dear first love

First of all, I want you to know I’m doing okay. There was a time where I wasn’t, but I think I’m okay now. And this is a hard letter to write. Mainly because this is the first time in my life I can safely say, it wasn’t me, it was you. But it definitely needs to be said.

You really are the first thing I remember in life. Yes, there is family and all, but life revolved around you. The first time I got in trouble I was running through your sanctuaries or sliding down the carpeted steps after a Bible lesson. I learned songs and Bible verses from saints who still grace this planet. I busted my chin wide open while playing hide and seek between your wooden pews. And I learned the truth about God from your witness and love that made me feel like I knew where I belonged. And for a season, the love was innocent and pure. I was even Baptized in your waters one Sunday afternoon to seal my commitment to you, which has faltered over the years, but remains.

But as I got older, our relationship grew complicated…I guess that’s the word for it. I started to see how you waged war with culture around you and even bought into moments of hysteria. I even remember the time at a high school camp one of your representatives convinced us of the evils of our music and I went back to my room and snapped two CDs in half…what was I thinking?!? But that was it, wasn’t it. Our relationship has always been a funny one and there were times where it didn’t really make a lot of sense because you just preyed on my emotions in the moment and it really didn’t have anything to do with love.

Well I grew older and I was still dedicated to you in so many ways. I even found myself at home in one of your universities and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Lifelong friends and relationships sprung out of my time there and I truly discovered who I was in those hallowed halls. And as I finished up my time and started to try to find my way in the world, you called back to me again. Well, it was actually God calling through you, but yours was the path I followed after. And so another dimension of our relationship began.

I pursued more schooling, got married and eventually became a minister in your ranks. Most of that time, I crafted sermons and lessons for young people. I always felt at home in your pulpit. It was a happy place for me. I love the scriptures and I love the story…but something was broken…something wasn’t right.

The first time it really hit was when my oldest son came into our lives. For a moment your people were excited when they thought this tiny orphan came from Africa. But when they found out he was actually African American the tune changed. And just a few months later we found ourselves without a job in your house having only that year bought a house of our own. But I didn’t give up on you then. It wasn’t in my nature. I found another job for a season and we waited. And from all appearances you were faithful. In less than a year you whisked us away to a new adventure and transformed our lives again.

In Michigan we saw a new side of you. And it was beautiful. We had never experienced you like this before and we began to see your beauty in new ways as our eyes were opened to followers of you who thought differently than we were told you had to. Not only that, but I began to encounter people outside your halls that showed me the nature of Christ in ways I had never seen before….and it didn’t compute well because they were LGBTQ. But I stayed true to you and to your doctrines and teachings. In fact, for the fifteen years I served you I never spoke or taught outside of those parameters. I was always faithful…but you weren’t.

Although we loved our time in that part of the country it ended abruptly without cause or reason. Only later did we find out about the abuse that was being covered up that deeply hurt one of our favorite humans on earth. And that more than likely you ushered us out the door quickly so that we weren’t able to come to his aid. To this day my heart remains broken because of all the abuse you allow and even hide in your halls.

And then there was a season where I was a “grown-up” pastor for you. Each Sunday I was blessed enough to stand in your pulpit and share the gospel of Jesus with people longing for hope in the wilds of West Texas. And people desperate to hear a good word were showing up…but they weren’t like the people who were already there. LGBTQ folks started coming and wanting to participate in the life of Christ and I wasn’t going to tell them no. Yes, I followed all your rules and stipulations. Remember, I never taught outside of your doctrines. And I always followed your rules to the letter of the law. And during this time we even saw some of your seasoned folks grow tremendously in the ways they found to show love to these new folks. But this time in our relationship also almost cost me my life. Some of your people even left to go start their own church and people I thought were my friends left and said the most hateful things to me. And for a season I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating and at my lowest point even found myself with suicidal thoughts. All because I thought you were a conduit for grace.

I guess I should have seen our relationship coming to a close when I followed you one last time to Nashville. After all, this was kind of where it all began. I found new life in returning to a place where I was ministering alongside youth again. But things were still not right. For some reason you always allowed your people to come after my wife and her views on the world, even though she wasn’t the one you called to preach and serve. Yes, when she was towing the party line you loved her. Because she was just unique enough and different enough that you could parade her around and say “look at how we are so accepting”. But you weren’t, You never loved my wife the way you loved me…which makes me think you never loved me fully. She even said to me after reflecting on your time with her, “At seventeen the Church of the Nazarene told me I belonged…and then they never said it again.” And so you gave me the choice. My wife or you. And of course I chose my wife. You have hurt us time and again. And in the most recent years all because we thought gay and lesbian teens and adults deserved to be a part of you as well.

Here’s the most tragic part. When you ushered me out of your doors this last time, I wasn’t entirely sure I was done…call it Stockholm syndrome if you want. But I started attending another church for a season to see if it felt right. And within a few short months you asked for your ordination back. For ten years I had been ordained in your service and within three months you asked for them back. It hurt. And so I wavered and waited thinking that maybe I might return to you once more until you asked again. So, I arrived one day to return that priceless document to your office only to find the lights out and the alarm set. So unceremoniously I slid the paper under the door and knew you were done with me. Since that day, not one call, text or email from anyone in leadership or anyone I served under even to check on me…that’s the part that still hurts.

But I’m okay first love. I really am. I still love the great things about you and so many of your people mean the world to me. But I’m afraid my story is just a small fraction of the hurt still to come. And I even see you doing it now as you allow toxic bullies to become your voice in the public arena. They shout holiness, but they mean damnation. Not only for those different than them, but also for you I fear.

I guess I write all of this to say, don’t worry about me. I still love God and I’ve found a home in a church that allows me to see the full spectrum of the gospel lived out in new ways. And yes, I will carry the scars and debt and hurt that you left me with for years to come. But I will look back with fondness as well. The people who came into my life because of my time with you are irreplaceable. And I am thankful for that.

So goodbye first love. Please take care of those I’m leaving behind.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Wise Hearted says:

    It’s such a hurtful experience when a person gets rip out of our eyes and we start seeing a little glimpse of them for who they really are, a saved sinner. Some hate that phrase, saved sinner, but I find it a comfort to see myself as one. I believe God’s hope when that happens is we turn to the one who is perfect, Jesus Christ. See the imperfect through His eyes. He showed compassion at all times even when He was ripping on the self righteous. I believe you have done that in your post and thank you for it. It’s impossible to be among a group of believers without hurt coming on way on different levels. We made it through a very hurtful issue at our former home church. In fact, my husband got fired for doing what was right. Actually though, God kicked the door open for us to get out. We had been praying, Lord move or move us. He moved us. Here is the saddest part for me in your story, no one visited you from that church to ask how you were doing, so sad. Most churches do not teach how to treat people in situation such as what you had and in ours. They still have the pastor stuck in their eyes and are afraid to unstick him. I mean, isn’t he God’s anointed? That’s what they have been taught. The Sunday after my husband was fired they put a little book titled, Don’t Touch God’s Anointed, out on table in the vestibule. We both knew we were just as anointed as the leadership because of who lives inside of us. Jesus gives us that status as children of God. Now I believe those in leadership position who do not teach the whole counsel of God will be help accountable for it if they have not repented of it before they die. Their works which they are so proud of here will be wood, hay and stubble. What has happened to will be the platform for such growth and will give you God given ability to help others. Our life went on, we went back into over seas mission, raised our support once again, served into overseas countries and now are Member Care Reps for our mission. God never waste a thing especially those things that hurt so bad. The ripping and tearing of loyalty to a man instead of Jesus will form a scar that will help you learn the ways of God. We have never regretted that hurt, love what we do now, still have not found a church or organization the is perfect but we are better hearer of Him, the one who died for us. Great honest helpful post. Bless you brother, bless you and your wife both.

  2. Khum says:

    You’re a passionate writer.

  3. gmmj12 says:

    Andrew, you and Crystal are beautiful people, as are your children. All beautiful examples of God’s creation. I hate that this church has hurt you so much my and many have been cold to you. I have been hurt in several churches, some this denomination, some others. There are jerks (I’m being kind) in most churches because they are made up of people and I think pastors and pastors families get hurt the most. I’m so very sorry. You were a blessing to my family when you were close. I agree, your wife is more valuable than a denomination. I am proud of you for writing this. It hurt me but I could tell it hurt you too. God bless. I’ll keep up with your sweet wife on Instagram and you when I catch your blogs. You are a great young man.

  4. oparacletos says:

    Andrew… this is so heartbreakingly beautiful, grace-filled and sad. I am shattered by the treatment you and your family has received by your and my perceived friends. I have been on this trajectory for a long time, watching my “first love” (way before I knew Jesus- my True First Love) batter, bully, harangue, pressure, coerce, and even curse at fellow ordained ministers of the Gospel. It has been … shocking. The perverse nature of the “holiness into the Lord” you and I were raised to believe in and to personally experience, has become the billy club that have beaten too many of my friends out of the ministry, the church… and sadly, even the Faith. These are NOT characteristics of the saved, and “sanctified” we as a denomination tout. I am blown away by your testimony here. I have wanted desperately to talk to you and Crystal for the past year but have kept my distance out of respect for the hurt I knew you were feeling. I told you then, that I would be praying for you ( not because I felt y’all had done anything wrong), but because I know your pain from personal experience.
    We need to talk. You have my number, and I’ll leave it to you to call me- anytime ( literally). And not to rehash what you have been through- but for another reason altogether.
    I LOVE you brother. Always have, always will. The same goes for your family. You know that already.
    If I could apologize for your experience, I would- but I don’t have that in me, nor is anything that has been done to you defensible in any way.
    I am happy that you have turned a corner, and are now able to express your heart so others can see the holocaust that is taking place in the church we were raised in. History will not be kind ( as little as “history” will care) to the church. God the Father, and His Son will be even less kind to those who have enabled such guile. But what is most worrisome to me are the untold thousands of lives that will be shattered in the meantime.

    Christ have mercy.
    God, in your mercy, forgive us.
    Lord, hear our prayers.

    Grace + Peace, my friend. I look forward to talking to you soon.

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