I’ve lived in the Austin area for over 25 years now. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one area in my life. I was supposed to have only been here three years. Five at the max. I’ve always been a little bit of a gypsy at heart. My feet would get itchy after being in any one place for more than a couple of years. As a matter of fact, I moved here randomly to dance with Ballet Austin. I remember getting my acceptance letter from them and thinking, “hmmm…I don’t know anyone in Texas. I’ve never been to Austin. I have no idea what anything is like there. I should totally move there.” And so, I did.
It was one of the most pivotal, life-changing decisions of my life. Here in Texas, I met my husband, met Jesus, and had my children. I could say here is where I began (sort of) adulting.
It’s also where I had my first real experience with a religious cult.
First of all, let’s get something straight. Nobody wakes up one morning, checks their calendar, and says, “I’ve got nothing going on today. I think I’ll join a cult.”
I don’t think the people flocked to Jonestown because they heard Kool-Aid would be served or that others chose to hang out in Waco with the Branch Davidians in hopes of making it over to the Magnolia Silos for lunch.
I mean, if someone asks you if you want to come hang out with them for an hour or maybe a decade, handle some snakes, roll around on the floor screaming, and spend hours praying against the spiritual forces of wickedness, you’d probably say, “That’s a hard pass.”
I know I would have. Until I found myself doing just that. For the record, I’ve never handled snakes. Just to clear that up.
Looking back, of course, I can see it all with so much clarity. My husband and I were coming out of a wild life. The art world, new age, Buddhism, not to mention just living like a couple of crazy 20-something-year-olds, had taken its toll on our souls. When we fell in love with Jesus, we were desperate to separate ourselves from anything that resembled our old, ugly lives. We went all in, and so were an easy target for “spiritual leadership” that employed a form of self-flagellation as a way to become holy.
Don’t do that….
Don’t go there….
Don’t wear that…
Don’t eat that…
Don’t say that…
Don’t visit them…
Every aspect of our lives became scrutinized and controlled by emotion and fear. Fear that we were going to be unpleasant to God. Fear of hell. Fear of “sinners.” Fear of being forever lost.
Relationships were controlled. My marriage was controlled. Our thought world was attempted to be controlled.
Thankfully God led us out almost four years ago, but it took quite awhile to heal. To find the loving Savior that is Jesus, not the tyrannical, fire and brimstone God that was constantly paraded out to us every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday when we were expected to be in church along with any other random service that was called.
I remember vividly the day my husband met with the pastor to tell him we were leaving. We’d prayed, fasted, and talked for weeks about it. We knew God was leading us out, but we’d never felt so alone. The church basically excommunicated us after 13 ½ years of faithful service and leadership. It was probably the best way because it made our decision all the more clear. Never had it been more obvious that the gospel being preached there was another gospel.
External holiness, control, manipulation, and fear will never bring about the holiness and liberty of Jesus alone.
Fast forward to today, almost four years later. We spent three of those years in a fairly healthy church with great people. But we also finally had the space to really take a look at our beliefs and realize we no longer believed many things held by this denomination. Reconciling the New Testament church and the American church today was impossible. American Christianity is a corporation that we want no part of. We’ve dug into scripture as a family and have chosen to walk this particular road that God has us on. One of trusting God instead of working to please Him.
And apparently, this road is taking us to North West Arkansas. After 25 years in the same area, Jesus has made it clear He’s opening doors somewhere else for us. It’s a crazy thought to pack up our family and our lives and move to another state, but if God’s in it, I want to be a part of it.
We were initially concerned about moving the Coconuts out of their comfort zone, but it appears they have enough of their gypsy mom in them to be excited about new adventures and friends. The oldest Coconut has decided to accept her invite to JBU in the same area, so it looks like this momma will have all her chickens close by after all.
Jesus is pretty cool about giving you more than you can ask for or imagine.
As for Hubs and I, we’re ready for a fresh start. There are too many memories that surround us here of our time spent in a toxic church culture. I don’t want my kids to worry about running into someone who might judge them from our old church. I don’t feel like hearing the whispers about how “it looks like the Grotes are backsliding” from people who don’t care enough to pick up the phone and ask us what we’re doing.
And while what other people think of us doesn’t matter, I know God is calling us to fellowship with and minister to others who also want to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.
But not here.
All that matters is that we know God is leading us.
So, May 2023 will bring a new chapter to our family. And while we will be sad to leave our friends and the good memories we’ve made here, we know that new beginnings are beautiful and healthy things.
Especially in the Ozarks.