Monday, February 15, 2016

Lenten Project List

Here is a list of posts from my Lenten series in 2014, in order.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Forty

It's the close of Lent.  Now it's Easter.  Time to look forward, and rejoice in Hope.

Easter 2012, Messiah Lutheran Church, Mauldin, SC

I've learned and grown through these forty days of my Lenten discipline.  I've faced my failures, admitted my faults, remembered joys, and rejoiced in memories.  Looking back to where I've come and comparing my old self to who I am now, I know I have a ways to go on my journey of life.  But there's good in affirming how much has changed in me since I was a child.

I might still doubt sometimes.  When I do, I run to the cross, dip my fingers in the holy water, and remind myself of my baptism.  I still fail my kids in this mothering business. When that happens, I try to treat them with respect, apologise when I'm wrong, and model repentance to them.  I still have flashbacks and occasionally have a hard time talking about episodes from my past.  But that doesn't mean I shouldn't talk.

I'll keep on talking because over the course of this Lenten Project, I've received numerous messages, emails, texts, and comments from people who have been helped though my telling my story.  There are universal elements, things with which people identify, in each of my posts, stuff that unites us all in this human journey.  This blog series has sparked numerous positive conversations, inspired reconciliations, and reminded others of the Hope we have in Christ.  There have been horrifying stories recalled, funny episodes related, and lots of in between, just-tell-it-like-it-is kinds of posts.  I hope my Lenten Project has been a blessing to you, and I invite you to stick around for future posts.  I don't intend to stop.

Join the Conversation

Which post has been your favourite these past forty days?

Did you have any interesting conversations or revived memories that my posts have sparked?  I'd love to hear about them!

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Lenten Project: Seventh Fearless Friday (Good Friday)

One thing that missionary kids excell at is in reveling in their natural habitat. From swings to elaborate treehouses from which to launch on zip lines, we certainly created plenty of opportunities for thrills. 

Even when my family was on deputation, raising monetary support to go to Grenada, we had a nice wooden swing in the backyard of our house in Sharon, PA. There were some nice playgrounds in that area, too, and I have vague but fond memories of playing when I was a little girl. 

But it wasn't till we got to Grenada that our outdoor habitats got more awesome. At one house, an old plantation manor house with two and a half acres of land filled with tropical fruit trees, Dad built us girls a double decker treehouse.

This is one of the breathtaking views we had from that house.

We also had a little platform over some roots that was our hammock space. When Dad was putting up an even longer rope swing, he asked for a volunteer to test it with him. My sister Lizzy stepped forward, unafraid that Dad's knot tying might not hold. Sure enough, the rest of us girls had our doubts vindicated! On the backswing, the rope broke, and Dad and Lizzy fell to the ground, landing on some big above-ground roots. Dad landed on Lizzy, and Mom was certain he'd killed her or broken bones or caused internal bleeding. At first, Lizzy assured everybody she was fine, but when Mom continued to fuss and Dad kept acting so contrite, she began to ham it up, whimpering and letting her arms hang limply while she got carried with great fanfare into the house. She got to spend the rest of the day on a pile of cushions, eating the entire sent-from-America Tootsie Roll stash. With rewards like that, the rest of us girls felt sorry we hadn't volunteered after all!

At the next house we lived at in Grenada, we took it to the next level and had a four  storey treehouse, complete with super long rope swing. 

Come to think of it, we Schaefer girls haven't had much luck with rope swings, because Mary was swinging on this one once and ended up flipping over the nearby retaining wall to land on her back on some coconuts. Dad was so scared she'd broken her back that he drove the little red car down the hill to get her and drive her back up to the house so she wouldn't walk. But Mary was too good and honest to let our parents feed her all the American candy when she wasn't really injured.

Aside from rope swings and hammocks, the favourite contraption at MKs' houses was the zip line. A couple of our friends had great tree lines in their yards that were perfect for their zip line setups. We'd spend hours taking turns hurling our bodies from tops of makeshift ladders (slats nailed into coconut trees) while hanging on tightly to small metal pipes suspended from the zip line. Only be careful you don't slam into the tree into the other end!!

One missionary family lived right on the edge of the rainforest, so we'd go exploring and hiking whenever we visited them. There was a small quicksand pool that Darrell always told us we'd get sucked down into our deaths if we even stepped a toe in. Scared me spitless everytime he ominously warned us. If it was really that dangerous, I wonder at our parents for letting us go play around it! More likely he was just being his annoying self and teasing me (probably made all the sweeter for him since I swallowed it every single time!).

I grew up climbing mango trees and spending all day up there, reading. If I got hungry, I could always reach out a hand and pick a snack!

Growing up so close to nature is something I really appreciate about my childhood. While it's a miracle none of us ever got seriously injured, I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Thirty-eight (Maundy Thursday)

Lent is almost over. Today is Maundy Thursday. We've moved from self-reflection to a reflection on the ultimate selfless gift: Jesus' gift of dying on the cross for us.  We celebrate the institution of the Last Supper of our Lord, that time when He gathered together his disciples and taught them what is love and forgiveness.

This day is a holy day that's brimming with restoration and hope, looking to the future Easter, while remembering the beginning of the Passion.  For me, I keep in my heart the hope of reconciliation with my sister Elizabeth, though reality is discouraging.  Since my divorce, my sister, still a Fundamentalist, has been shunning me, denying repeated attempts to seek forgiveness or reconciliation, saying that I have the "spirit that worketh death" on me.  (I don't know what that is or how a Christian could be marked in such a way, and none of the pastors I've asked have understood what she means by that, either.)

I've emailed repeatedly, trying to keep the door to the relationship open, but all my offers and suggestions to restore harmony have been rejected. I honestly don't know what else to do.  She claims I'm unrepentant and unchanged since I divorced.  I suspect she believes, agreeing with my parents, that I'm a walking, talking adulteress.  That, unless I "prove" my penitential spirit by following a specific list made by her, I've not actually repented.  She and her husband reject the testimony of pastors (from several different churches and denominations--Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist), friends, family, those who have counseled me, those who have observed my life up close over the years and see a pronounced difference in me.  She demands that I let her "hold all the cards" and dictates that I must personally apologise to everyone who knew of my first marriage and divorce, since I broke my marriage vows to them and dishonoured God. Why my not having done these exact things must result in her refusal to have anything to do with me, I'm still not sure.  Most of what she has said makes little sense when viewed through the lens of Scripture and the light of the Gospel.

Hannah and Elizabeth sing together, Singapore, 2000

My friends, I want you to know that Jesus says his burden is easy and yoke is light, and his forgiveness is freely given, not earned through apologising to everyone you know. Jesus doesn't seek to break those who come to him, but to heal their brokenness. When you start living a life of redemption, the evidence is clear to anyone who will look--repentance has occurred, is occurring, and will continue to characterise you. This is what Easter, Christ's Passion, is all about.

I will admit, I've been tempted to fall back into my old habits of just pretending, of saying what my sister wants to hear so I can create a false peace, have a shallow reconciliation. But one thing I have learned, something I think has been shown through my posts this Lenten season, is that faking it never works.  Pretending all is well, embracing passive-agressivism, or even willfully choosing blindness and stunted spirituality, results in death, not life.

So I choose Christ.  I choose living a life of repentance.  I am marked as a child of God, and I want to be characterised by reconciliation.  But I can't force people to reconcile when they refuse.  I can't force people to act like Christ when they believe His virtues (peace, unconditional love, free forgiveness to those who don't earn or deserve it) are anathema.

I don't give up hope for my sister.  But I give the struggle up to God.  Because trying to convince a spiritually blind person that God is good and forgives is futile until that person willingly hears the Holy Spirit's voice.

This was a hard post to write. I wrote, deleted, rewrote, deleted again, scrapped the whole thing, prayed, pondered, wondered, and rewrote it all again from the very beginning.  It was not easy.  But it's right.  Because reconciliation is my theme. Hope and life are together threads entwined to run through every story I've told in this Lenten Project.

Hannah, Mary, and Elizabeth, mid-90s, Grenada

I hope that someday this episode of my life will be a testament to the reconciliation found in Christ, that Lizzy and I can be friends, or at least speaking sisters again.  Until then, it's a story of how Christians can be stubborn, proud, and often very unlike the Christ they serve, but how forgiveness is always available, always free, not earned. My comfort comes from the Lord. I'm reminded every Sunday during the Eucharist that we are one Body, Fundamentalist Baptists, Lutherans, and Anglicans, and everybody else, united in Christ, whether my sister Lizzy can see it through her blindness or not.  The passion of Christ was not futile or worthless.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Thirty-seven

After working so hard to secure employment at Bob Jones University, I felt like I'd achieved the highest level of spirituality.  Now, despite never getting to be a "spiritual leader" during my undergrad days, I was a respected staff member, someone who could influence students for Jesus, and also learn from the other BJU employees who had suddenly become my peers.

Senior portraits.
Why is it that yearbook staff always pick the worst pose?

I loved my job.  I was a staff dispatcher for the campus security, and often worked the 12 hour overnight shift.  Anything could--and did--happen in the middle of the night on and around campus.  One night, in mid-July, the campus watermain sprung a leak and flooded a part of campus.  I was on the phone with the fire department, coordinating the directing of outsiders to the cleanup crews to get everything under control, while also accomplishing all my other nighttime dispatch duties: recording everything on the blotter, paying attention to the alarms checking, and keeping track of entrances and egresses from the main gate of the campus.  It was fun, but also exhausting.  With all that, I barely had time to wonder about a summons I'd received that late afternoon from the head of human resources.  I was to report to his office in the morning, two hours after my shift was over (rather inconvenient and inconsiderate, since I'd have to attend the meeting on no sleep, plus find some way to keep myself awake for two wasted hours in waiting around on campus).  My coworkers had assured me it was probably just routine, to finish paperwork, or maybe even to get commended for working so hard all summer.


I napped in my sister's room for a couple hours, or at least attempted it.  Now that there were no distractions, my mind went to work imagining what the summons could be possibly be concerning.  Turns out, it was NOT for a commendation.

The HR head was there with the head of my department.  They weren't smiling.  HR glared at me and said, "I'm afraid I have bad news.  You are being terminated."

I was flabbergasted.  I stammered out a, "Why?" while I struggled to recall if I'd broken any rules in the two months I'd been employed. Nope, I'd been perfect, but BJU standards.

He said it was because I'd proven myself to be a bad influence and a poor example of Christ.  When I pressed him for example of what in the world he was talking about, he pulled out, quite dramatically, a sheaf of heavily highlighted papers.  He'd printed one of my emails to several of my friends who were still undergrads.  This email was one of those silly quizzes that kids forward around, what's your favourite food, what's your best childhood memory, what's the most daring thing you ever did, etc.  I'd filled it out a month prior, and sent it on to a few of my friends and coworkers.

Apparently, some of my answers on the quiz were less than pleasing and were downright evil.  I'd put The Patriot as my favourite movie.  HR head explained that, since that movie is rated R, I was being a bad example to the students by saying I liked it.  I shouldn't be even watching rated R movies, and definitely not leading others by example to appreciate or desire to watch them.

I'd said I'd gone skinny dipping. As a kid in the Caribbean Sea.  That was wicked to admit, because it brought to mind nakedness and encouraged young people reading my email to pursue wantonness.

I'd joked that I enjoyed kissing my husband (since all physical contact between genders is banned at BJU, I'd never kissed anyone or been kissed till I started dating and then married my husband, so it still felt a bit illicit, even to admit that I'd done it).  That was bad because it displayed my proud spirit, bragging about physical sexual contact to students who were not allowed to follow my example but who would be expelled if they tried to be like me.

And on the list went, HR man got really heated in his ranting and raving, while my department head just sat there, not saying a word in my defense.  I'd burst into tears after about five minutes, but HR man kept going, alternating between waving the sheaf of papers in the air and shaking his finger under my nose.  He spat, "You have no integrity. Can't you see that you're unqualified to be an example to students, to represent the University?"  He told me I should be becoming more reserved with my friends who were still students, because now I was staff and I had to be over them.  Never mind the fact that I'd been an undergrad too just a few weeks ago, or that school wasn't even in session yet.

What I was afraid of most of all was being barred from seeing my sisters. Friends I could leave behind, but the usual procedure for people who get fired from BJU is for them also to be blacklisted and banned from campus.  I'd been well-schooled in the Black Book during my time with campus security.  I knew how it went.  I finally broke in through HR man's incoherent sidetrack story of how he could not witness to people at his first job because he needed to glorify God by applying himself to working hard.

I asked him point blank if I'd be banned from campus and kicked out of the Alumni Association.  He said no.  He further said he'd make sure that didn't happen, since I hadn't actually done anything wrong, I certainly didn't deserve to be punished beyond losing my job.

With that, the meeting was over.  My department head finally spoke up and offered me a ride home. I could barely see through my swollen eyes, but I refused.  The man hadn't defended me or said much of anything at all during the entire meeting.  I didn't want any help from him if that was his definition of "stand up for and protect the ones in my department."

I walked home.  When I got there, I immediately checked my email to see if my campus account had been locked yet.  I found an email from my new brother-in-law, accusing me of being a horrible, inconsiderate, cruel, deceitful person, a slut, someone who he wished his brother had never met, much less married.  He'd sent a copy of his email to everyone in his family, even aunts and uncles I hadn't met yet.

One person on the recipient list contacted me and assured me his opinions were not shared by the family, but no one stood up to him directly and said what he'd said was wrong or that he shouldn't have emailed everybody like that. Even his brother, my husband, kept quiet. It made me feel so worthless. I was unworthy to be staff at BJU, and also not worth defending. All on the same day. 

I spent the rest of the day with my head in the toilet, throwing up.  A few days later, I received a letter from HR man and from the Alumni Association. I'd been banned from campus, blacklisted.

I blogged about that meeting, describing my feeling of shock, asking why it was morally and ethically okay for my personal emails to be read, printed, and held against me.  Why had it been acceptable for me to be closed in a small room with two older men I barely knew, one of whom then verbally abused me while the other watched?

I wasn't allowed to go see my sisters on campus (I had three sisters who were students that new school year).  It meant I was banned from attending their concerts, recitals, speeches, and even just picking them up to go shopping, or dropping off clean laundry in their rooms.  I was totally blacklisted.  (And no one I left behind knew why--that sort of thing is never explained, so everybody always assumes the worst.  People later told me they all thought I'd broken the law somehow, or had an affair.)

I wrote a letter to Stephen Jones, the president of the school, begging to at least let me be un-banished.  I didn't want my job back, I told him, but I shouldn't be excommunicated for forwarding a silly quiz to some students.

He wrote me back and approved my request to have my blacklisted period cut short (it's policy for all those who part ways with the University on not-good terms to have to prove their repaired testimony after one year of banishment has elapsed).

But before I could be allowed back on campus and special passes for my sister be approved, the dean of students demanded to see me.  He said that, while the University president had said one thing, he was saying another and would not let the un-banishment go forward till I met with him.

I went to see him, and he accused me of doing things I'd never done (he later called me up and apologised.  Apparently, he'd gotten me confused with my brother-in-law's fiance, who had also worked in campus security, and who had done some bad stuff, I guess. Yes, the fiancé of the same brother-in-law who had written me that horrible email).  He also waved some papers around (print outs of my blog) and demanded that I delete everything I'd written about my firing from BJU before my punishment could be lifted.  In order to have the privilege of my sister's company, I had to comply.

So, in exchange for reuniting with my sisters on campus, I did everything he told me.  I never promised never to blog about it again, though, and this is the first time since then that I have.

Bob Jones University is a terrible place, filled with abusers and enablers of abusers.  The focus is all Law (in made up rules which are hardly biblical), and little Gospel. Sure, sometimes the light of God breaks through and good things are accomplished, but it's clear that it is in spite of the people in charge over there, not because of them.  There is joy there, in small pockets, but not because Christ is modeled by the Administration.  There are good people there on staff and in the faculty especially.  I loved my teachers and respect them immensely, for the most part.  But even they are mistreated and abused by the school leadership. I sometimes feel like cursing them all for they did to me, for almost destroying my faith, for totally crushing my spirit, but I remember what the Scriptures foretell about those people's fate, and all I can only say may God have mercy on their souls.

Do I want BJU to be destroyed?  No.  I do, however want change.  I'm not the only one who was hurt while a student or staff member.  There are scores and even hundreds of others who have more horrific tales of abuse, sexual, physical, verbal, emotional, and spiritual.  Ignoring them won't erase the pain and won't bring about healing for anybody. Until BJU can admit past fault, without qualifications or excuses, and seek to actively repent, no change will be appropriate or effective.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Thirty-six

I graduated from Bob Jones University on May 7th, 2005. I'd worked so hard to get to that point, and I don't mean academically. The spiritual abuse I'd suffered while living in the campus dormitories had squashed my faith, nearly killed my hope, and half-convinced me there is no god. Yet, even so, BJU was comforting in its familiarity.

My fiancé had nixed my fantasy of living on my own abroad for a year before getting married, so I agreed we'd get married sooner (a week after graduation), and I needed a job. I figured, BJU had trained me and molded me, and the plea for students to "donate" a few years of their lives to the school that had sacrificed so much for them went out often from the chapel pulpit, so I'd at least be a shoe-in for some job on campus. I checked first with my student job's supervisors--sure enough, they encouraged me to submit my application and assured me they wanted and liked me. 

I applied. And was turned down. I had the jarring realization that BJU molding me into a caricature of myself still didn't make me good enough for them. And I knew that was wrong. So I fought. I met with the deans and tried to find out exactly why my application for employment had been rejected. I knew it wasn't just because they didn't have any positions open; it had to be some kind of character flaw or defect they held against me.  And if, after all that time being counseled, I still had character flaws, well, then, something needed to be done, right?

The dean of students told me unashamedly that it had been his recommendation that I be spurned, even though he personally knew me and had been following my journey through BJU since I arrived. 

He even came backstage and posed with me
for pictures before my opera performance!

When I asked him if there was anything I could do to get him to reconsider, he said I could write a letter explaining my position and he'd bring it before council. 

I slaved over that letter, pouring out what was left of my heart, begging the council (but really the dean of students) to see that the spiritual counseling they'd required had worked and I was a better person now. The dean of women told me she'd been led to believe (by the dean of students) that I wouldn't turn people in, since I never had as a student. A faculty/staff member is vital to keeping up the standards of the school by ensuring everyone is following the rules, she said. I turned two people in that week, to prove I didn't have too compassionate a heart and would make a good strict rule-abiding staff member. One of the people I tattled on ended up getting socialled and not allowed to speak to her own fiancé. Never more had I regretted my foolish attempts to prove my worthiness than then. 

I got the word that my letter had been well-received by the council, the dean of students had been overruled, and I could have a job at Bob Jones University.  I would remain in my department, but become a staff member instead of student worker.

This medallion indicated that I was
a second generation BJU graduate

So on graduation day, I walked into the Founder's Memorial Amphitorium relieved that my plans were working out and that God could still use me, even though I was pretty battered and barely believed in him. I claimed, "all things work together for good" for myself as evidence that God wanted me to serve him at BJU, because, obviously, the obstacles had been overcome.  It never crossed my mind that maybe God could or would use me anywhere else, because the sacrifice of BJU faculty and staff was always touted from the chapel pulpit as being one of the highest callings a Christian could have.  What other humble service could I possibly have wanted to dedicate my life to?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lenten Project: Day Thirty-five

We used to have lots of kids' clubs for spiritual instruction in Grenada.  Not only did our mom teach all the boys and girls, but we kids, especially me and my sister Mary, were teachers.  We'd walk through a village and invite all the kids we saw on the street playing cricket to come on out to our kids' club under the mango tree up the road every week. Dozens of kids would come regularly, and we eventually started having these in our church, or in the other IFB churches on the island.

We used Kings Kids curriculum in Grenada because it was cheaper than Awana, plus it was KJV-only (even though we weren't--yeah, I never quite understood it either).  We had flannel graph, of course, and lots of stories of missionaries or kids who almost died, but got miraculously saved at the last minute.

Because I had to be a teacher, I was supposed to always have all the spiritual answers. But I didn't.  I could lead the songs (Stop! And let me tell you... and My God is so Big and Who's the King of the Jungle?) with lots of enthusiasm. Tell the stories using all the voices so that the kids were hanging off the edges of their seats, anxious to hear what would happen next.  I could lead kids to the Lord using the Wordless Book faster than Dad could shimmy up a coconut tree.  But in my heart I had so many questions and doubts that I felt like nothing but a faker.

There was little room in our ministry for a daughter who wanted to ask tough questions or be free to reject what she didn't believe.  I knew better than to rock the boat too much, because when I did, the whole island erupted.  And my questions never did get answered. So I learned to just keep on teaching, keep on leading songs, keep on acting out missionary stories during storytelling, and turn off my brain.

In Singapore, I was a Sunday School teacher.  Just a teenager, teaching other kids.  Nowadays I get uncomfortable with the very idea of untrained Sunday School teachers, and I prefer that my kids' church class leaders all have background checks and lots of training.