His daughter did not like me for some reason, yet I was the one sinning because according to the cult leader’s interpretation of Scripture, if I know someone has something against me then I am to lay my gift down before the altar and go and reconcile with that person first or my gift will not be accepted.
I should clarify that it was his daughter.
I also should clarify that she was a bitch.
She could do no wrong in his eyes. She did have something against me and that was her annoyance that I kept calling her out on the crap she was doing and saying. It was this weird, twisted, family systems dynamic and it was if I was one of his children – the older child – who had just enough of his little sister’s shit and was trying to get ‘dad’ to notice in order to bring back some sense of fairness.
But his knowledge of the Bible was vast and apparently whole sections of that famous book were written to justify his daughter’s actions.
The problem was, I wasn’t a moron either when it came to Scripture and for every passage he would smash over my head I would come back with another one that contradicted his seamless argument over his daughter’s perfection. In the end, he would simply summarize our interaction by labeling me as being rebelliousness and I would be put on his naughty list, letting ‘followers’ know of my transgressions.
And then there was his son. His ticket out was that he was rebellious and everyone accepted that he was an asshole but this too was okay and justified because “The Lord was doing a work in his life”.
Not so with me. I was all but abandoned by the One on high because of my rebelliousness. Who would want to love me in light of my obvious disdain for Him. Him was a confusing title because it was not clear at times if we were talking about Him – as in God Almighty or him – as in cult leader supreme.
Either way, as the months wore on I was really pissing off every member of his family with my challenges, my questions, and my actions. My wife was constantly hearing about how bad a husband I was and father and a person. Yet, woven around all of this was this spiritual thread that kept us all stuck together. This environment had become my normal and at the end of the day I did want to be a better person, a better husband, a better father and my current circumstances did not present me well in the sense that we were flat broke and I had no job – let alone any job prospects.
Perhaps their descriptions of me were right after all.
And so I would repent. I would ask for forgiveness. I would seek reconciliation and harmony with his children – with his family. I would try to be the guy that the cult leader wanted me to be. I would jump through whatever hoop in an effort to please whoever in order to help me care for my family.
It felt dirty. But in those moments I had not yet found the language to describe this experience. Often I would feel yucky and gross inside. I would feel confused and lost. I would be a walking contradiction, challenging the very things I was thinking or even reading. I must be reading the Bible wrong. I must be interpreting these things wrong. I must be speaking wrong. I must be interacting wrong. I must be living wrong. I must be wrong.
Week after week, month after month. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And I so desperately wanted to be right. Actually, what I really wanted was acceptance and intimacy within a group of people – to be wanted.
“They love your potential…”
Who the hell was I? Where was I going? What was I doing?
We gave his family and him as much money as we could. We poured ourselves into them, helping them succeed while we were failing – while we were hurting and were needy. It was about them after all. About their ministry. Their success. God would want it that way. God had anointed him. God had equipped him. It was his ministry. He was doing something great with this man. We were along for the ride, desperate for attention, longing, seeking, clinging, trying to find hope in the muck and mess that was our lives.
And so when I finally did find employment again things changed. One by one I ended up hiring his entire family. Yes, his entire family. His daughter was a server for me. His son was a cook for me. His wife provided some cards for me to sell in my retail store. I hired both the cult leader and his wife to do inventory counts in my retail store and I hired his wife’s twin brother to work for me, eventually making him my assistant. And through it all we gave him more money as part of our ‘offerings’. I was now back in everyone’s good books. My life had purpose.
Apparently, I had found my ‘potential’.