“Stones in the Road” Part 6 (Stop Children, What’s that Sound) & Part 7 (The Sounds of Silence) by Margaret Plumb

One night Mike had a vivid dream. We, along with many friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, were riding on a carnival carousel. The ponies were going up and down and we were all engaged in the ride. Suddenly, Mike and a few others, specific people he knew, flew off the platform, onto the ground. He wasn’t able to get back on. He wasn’t even able to get back up, but reached out his hand toward the people on the carousel as they went circling around and around. No one saw him to help.
stones
(Continuing from Stones in the Road, part 5)…

So, Mike and I sort of switched leadership roles. Although we had worked as a team, it was like 60/40, now it became 40/60.

There’s a fine art to leadership. And much abuse of it. But the lack of it is not  pretty either. Unless there is some sort of guidance, eventually someone or some agenda will take over, and far too often it will be self-interest, not the interests of the whole group.  At the Vine, our church plant, there were some who were chomping at the bit to take over spiritual influence when Mike got sick, to steer it in a direction that we had not founded it on. So I took on more responsibility of the leadership. Mike and our denomination backed me up on this. I am not a natural leader, but if there is a vacuum, I can step in.

And for those who have been soured by “leaders” this is what I mean: I mean someone who helps facilitate so that everyone has a voice and not just a few dominant ones. A leader is not there to take control, but to keep those who like to control, and those who have a thirst for power, from pushing themselves in. A leader has a gift and responsibility to maintain the spirit of freedom and love and honesty and allow it to prevail. To keep the main thing the main thing. To be aware of other agendas that compete with the main thing. To protect the bottom line—LOVE. Which, by the way, is no milk-toast word, it’s about the meatiest word that exists, demanding a courage beyond our own strength. Show me a place where multiple leaders (plural) are working together in cooperation, humility, and love, and I’ll show you a happy, free, healthy and thriving place, full of synergistic energy and creativity and LIFE  spilling out of all sides and running out to those who are thirsty.

Just sayin’.

Well, this looks good on paper…But, in fact, we had experienced it during various pockets of time. And it was an incredible  thing.

I tried to keep it all working. I tried my best to keep love posted as the banner over our doors at the Vine. With Michael’s health demanding much of my attention, though, I did not have the where-with-all to lead well. And Mike became so preoccupied with his deteriorating health and pain that I felt alone in trying to keep our dream. Sometime in the middle of all this Mike resigned, and I kept going for a while, attempting to preserve something he’d want to return to when he got well. It took some outside interference; a session in  a “pain psychologist’s” office (More on that in next blogs, but no, Bill Murray, it was not pain therapy) to pry my hand off the plow and see that Mike’s health was not going to be a peripheral issue. Finally I ended up resigning as well. My last message at the Vine compared the difference between love and power, and was a plea to let Love be the bottom line AND the highest goal. I was about to  be tested on that for many dark days. I was to learn many things.

We got a great send-off and were blessed and honored. We hoped to continue to attend the Vine and maintain a more advisory role. That desire was not to be. In no time at all, things got weird there, for lack of a better word. There was no way to define the spirit in the air. The spirit of grace that had been painstakingly cultivated changed into something more like paranoia. Whatever it was, it was definitely not the spirit of Christ as I knew him. But in His name, Paranoia, Confusion, Anger, and Suspicion were having a party, and I wasn’t invited. I went anyway, but Mama told me not to come; you play with fire and you’ll get burnt. Yet, I was still in battle mode, still wanting to counter this departure from the feeling of community. I couldn’t make sense of this drastic change in attitude and to this day still have no idea what whirlwind of confusion whipped through our church. I do suspect that power and false spirituality teamed up together to form an alliance.

I tried to keep attending but began to feel pushed out. Nothing I could put my finger on, but as real as night and day. I had no idea what was going on and why all of a sudden there was coldness toward us where there once was warmth. Anyone in the work force who has been through a business management change knows what I’m talking about. The old guard is usually forced out in lieu of the new. The thinking is: Better to start clean with the new vision. And sometimes, if the old won’t leave quietly, some extra leverage is needed to do the ousting, dirty tricks or whatever is necessary to make them look bad.  At some point we felt our whole family was being attacked. We now were becoming a liability. A power shift was eminent, and we needed to be routed out. Common business practices but not what I expected in our church. The barbs toward us were sharp and carefully aimed to find their most effective mark. There was something insidious about the attack which told me that evil was a partner in it. What is more painful for a woman than seeing those she loves being demeaned? My husband, and my sons! (who had a youth ministry to the grunge kids.)

I was torn apart inside. The pain of this rejection, the confusion of evil, and the erosion of everything we had worked for, on top of the bad turn with Mike’s health, was like salt in the wound.

In all fairness, this wasn’t from everybody in the church, not by a long-shot. Just a small few who were chummy with each other, a handful of those who took it upon themselves to make the transition and change direction. The majority probably didn’t know, and perhaps they felt rejected by us, too, because we resigned. But we were weakened and unable to fight any other battles. I needed my energy to focus in on Mike and his health, to be his advocate in the medical maze of red tape. And, while some around us were cultivating paranoia, we had our own fears to deal with: fear of the unknown in regards to Mike’s health, because it was seeming like more than back issues.

A few weeks later I visited at the Vine (Mike had a rough week and wasn’t able to sit in chairs with his back.) and just felt strange. I didn’t belong. There I was, feeling like an outsider in the church we had founded. And then I realized that they truly were a different church, the personality had morphed into something that wasn’t who we were. And that if I were to be true to our beliefs, I needed to recognize that and let them be. That was our theology, that the church is the people and the people are the church. And so, after an internal struggle, I blessed them in my heart and left quietly afterward, never to visit again. Shortly after that the church changed their name. The shift was complete.

In less than a year they closed their doors.

Part 7: The Sounds of Silence

So, I let it all go. The church, my eldership role, pastoring and leading worship. Let go of being co-editor of Branches magazine, writing the articles, the writer’s guild. I gave up marketing my C.D and quit any touring. And my two sons left home as well. I felt empty-nested, was out of a job, out of purpose and looking at a bleak future. The disillusionment that I had been holding at bay came flooding in. My hope was seriously deferred.

The silence was deafening. We went from being popular, noticed, beloved, treasured, respected and cared for, to . . . nothing. I even missed the phone ringing, which is highly unusual. (See blog: https://plumbliners.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/confessions-of-a-phonaphobiac/) Popularity and limelight are not all they’re cracked up to be. I saw from the outside how people like to chum up with those perceived to be in power, and dropped when that influence fades. Eric Clapton’s blues song, Nobody knows You When You’re Down and Out  sums up something quite similar.  I had no idea who my friends were. I dared not even try to keep any lest I be accused of “sheep-stealing.” I have a huge aversion to gossip (thanks to Mom), so I avoided sharing my story with anyone, so as not to discredit anyone. Taking the “high road” at times like these has sometimes resulted in isolation and loneliness. But I didn’t trust my anger to not seep out. Where do old pastors go?

We were on that carousel in Mike’s dream. Health issues had forced us out of the game of life. Too early. The pain was more acute because we were still in our “productive” years. The world, as well as some of the American church world, wants energy, youth, ambition. And when you are no longer useful and fall off, you are forgotten. It’s for this reason that we write,  to make people more aware. Because, how opposite is that from the gospel of Jesus, who calls ALL to him who are weary? Who says he did not come for those who are healthy, but for those who need a physician? There are huge masses of people who can’t even make it to church let alone sit in an uncomfortable pew. Who feel left by the side of the road or thrown off the carousel because of illness, while life spins on without them. But meantime their  world has been drastically altered. Those who have been disabled are in a whole different reality. I now understood the medical terminology of  living “a new normal.”

This is the first time I have written about this period in our lives. It has been like a precious trunk of pain, packed away in a corner of the attic, filled with personal things and secrets. As I’m going through the trunk now, sorting through the old things, the memories are sharp and the pain returns. But, as difficult as this is to dredge back up, I can honestly say, almost a decade and a half later, I feel no anger nor bitterness. In retrospect I see many possible sides, shades of gray where I once saw only black and white. The issues are multifaceted and complex. Sometimes we aren’t as full of integrity as we think we are, duh. Sometimes we misread others’ motives, duh again. And sometimes we just won’t be able to make sense of things, and have to be alright with that.

Grace and forgiveness have worked their way through me. But it took some time for the healing. Years. Now I can truly say, “Father, forgive us for we know not what we do.”  Because fear has a way of tempting any of us to give in to our lower natures. There’s no one exempt. Love and fear will always wrestle for preeminence. Remember George Orwell’s book, “1984” ? Peel back the obvious meaning and find a secondary theme about love and fear:  in the book,  a couple’s deep love for each other was slowly undermined and finally destroyed by a methodical system that worked on each of their deepest fears. This is how evil works. And I know that no matter how noble I may think I am; no matter how I try to take the high road — if I was given just the right set of circumstances, if my fears were played upon just right — I would cave in to my lower nature as well. Knowing this helps me be graceful.

We’ve been irrevocably changed since Mike’s health issues began. Some of the things I left behind are not to be compared with some of the treasures I have found (future blogs). Back then, though, I left in pain and despair, no doubt escorted on each side with self-pity and self-loftiness.

I went quietly. That’s my way. But the turmoil raging inside was anything but quiet. I took up art again as a means to still my mind and refocus.

An instance happened around that time which gave me a hint that God was still with us. Early one morning after some bleak night hours; “the dark night of the soul,” I asked God to speak to me if he still cared. I randomly opened my bible to the words of Paul: (Philippians 3:7-11)  “I have suffered the loss of all things…that I might know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.”  I felt like the voice of God was speaking directly to me. I got up with the sun and my guitar and wrote a very simple song. Impulsively I decided to visit a certain church, over an hour away. I would be late, I knew, and almost didn’t go. But the church was large, and I sat in the back, obscured in an alcove.  I was just in time for the message, which opened with this scripture and theme:

Philippians 3: 7-11. “…But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Hidden in the back row, I wept with release.

__________________________________________________________________

Never-failing Love
(A simple song I wrote one morning before the sun came up):

In the early hours of morning, I will come to you and pray,

Cause I know that you are listening, and I know you see my pain

In the quiet of this hour I will rest my anxious soul,

For I know you take the broken and I know you make them whole.

Oh, never-failing love, never-changing grace
You’re solid as they come…

I watch the first bright rays of sunlight  shoot across the eastern sky

And I’m reminded that your glory never fades, it does not die

Though sometimes obscured by darkness, the sun rises just the same

And so I know that you are with me,  and I know you know my name.

Oh, never-changing love, never-changing grace
You’re solid as they come…

In the early hours of morning I will come to you and pray

Cause I know that you are with me and I know you are the way

In the stillness of this hour I will rest my anxious soul,

For I know you take the broken and I know you make them whole.

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15 Comments

  1. Wow! Crazy similarities…… A big hearty, amen. The loss of so much earthly hope has caused a great hunger, that is filling up with revelation of the heavenly hope.

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    • Thanks, Joe, for your affirmation and encouragement! Would love to hear your story sometime, although, from what you’ve said, I suspect it would sound just like ours! Heavenly hope, bring it on…

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  2. joan honan

     /  March 10, 2013

    wow! Margaret I did not know all this about you guys. Your writing is beautifully put. Both dave and I have had our share of health issues this past 10 years. I really appreciate your integrity and honesty! Thank you.

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    • Joan, thank you so much for writing…Yes, I know sort of second-hand of the health issues you two have gone through. You both have a light in your eyes, though, and a vibrancy that defies that.

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  3. Regina Bumstead

     /  March 10, 2013

    from Regina: how interesting of God to allow us to walk thru such varied circumstances (with each individual), that strip us down to nothing and somehow reveal that indeed, there is hope in no other. Different specifics, but I can relate to so much of this. In the end, his love carries us, imperfect as we are. **sigh**… Margaret, we should be neighbors. Love what I know of you:)

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    • Yes, we should be neighbors. Do they have good hospitals in Zambia, Mike would ask… I would love to sit and drink tea or whatever you drink with the native people, watching the dog lolling on the ground and enjoying the moment with nowhere else to be . (Yes, I’ve read your stories!)

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  4. Jo

     /  March 11, 2013

    Margaret, I have never heard your story, although we have known each other for so many years now. If I had only known what you were going through, be assured that I would have been more there for you. I’m sorry I did not help you carry this. I have always looked up to you as a mighty woman of God and always wanted to be more like you (now of course I’m so glad I am not like you because I would not have survived…I am not as strong as you) And as I listen to your CD, I have often felt there was more to you than I know. You and Mike and your whole beautiful family are amazing!

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    • Jo, thanks for writing! Be absolved of all guilt, haha! I think I met you after all of this. And besides, you don’t really want to be like me, unless you want to never be able to find your purse. Or your glasses. Or your car keys. Or just about any important paper. But you would be able to remember any song you ever heard, including useless ad jingles from the 60″s, i.e. “Franz bread the good bread, flavor beyond compare.” There, now I’ve given you something to chew on all day!
      I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie we’ve had over the years. Blessings!

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  5. Dan

     /  March 12, 2013

    There is an old Lakota saying . . . or maybe it’s Apache. You can tell the leader by the arrows in his back.

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  6. Michael M

     /  March 13, 2013

    I remember the “end” of the Vine Margaret. Sheri and I attended only one service…..after Mike and you left and knew we would never be back. I don’t know if we were thrown from the carousel or not. I think we just ran away to the safety of our bed and hid under the covers.

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    • Mike, I have a couple of really good memories, the What About Bob night where you went all out with your philosophical ‘essay’ on the meaning…i think it won the contest, and maybe you won the goldfish? And asking me to play the 1812 overture at our 4th of July party and you letting off your home-made bombs during the cannons part…priceless.

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  7. Michael M

     /  March 15, 2013

    Good memories. The Bob movie night was classic organic church in action. I think we went to the Vine for almost a year. Not quite but somewhere there a bouts. I miss you and Mike.

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  8. M&M,
    “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore” (You can call me Al” Paul Simon) comes to mind.
    Great writing, written in blood and tears; could be put to music. Also, now that I think of it… “Keep these mutts away from me” (same song). And… “I can be your long lost pal”…..Tim the H.

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    • Ah, well, still crazy after all these years. Good to see you Tim at the wedding, and Michael was so encouraged by your phone call.

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