IT'S NOT ME, IT’S YOU
By Rose S.
IT'S NOT ME, IT’S YOU:
AFTER 22 YEARS I'M LEAVING THE NETWORK ALONG WITH ALL THE SHAME AND CONFUSION IT GAVE ME. THIS IS MY BREAKUP LETTER.
- Author: Rose S. | Youth Group Member, Church Member
- Attended: Vine Church, Carbondale, IL | 2000-2022
- This story was published October, 2022
My Breakup letter TO the network
I attended Vine Church from May of 2000, at the age of 3, until February of 2022. I was a member from 2013 until I left.
This is my breakup letter.
For twenty-two years of my life, you were my everything. When I was a little girl, you were a part of all my earliest memories. I ran through the halls of the old Vineyard building with Steve Morgan's daughters, sneaking donuts from the kitchen and drawing doodles on invitation cards. I played games and watched movies with Steve’s niece and nephew while our parents held small group down the hall. I went to Kids Summer Adventure every year. I made the crafts, sang the songs, and watched as college students served for four years in the kids program, and then moved away. I wanted to be one of them when I grew up. I cried when my favorite small group childcare workers moved to Seattle on the Blue Sky plant. When I grew older, I went to Vine’s youth programs, 180 for middle school and Revolution for high school, and gave away my babysitting money for each new church plant. I felt like a part of something important– and exclusive– that was bigger than anything the world had to offer. It was exhilarating. When you pledged to be the only family I would ever need, and that no other church could give me that, I believed you. Hook, line, and sinker.
For twenty-two years of my life, you were my everything... When you pledged to be the only family I would ever need, and that no other church could give me that, I believed you
I believed you because, in a sense, you proved it to me. I met God through you. I saw the joy in people’s faces when we walked into church each Sunday. I felt that joy for myself. I witnessed people healed, experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, read the Word and saw it come to life before me. People prayed for me, and God worked through them. I prayed for others, and saw Him do the same. I received His eternal grace at your feet, Network. I learned to worship with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength through you. I wanted to give something back to you, something to express the gratitude of meeting my Savior. The most natural way for my heart to do this was to excuse any fault I even began to find in you. I thought that was grace. It was very easy to assume that I was the wrong one, anyway. At very least, surely I had misinterpreted your actions against me? So the little things that hurt were just little things. And if I did get hurt, I automatically assumed that it must have been my fault. Or my extreme sensitivity. I could not fathom any other reason for my hurt.
And then I went to Wheaton College.
WHAT I REALIZED BY ATTENDING A “NON-NETWORK” COLLEGE
I always felt like the corner piece in a love triangle between you and Wheaton. I never truly received your approval to go. I heard your disapproval between the lines of your comments: “So you’re not going to a Network university?” “What makes Wheaton better?” “Have you prayed about that?” I believed that you had good intentions when you asked those questions, but I also knew that God was not letting me go anywhere else… so I went. And it was there that a light was shed on all the realities of our relationship.
I heard your disapproval between the lines of your comments: “So you’re not going to a Network university?” “What makes Wheaton better?” “Have you prayed about that?”
I REALIZED BEING AN INTROVERT ISN'T A FLAW
For one thing, I discovered that my introvertedness was not a flaw, but a God-given trait. I realized that all the anxiety I’d felt about KSA, the church Halloween party, weekly small groups, DC, Team Vine, summer camp, youth group, conferences, and retreats… that was okay. I had always felt like a spiritual party pooper when I wasn’t totally hyped for every event. Like I was hindering God’s work by not 100% committing to these social obligations. Numerous times, I’d felt that because people specifically told me I was. I had small group leaders remind me that we were, “doing this for the kingdom of God.” I was consistently asked to host, to take people out to coffee, and to make dinner for my small group and it was always accompanied by a cunning, “Hey, I know you’re super busy, but man, you’ve just been so faithful to this group and I think God’s really using that.”
But you never asked me what God was using me for. It was an unsaid expectation that I would listen when someone you deemed authoritative told me God’s plan. And in some regard, I felt honored by that. Apart from my ‘flaws,’ I was still useful in a community that I loved.
It was an unsaid expectation that I would listen when someone you deemed authoritative told me God’s plan.
I REALIZED GOD DOESN'T OBEY US
I also realized at Wheaton that God does not answer to us and there is good in His answer, no matter what it is. While you might not have outright said otherwise, my Network, the message was there.
The primary way I saw this was in stories of miraculous healing. Even as a very small child, I heard Steve Morgan repeatedly tell the story of his wife Shu-hui’s healing from a tumor, and it was always attributed to the church’s faith and commitment to prayer.
When I came back from college, the next story being told was of a dear friend of mine who had struggled with complex muscle and bone pain since high school. From the pulpit, the pastor would tell of my friend’s suffering in intense detail, how it was prolonged for months and months, and then would explain how he, the pastor, decided one day that “enough was enough.” The pastor said, “We’re going to sit in this room and pray until God shows up.” In hearing the story, I clung to the hope at the end: my friend was healed. According to this pastor, God did “show up.” I clung to that hope because of my own chronic illness that seemed like it could end this way, too.
I would sit in church and hear you, Network, tell the story of my friend’s faith and healing, all while I relied on multiple medications each day and nationally-ranked physicians to function.
At the age of thirteen, I was diagnosed with a pituitary germinoma. Vine leaders gathered to pray for me at one point during my treatments, but even after surgeries, radiation therapy, and hormone therapy I was still dependent on complete hormone replacement and the expertise of neurology and endocrine doctors. And yet, I would sit in church and hear you, Network, tell the story of my friend’s faith and healing, all while I relied on multiple medications each day and nationally-ranked physicians to function. I regularly struggled with fear of my body’s weakness: what if I landed in the hospital again? Would I be able to hold down a full-time job? What if I had to live by my parents for the rest of my life? These ends didn’t seem to fit with the faith-filled miracles the pastors spoke of.
When I started asking for prayer for healing on an almost weekly basis, I was told that I had failed to be courageous, and I had failed to have enough faith.
So, I started asking for prayer for healing on an almost weekly basis. In one particular instance of prayer, I was told by the woman praying for me that I, “of all people,” should not be struggling with fear of God’s will for me. I had already seen him work so amazingly in my life, hadn’t I? What I heard in that prayer, and others in the weeks and months to follow, was that I had failed to be courageous, and I had failed to have enough faith.
I REALIZED PURITY CULTURE IS DAMAGING TO YOUNG PEOPLE LEARNING ABOUT SEX
In my time away from you, Network, I also discovered that, when we are weak, God is strong… and His grace covers all sins. This struck me most deeply with regards to sexuality. I didn’t realize that the water I’d been swimming in was called “purity culture” until I got to college– a Christian college, oddly enough. From a very early age, you made me believe, Network, that there were some sins Jesus could never fully cover for me. I was an introverted people-pleaser with a fear of failure and sex education was already a rocky experience for me. I was dropped into the deep end by a youth program that was trying to be relevant, cool, and even edgy with regards to sex and that was jarring and damaging for me. My very first night at youth group was, thanks to bad timing, the first night of the annual youth series on sex. I walked in as an eleven-year-old with all the excitement of joining my older friends, having just graduated from the “kids program,” and was stopped short by the giant word on the screen: SEX.
I wanted to throw up. I ran back to where my parents were and they came to meet me in the hallway. They asked me if I was okay. But I didn’t answer truthfully because I felt like I had to be okay. I wanted so badly to be okay. There were pastors’ kids in the room who were cool, and it felt good to be accepted by them. There was pressure to, “bring sex into the light.” Pressure to stop shoving it under the rug and to, “beat the world at its own game,” because “our God was the One who created sex.”
Since so many of the Vine stories around sexuality were of hurt, and pain, and unredeemed struggle, including my leader’s, it seemed to me that there must be limited grace when it came to sex.
So, I went back in. About a year later, when the series was repeated, I was sitting with a group of other sixth-grade girls for a Q & A with our leader. I didn’t have enough discernment at the time to realize that she, as a twenty-something college student, hadn’t been given any leadership training or instruction on the theology of sexuality. So, when someone asked her if virginity could be reclaimed she didn’t know the answer, and thus I believed there was no answer. Since so many of the Vine stories around sexuality were of hurt, and pain, and unredeemed struggle, including my leader’s, it seemed to me that there must be limited grace when it came to sex. Obviously, God did not completely cover sexual sin, because all of the people around me could only talk about how messed up they were because of it. When the pastor told those stories and then said, “but, through it all, sex is beautiful and wonderful and worthy of praise,” it felt like an afterthought. It felt like it was probably better to just bypass sex, altogether. I went to college fully believing that if I had a future sex life at all it would be dutiful, and nothing more.
I went to college fully believing that if I had a future sex life at all it would be dutiful, and nothing more.
When I came back home after Wheaton, I was surprised to find that you were still affirming all the things you’d told me back then. I assumed that, since I had changed, you had, too. Then I started hearing stories. More than one young woman told me of a time that she interacted with a Vine guy, sometimes just going so far as a conversation, and was reprimanded later because she did not seek her small group leader’s approval first. Of the few dating relationships I saw, all of them had required months of prayer, angst, and counsel-seeking to get off the ground. Many women were in their thirties without ever having gone on a first date. I couldn’t figure out where any of this was coming from, biblically speaking. What was everyone afraid of?
More than one young woman told me of a time that she interacted with a Vine guy, sometimes just going so far as a conversation, and was reprimanded later because she did not seek her small group leader’s approval first.
So, I asked you to explain. I went to a pastor, told him what I was seeing, and tried to describe what I’d learned from the Scriptures about God’s framework for dating and marriage. You nodded. You listened. You said you agreed. I felt heard.
I REALIZED PROUDLY PROMOTING UNEQUIPPED, AMBITIOUS MEN IS DAMAGING TO A CHURCH AND ESPECIALLY TO WOMEN
And then I went to yet another ‘Sex Talk’ a few months later. (Which is, in itself, a point of note–why so much talk about sex? Was it helpful? I am not certain.)
At first, this talk was fine. A lot of Scripture on marriage; some laughing about Song of Solomon. But then we got deeper into your “guidelines,” and the defining of “healthy boundaries” for Network dating. A model couple taught us their strategies for success: no kissing, the need to explicitly define the boundaries for hand holding or hugging, no staying together after a certain time of night, no sitting next to one another in small group or at church, etc., etc. My heart started to feel tight inside my chest. I’d broken all of those rules already in the only dating relationship of my entire life. But everyone around me was laughing and nodding like this was all perfectly normal, so I shoved the ‘sins’ to the back of my mind to reconcile later.
At Vine Church's Sex and Dating Clinic a model couple taught us their strategies for success: no kissing, the need to explicitly define the boundaries for hand holding or hugging, no staying together after a certain time of night, no sitting next to one another in small group or at church, etc., etc.
And then a girl in the audience asked the question that was on my heart: “What if you’re afraid of your wedding night?”
It was like a weight hung in the air. There was a pause, and I sat on the edge of my seat, wanting desperately to know the answer. I wasn’t anywhere near my wedding night, but the thought of it was like a looming edge on the horizon, something I couldn’t avoid, and I needed someone to tell me that it would not be what I feared.
The pastor laughed.
The audience started to laugh too, and they laughed harder after his answer: “I don’t think that will be a problem once you get each other’s clothes off.”
A sick feeling punched me in the stomach again. What was I missing? Was I such a dorky, awkward prude that I couldn’t even handle God laughing at sex? I trusted this pastor, I trusted him to represent God. I felt like he had listened and heard me, so I must have been the one with the problem when this was his answer.
The pastor’s wife tried to save the situation for the girls in the audience, but honestly, I don’t remember what she said. It was something about spending lots of time journaling and in prayer before getting married to ask for healing of that fear. But my heart was past listening.
This was yet another demonstration, Network, that it mattered more to you to get young, hungry, ambitious men into leadership than it did to train them in discipleship, theology, counseling, and discernment– to ensure that they were equipped to shepherd and steward a vulnerable flock.
This pastor later seemed to sincerely apologize for those words. But to me, the specific words were not even the point. This was yet another demonstration, Network, that it mattered more to you to get young, hungry, ambitious men into leadership than it did to train them in discipleship, theology, counseling, and discernment– to ensure that they were equipped to shepherd and steward a vulnerable flock.
I REALIZED THAT JUST BECAUSE I'M A WOMAN DOESN'T MEAN I DON'T HAVE AGENCY
After that, it was only a matter of time before I had to leave you. I had to admit to myself that you weren’t there for me anymore. We’d gone through it all together, and yet, that didn’t seem to matter to you. I didn’t wear the right clothes, or talk about sex the right way, or worship and pray as emotionally as I should, and I wasn’t a man, so I couldn’t be in leadership.
Leaders insinuated more than once that what I had learned might be helpful for me, but that I should stay quiet and let the men in authority do their jobs.
No matter what I’d learned from the centuries of saints during my time at Wheaton, those credentials were just seen as my own pride. Leaders insinuated more than once that what I had learned might be helpful for me, but I needed to, “keep it to myself for the sake of new believers.” They said younger Christians wouldn’t understand. They affirmed my understanding was great, and they appreciated that, but I should stay quiet and let the men in authority do their jobs.
I was confused. Pastors regularly declared the importance of women in the church, and yet when I wanted to share what I was learning about the Lord I was told that maybe I should share less and let other people talk more. Sexuality was called holy and sacred, and there were a thousand rules around it, and yet the greatest mysteries within it were met with laughter from the pulpit. People would say that God must be the number one priority in our lives, but their actions showed that they were more quick to follow the calling of your chosen leaders than of Jesus, some going so far as to say that outright.
I REALIZED IT WASN'T ME, IT WAS YOU
You left me with so many mixed feelings, Network. I wanted to stand by you. I wanted to cling to the memories: nights spent laughing together after small group, meals where we shared encouragement as well as food, sing-alongs on the bus ride to summer camp, prayers that made me feel like I was loved and precious and safe, weddings and birthdays and funerals. I wanted to say you were mine, and I was yours.
And yet, the longer I stayed, the more I realized that this wasn’t the truth anymore. You stopped claiming me a long time ago. But God never did.
Your past? Yes, it made me sad. But, worse than that was knowing that you hid it from me. Did you not trust me to forgive you? Did you not trust that our God would still be good, even when you confessed your sins to His people? Because that’s what Paul did.
I loved you, Network. I will continue to pray for God’s healing and mercy to come upon you. But I will not let you sit in your sin.
Because I loved you.