Friday, December 11, 2009

Is This A Pitty Party, A Tell All Sure To Offend Some, Sorry

It is important for this particular article that I give an explanation prior to your reading. This is not written to bring a pity party for myself, neither is it written to make anyone look bad. Some will look bad because the truth sometimes hurts, but the truth needs to be spoken. This is written with the intent of showing that I have experienced what I believe to be unfair attacks, unfair criticism, and bad events that I didn’t bring on myself or deserve. I know as many others that sometimes life does suck. That said, there is hope, purpose and a God that looks out for us.

During the time of year I am writing this I get to play Santa. It brings in a little extra income, (this year being used to help others in need) but it also gives me the opportunity to bring a little joy to others. When we see Santa, we see the world around us, and unfortunately, a time of year people are full of despair and depression. I see one side that brings joy to children, and yet, I am swamped with spending time with people who are hurting for various reasons. To ignore the two extremes can be dangerous. I want to bring a taste of reality to those who are familiar with me and this ministry. The things I write about are things that happened. I know some reading this will be critical, yet, I will provide if need be, specifics to verify every single thing I write about. I am not afraid to face the truth head on; I am not concerned about people offended by the truth. I also realize that knowing the truth doesn’t make one right, yet, motivating others, to have hope is important because someone has to speak up for and to the least of these. I have tried to maintain integrity as much as possible. I wish I could say the same about all of those I have come into contact with, either professionally or in the perspective of ministry. I know many who are, but those people always speak out against injustice and seek to find out the truth by talking to all parties. I will let my record, my words, and my actions speak for themselves. For those who would hurt, lie, and deny the truth, just know this, I will gladly provide evidence to maintain the integrity of the work I do, the people I serve, and the God I live for. People can talk about my name, the ministry I do, but here I am still talking about, serving, and loving my God and those he called The Lost, The Last, and The Least.

I don’t know, sometimes I want to quit. I start out the day today doing the usual routine, checking the email, and responding to people who have emailed me. Most of the emails are from people who are hurting, a girl who quit her job and suffers from depression, a friend who just lost his 103 year old dad, another lady who was sexually abused as a child, a pastor who is having struggles with homosexuality, a person with mental illness I am encouraging to get back on their medication, and the list goes on. There are usually 3 – 10 responses per day like these.

After responding to the emails this morning I got ready to send out my newest newsletter for The Virtual Pew. We send out around 10 newsletters a year to update those who support this ministry. I share about what we are doing, and in this one I am working on raising funds and services to keep the ministry going. Many will be surprised at how little money we bring in, and of that, how much goes to help others.

I am a strange cookie, today I reflect on the difficulty my family has gone through with this ministry. I once had a good paying job, was buying my dream house and doing well in the Mental Health World. I felt God started to call me back to ministry where I could share what I believe to be the full measure of helping others, which is being open to sharing Jesus. My former employer, Crossroads Clubhouse in Tulsa Oklahoma, even though I never was one to proselytize overreacted to one person who had mental illness (who has sense come back and apologized and said they were wrong) who was upset because he voluntarily attended an event at my church with other individuals where religion was being discussed. Somehow I was blamed, was written up and to quote the statement it was stated “In that faith is a personal issue, under no conditions shall Mike share his faith with members and/or staff of Crossroads; neither shall he invite them to his church.” I have come to understand in the last year, that this comment, (A breach of confidentiality) was also included in the employee handbook for future employees, and while my name was not mentioned, the fact that this occurred with a former Executive Director, which I was the only one at the time it was published, was clear indication the comment was speaking of me.

At the point of the evaluation comment I considered it affirmation of my need to leave. I offered a 2 month notice and assisted in the transfer of leadership within the agency. Of course, the rumors and lies started, as they have in several situations in my life, and after the publication of an article in a national magazine about my experiences, I likely ruined my chances of ever working in that field again. I have since, again in the last year, also learned of untrue statements being made by some of those individuals in the community, and internationally within the International Clubhouse Community. That has been obvious by the continued lies, and lack of response from people I once considered friends in a vocation and world that I still deeply love and believe in. I have also had these things shared with me by former employees, professionals still in the field, and consumers who still value the work I did.

I have never quit believing in the original vision to help people with mental illness as was established by John Beard and the original members of Fountain House Clubhouses. As much as I believed in that world though, it has become clear that many in that world turned their back on me, and the opportunity to denounce lies that were spread has been refused to be heard because some of those individuals I once considered friend, never bothered to check out the sources and truth of the matter. I am still open to that, but believe that their actions indicate they have no desire to actually seek out and discover the truth. Thankfully there are some, including many members and former staff of Crossroads (every single staff person there when I was have either been fired or left employment) know the truth and have given me personal encouragement and shared how much my work there meant to them. Thankfully others from around the globe who were a part of that world and life experience have also shared their love.

After leaving Crossroads, I ended up taking a pastors job at a church (out of 4 offers) that paid the least, and was the smallest, (my choice). I know I was listening to God’s call. It was my first Sr. Pastor Job and that church didn’t get the support it needed, (not financial needs as much as mature people coming and helping out) and again, problems arise, especially within staffing and leadership. I know lies were told, and damage done. I have come to realize, not only in the professional world, but even within the ‘church’ world the same types of problems can arise.

I know there could be the appearance of being paranoid, but these things can be proven by others who observed certain behaviors and actions. I can provide witnesses to the situations, but it amazes me that sometimes, people don’t want the truth, they want to have their ears tickled. In the meantime, people are hurt; people who deserve to know the truth and challenged to mature in the reality of even difficult situations. Despite these difficulties, I keep on keeping on, serving Jesus and speaking out to do the work for those who are hurting and in need of love. I have never wavered in my faith, never wavered in what I know to be the truth of the situations I have lived and experienced. I challenge for anyone to prove I have not tried to maintain the utmost integrity. I think all followers of Jesus should maintain integrity.

Today, I wonder, how much has my family suffered and missed out on? One of the difficulties was moving to Wichita from Tulsa. We were living in our dream home. I quit my job when I felt “the call” to move to Wichita and I ended up taking out my retirement to live on and invest in our home. Then September 11, 2001 happens and the investment I was living on was almost all lost.

We later moved to Kansas and decided to rent out our dream house in Oklahoma. We had five renters over time, four of them Christian, and the last one non Christian. Three of the four Christian families either seldom paid rent, or left owing us substantial rent monies which we never got back. The first two we let out of it, the last we sought to recoup our damages, over $5,400 and then we were criticized by other Christians for trying to get our money back, despite the fact we were facing losing our home. We ended up only getting $200 of what this family owed us. The last family owed us three months worth of rent, had a one year lease, but after six months felt God call them to missions, they left us on our lease, and owing us three months rent. I guess again, that even the call of God to missions doesn’t expect one to maintain integrity. This was ‘Christian’ families who had no concerns about hurting a family in ministry. I know I have let people take advantage of me too much, maybe those hurts explain why I challenge the church to be the church, and have such a sympathetic heart to those who aren’t a part of the church. These types of things have happened to me my entire life, but not just there, read on.

A pastor at a small church that makes $15,000 per year with few benefits doesn’t make enough money to pay mortgage and utility payments on two houses. Yet, with the lack of paying of rent, of other ‘Christians’ fulfilling their responsibilities, that is exactly what I had to do. We finally rented our house to a non Christian family, but the damage was done, we just couldn’t catch up. Of course this family never missed a payment and was exemplary renters. We ended up having to sell our dream house short. This means we sold it below the market value and got nothing in return, at least it wasn’t foreclosed on. I could write a book about bad property managers and renters. Of course I suspect others could do the same.

In Kansas the church I was at closed down after five years and efforts to get help. I had planned on leaving and starting The Virtual Pew but in that year when the transition was in place, excuse the expression, but all hell broke loose. We had a great plan in place for the transition to happen. Then the church split and lies and damage done that caused the church to fall apart. We could have made it back from the hole we were in , we just needed a few people with maturity to come on board to help us out with things like child care, despite these calls for help, to larger churches, to various individuals and organizations, not a single effort to help in this area was provided. I know some will be upset by this, but this was a great church that was needed in Wichita, I wanted to see it make it, I believe God did as well. It is why Mosaic exists; it is very similar with some of the same people and other new ones. Yet again the lies to our face by people we had been honored to serve and love.

We sucked it up, tried to make it right, but to no avail. While I know I made mistakes in my first pastorate, I am confident other serious mistakes were made and the movie Second Chances by Ben Pearson and Steve Taylor, says it well, there is actually little help from people when it comes to actually helping inner city urban churches. I specifically requested help during the difficult times, even prior to the difficulties that led to the church closing down, but the sponsoring agencies, while agreeing with the mistakes they made in the formation of the church, did little or nothing to help make those things right. Often there is the assumption that all problems can be solved with money, while money may be needed, it is often people that make the real difference.

How much trouble was it, what kind of difficulties did we experience? Two years after this church was closed we found out that even though taxes had been taken out of my paycheck, those taxes had never been paid to the state, or federal government. When the IRS Audit is done guess who has to pay taxes back, with penalty? That’s right, my wife and I. Over $7,000 had to be paid back, essentially out of 5 years of service, I lost the $6,000 that was initially withheld from my check, plus over $7,000 that we had to pay back. That is essentially like a years worth of wages.

I was a part of a denomination I loved deeply; I hear nothing from them anymore despite my efforts to stay involved. My wife put it best, “It is as if they forgot you exist.” My daughter who was the Director of Creative Affairs for the Mennonite Church USA was also appalled at the lack of support we received, she and others saw what happened, they had knowledge of how some church denominations take care of their pastors. I suspect some who were a part of that experience will read this and wonder, “what the…” some may respond, I will welcome that, but it won’t change the reality of the last years. I love the Anabaptist, I love and believe in their theology, and value the Mennonite Brethren people, but even in this situation, I can’t help but say, it feels like we were once again, cast out and abandoned by the church, left to make it on our own.

I know this may sound like a pity party, maybe it is, but I think that with what seems like the luck I have experienced, from childhood, and later in life the abuse from individuals and agencies, I deserve that rare party. Recently this hit me hard. You see my wife is looking at retirement in the next 2 years, and I honestly don’t know what I have provided her or my children. I see friends who are making a lot of money, have great retirement plans, nice homes, and on and on. On the home issue, we are living in a home we had a lease option on and the landlord/owner filed bankruptcy. We never missed a payment and were a year out of hopefully purchasing the home. We don’t know what our future is for the house. I have to wonder, has a life of giving to the poor, the abused, to the call of Christ been worth it?

I can honestly think of few people who has had as much ‘bad luck.’ On the flip side I can think of few who has been given more when they need it from God through the hands of others. When my wife’s brother died, she was able to go home because of the generous gifts of others. When my mother died; I was able to go home to see her at Christmas and another time to be there the day she died, because of the gifts of others. Grace Hill Media made it possible for my wife to fly there to be with me. I have been blessed to have moments of magic where I could taste and smell Heaven. I have seen and been a part of blessing others, seeing their tears, sharing a hug, giving a place to stay when needing a home, and on and on. I have hopefully to some, been a mirror representation of Jesus especially to many of those Jesus loves and cares for that are often neglected or forgotten.

Today, likely tomorrow and the day after, I will again hear the ridicule of the doubters and haters, of people who seem to have it all. I wonder though, do they really have it all? Do they know the joy of serving someone that Jesus said when we serve and love them, (the least of these); it is as if we have served and loved him?

Last night my wife and I were driving around some nice neighborhoods in Wichita looking at Christmas lights. She asked, “Mike, do you think we will have homes in Heaven?” I responded that the Bible talks about mansions in Heaven, and that we would indeed have a home in Heaven. I don’t know how it all works out, but I believe God knows the truth, I am confident he does. He knows the truth of my life, he knows what happened regarding me leaving employment in the Fountain House Clubhouse world, (although I would hope to always be a part of that world because I love and believe in it so much) he knows what happened with our house in Oklahoma, he knows what happened at our old church United at the Cross, he knows the truth and he knows my heart.

This isn’t an attempt to get self pity, which does little good and may even make some things worse. At the moment I don’t need much, although nice things and experiences are nice at times. Mosaic, the church I serve has potential; we seem to have the possibility of growing. Things at The Virtual Pew in regards to ministry have never been better. While I don’t have all I want, I have all I need. I would just say this; tell the truth; don’t build up hope in others if you don’t plan on helping them. Remember broken promises and broken dreams result in broken hearts, for some of us; we can’t take any more brokenness. I want to say this as well, especially to those who are hurting. While others may ask me; “Has it all been worth it?” I can answer with an emphatic, “You betcha! It has been worth it because Jesus is worth it. I can only hope and pray, that those who hurt, who have difficulty will find out as I have, the hope of eternal blessings that comes from the eternal savior, Jesus Christ. Then you can have the satisfaction of knowing that life is indeed worth it, no matter what the experience, or the hurt, it is worth it because you are of value and Jesus sees you as a person with incredible beauty and incredible potential. One thing is certain, people, organizations; things we love will let us down, but in the things of God can make an incredible difference, no matter what. It is why that at this time of year I love to give, and share of God’s love and what he has done for me, despite the hard times. God loves and provides hope like no other. The birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, was an indication of that love. May we all surrender to his desires for our life, and give up the concepts of self, that so often hurt others. When we do that, I think God smiles; personally I hope to make him laugh with joy.

The following is a song that I wrote around a song that a friend named Barry DeFleron wrote. I used his chorus, and wrote the verse to this version as well as the music. It is different, and hope you enjoy it. Just click on the video, if the video don't appear, click on the link.

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