Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tamara Tipton: Grounded from Church




I was saved when I was thirteen years old. A good thing, right? Yes, a good thing. But also a thing that caused a great upset in my home and got me grounded from church for two months.

Grounded from Church. There’s a punishment you don’t read about every day. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I thought so to at the time. Now, almost thirty years later through the eyes of an adult, I think I understand. So I am going to try to explain it to you.

The first thing to understand is that I lived with my mom and stepdad. They married when I was six. Mom was in her thirties, my stepdad was in his sixties. An unusual situation, but not unheard of. He had already raised five kids by the time he got to me. His oldest was six years older than my mom. Dad (as I came to call him) was old school. Very strict and very sure that his way was the right way (a trait I have inherited, for better or worse). My mom tempered his strict attitudes and they found a balance that provided me with structure and security.  It wasn’t a bad life. I had a comfortable home, all the necessities, and enough comforts to make a girl content. I wasn’t spoiled, but life was good.

One thing I didn’t have in my home was God. He simply wasn’t spoken of. I never saw a Bible (except the ones my Mama Mac used to send me as gifts) or overheard a conversation about religion between my parents. The only exception was saying grace before the meal. I remember that Dad typed up a little prayer on an index card and gave it to me. I memorized it and said grace every evening before dinner. Beyond that, God wasn’t a presence in our home.

In my early teens I became interested in attending the local Baptist church. Part of it was because that’s where my best friend’s family went. Part of it was a desire to get out of some household chores (being honest here!). When I expressed this desire to my parents (not the chore part, I wasn’t stupid) they made it happen. Dad would drive me to town and drop me off and then come back to pick me up at the prescribed time. I’m not sure how long that went on, but finally they found a family down the road from us who attended there and I started going with them.

Everything rocked along well enough for a long time. I went to Sunday School, sang in the youth choir, and was part of the Wednesday night youth group. Then one Sunday evening I felt led to answer the altar call. You know: the request at the end of the service for anyone who wants to be saved to come forward for prayer? So, off I went. It honestly never occurred to me that I might need to discuss this with my parents. It was a good thing, right? My dad hit the roof. I couldn’t understand it. He said it was because I had not discussed it with them first. But that made no sense to me. I was following my heart not my head. What was there to discuss? In my thirteen-year-old mind I decided that he was just being mean. He just wanted to control my life. I thought that for years.

It all eventually worked out. After my two-month-grounding I was baptized in a Sunday evening service that my parents attended. I became a member of that church and life continued. Now, let’s fast forward to ten years ago, when Dad passed away at the age of eighty-nine. I was helping my mom clean out the closet and go through his personal belongings to give to his older children when I ran across a Bible on a shelf at the back of the closet. It was in pristine condition, and on the inside cover it was dated in the 1950's (on the dedication page). I was in shock. Dad had a Bible? I asked my mom about it and she explained that he was once a Sunday school teacher and faithful member of his church. What! How could this be? If that was true, why did he change? And why had he been so opposed to my decision to join the church myself? 

The story is an unfortunate one. He had been raised by his mother (a single parent) to be a very faithful member of their church. She had been a lifelong faithful tither and worker in the church and he followed her example. Then she got sick and could no long contribute as she had. She was literally on her deathbed when her church sent a bill collector to her home to collect her tithe. A bill collector. To collect her tithe. I was beyond shocked by this. That any church could be so callous as to the needs of their members for the sake of money is appalling to me. And it had an even greater impact on her son. He walked away from the church, turned his back on everything he had been raised to believe because in his mind it was all a lie. In an instant of careless disregard, the church had convinced him that they and God only cared about what his money could do for them.

In the light of that revelation, I can see now what he must have been thinking when I came home and excitedly shared my desire to join the church. A large church whose habit of preprinting tithe envelopes with each members name on them and presenting them to you in a lovely little box at the first of the year must have seemed like a smack in the face to him. 

As I said earlier, it worked out. I attended that church for a while, then I church hopped a bit, until I landed in a wonderful church where I have been very blessed and content for the last twenty plus years. And my dad? I think he finally came to terms with God. I wish I could say we talked about it, but I can’t. I have never known how to talk about God to my parents. Growing up in a home where His name was never spoken had a great impact on our relationship. But my pastor spoke to him many times over the years and went to visit him in the hospital prior to his death. Dad always liked Pastor and respected him. I think in the end Dad made his peace with the past. I pray that is so.

There is a lesson here that we all need to heed. Tithing is important, but God’s people are more important. We must be careful, as a church, in how we handle anything relating to money. And we must always put the needs of the people first. We have no way of knowing how one careless action by a church can impact lives and families for generations. I was fortunate, I placed my trust in God and He ended the cycle of anger, hurt, and distrust with me. God will provide. He will provide the money, He will provide the people, He will provide the direction. Our job is to listen to His direction and proceed with care for His people.
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Tamara Tipton is a 40-something, happily married woman, and mother to a herd of cats. She writes a blog called Faith and Substance, and works in the pharmacy profession. She is also an avid reader of anything (including cereal boxes) and fan of fiction TV (books with pictures!). Please visit her blog at http://faithandsubstance.blogspot.com.

7 comments:

  1. I agree with you that Tithing is important but shouldn't be forced upon someone as it is not what the LORD would have done ..as it's man's own action. Glad that you have found a great church for yourself.

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  2. A BILL COLLECTOR! Oh...my...goodness. I can't even imagine. I am so glad the bitterness that action started stopped quickly with you and didn't go on for more generations. Of course, who knows how that affected your step-father's other children. But God can work in them as well. Praying He will. This is also a good reminder to watch our own actions and reactions as we relate to others. Thanks.

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    1. I know! I was shocked. Even all these years later it makes me wonder. As to my step siblings, they each had a lot of issues from childhood to deal with. I pray that God has brought them peace. :)

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  3. Something similar happened in my dad's family where there was a falling out with a congregation. The lesson I learned from that is to remember that all humans are broken people and we should never blame God for all the ways the people in our lives disappoint and fail us. Never make the pastor or congregation more important and powerful than God. Leave a church behind? Yes. Leave God behind? Never.

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  4. I am so glad you found a church that brings you such joy and peace. Sad about what happend to your stepfather. It can just take one act to bring about unfortunate circumstances. My hubby does not attend his church anymore. I found out he at one time wanted to be a minister. I was shocked to find out he was a Theology minor in college as it wasn't something he discussed. His religion is different than mine and he will go to church with me for family functions like baptisms, funeral masses etc. But that is it. He and his friends left their church because of the pastor (not clear why), but it saddens me that he hasn't found it in himself to find another place. I am so glad your parents went with you to get baptised. I am sure it meant the world to you.

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  5. I can't imagine what your dad must've felt like when the bill collector came. I'm glad however that it all worked out for you. You put it so well in the end. Thanks for sharing your story and for visiting my blog.

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