my rejection as sweet and nice as possible but still get my decision across.
“Hi Cade, how are you?”
“I’m okay, what’s going on?”
“Well, I needed to talk to you about how I’m feeling…” Using that as my lead in, I gently communicated that I appreciated him as a friend, but I wasn’t feeling that special attraction.
Cade was silent for a long moment. “Lotte, this breaks my heart. I was really hopeful it would be different with you. Can you please be a little more specific? What am I doing that scared you away?”
I couldn’t bring myself to say anything negative. I knew how delicate his state of mind was and how easily he fell into depression. The last thing he needed was to have his flaws underlined and pointed out. “It’s not you, Cade, it’s just how I feel. Sometimes two people are great, just not great together.” I lied to spare his feelings.
Cade wasn’t buying it. “Please Lotte, just tell me!”
“No, it isn’t you!”
“No!” I wouldn’t budge.
“I guess there’s nothing more to say then.” The phone clicked off and I stared at it, surprised. That turkey didn’t even say goodbye! Rude! I frowned. I hope he’s okay. I went to text him but before I could, my phone began to ding repeatedly from received texts from none other than Cade.
My eyebrow arched and I rolled my eyes as I read the texts. The first one read, Lotte, how could you just end things like that?! I know we had something special!
The next text read: You’re just like all those other girls!
But the icing on the cake was the final text: You’re just vain and shallow because I have a bad complexion!
At this, I burst out laughing. What the heck?! That came out of nowhere! Cade’s complexion wasn’t perfect, but it was decent. Nothing to be overly critical about. I had never even noticed his complexion until now.
I responded to his texts, refuting his silly accusations with patient precision and logic. Cade wouldn’t believe me.
I know that’s what it is! You just don’t like me because my face isn’t perfect like those stupid movie stars! Cade’s text read.
I rolled my eyes. He was not listening to a word I was saying. I sent my last text: Cade, you can choose to believe that if you want to, but that isn’t the truth. I never had a problem with your complexion. I’m so sorry to disappoint you, but it would be wrong of me to continue on with you without expressing my feelings.
At that, his texts ceased. I sighed. Rising, I went back inside the house.
My parents were sitting on the sofa watching TV.
“How did it go?” Mom asked.
I made a face. “Not very well. He thinks I’m shallow and that I broke it off because of his complexion.”
“Really?!” Mom laughed. “He sounds super insecure. And that’s silly, his complexion was fine!”
“I know, right?!” I rolled my eyes.
Mom began to sing. “Another one bites the dust! Another one gone, another one gone, another one bites the dust! Ching ching!”
I laughed. “Mom, you’re too cruel!”
“Ah, but it’s true!” She laughed. “On to the next!”
I felt a huge sense of relief that it was over with Cade. I felt like he had been sucking my oxygen with every sentence he uttered. Time to move on.
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