Gag Me

Valentine’s Day, a Thursday in 2008
The school of heart knocks I did graduate

Integrity questioned, advanced education dis
How could I be so blind going into this?

Driven home from the church office by an elder
“You’re a very smart girl”…

“Make better choices in the future”
I thought, like not trusting my pastor?

I sought the solace of church in 2003
In the front pew with my broken family

Two years’ prior I was all consumed
Raped by a national act post-honeymoon

Followed by my spouse’s spiral into meth
I cried, I screamed, I held my breath

Juggling a college career, a business, an aspiring author
Raising my own plus two bonus daughters

I threw myself into the growing congregation
My management talents and skills met with elation

“We need you on staff, I need you please”
In meetings, emails begging… Geez Louise!

Promising me work for ten years,
In 2006, I gave up a successful career

Convinced to help the pastor reach his mountain top
Enticed by “a calling” my dreams of VP I would swap

So, I raised $50K, 6-months wages to sustain me
Agreed to two years before coming on salary

Found pastoral staff with no education earned 40-50 grand
To work 18/hours/week as logged by their own hand

A church of 500+ with no line item budget or personnel policies
Pastors spending funds on personal items with no apologies

Tirelessly, I worked 60/hours/week to get them out of a jamb
Little did I know then I would become the sacrificial lamb

I was given “love offerings” and a loan to save my home
Believing your word is your oath, I had tunnel vision syndrome

Meanwhile my meth- and sex-addicted husband had run out
Still, “Praise the Lord,” I would shout!

With blood, sweat and tears, I kept my eye on the prize
Late 2007, cashed out my PERS Tier 1 for the promise of the finish line

January 2008, to Oahu for Doing Church as a Team Conference
While I was away an investigation on me had commenced

Church council claimed they had no idea I’d worked past December 2006
Each had seen me in the office, known me intimately, are they sick?

And, when the pastor was questioned about how he was involved
He denied, he lied, responsibility for his actions absolved

After all, his administrative team were three educated women
Who cares what they witnessed with their own eyes and ears, or when?

The council president – with a vote of no confidence – fired me
(14 days short of coming on salary) Happy two-year anniversary!

~ Just L (April 3, 2019)

Author’s Note: I mostly write bad romantic poetry about love and loss. I was first published in 1997, and sometimes my closest friends cringe as they recognize who I am writing about. This may be the most intimate story I have ever shared publicly. More so than my sexual assault by Lynch Mob’s band and manager, which occurred in 2001.

It’s been a decade since the church tried to, by court order, gag me in late spring 2009. In light of the stories (including my own) of the “Me, too” movement, and the HBO series, “Leaving Neverland,” which exposed how children and families were groomed for sexual abuse, it has struck me how I, too, had been groomed for a different kind of exploitation. My talents and skills were used for another’s gain and acclaim.

After I was fired as administrator of the church, and while being the object of gossip and ridicule, I continued to sit proudly on the front pew of the church each Sunday. More than one year later, the church sued me for over $200,000. The amount included money I had raised for my contract, love offerings, my retirement and other funds I had given to the church as donations and offerings. It also included the loan my husband and I had signed a promissory note for, but he was never named in the law suit.

I never went back. The very people who had given me emotional support through my separation, had been mentors to my children, and had sat at my kitchen table, had betrayed me.

I was advised by my attorney to settle the civil suit and sign an (untrue) affidavit hidden in the church lawyer’s vault to be used against me at a later date (if I did not cooperate) to avoid sensationalized headlines and ruin my public service career. In truth, I agreed to settle the case in order to allow my children and the children of the pastor to avoid suffering shame and embarrassment during their late teen years as they began lives and careers of their own in our small community. It wasn’t long after said pastor was “promoted” to a position in another state.

There is nothing private about a settlement. I can count the number of times this court record has been made public to humiliate or harass me over the past ten years. The story does not magically go away. It doesn’t matter if I was innocent, praised by the church’s corporate lawyers who were not a party to the case, or vindicated by some, it is forever on record for those who want to cause harm. Meanwhile, those directly involved never suffered the consequences of their actions, a hit to their professional reputation or financial losses, “forgave me” (HAH!!!), and never looked back.

I have remained quiet for too long, not to protect my users/abusers or to save myself. After sacrificing my coveted PERS Tier 1 retirement (which I had earned since 1993, and in all my years as a struggling single mother had never touched, and would have now, at the age of 55, sustained me in the amount of approximately $5,500/month), as well as being fired from two jobs (at half of my previous salary before attending church) as a direct result of settling said lawsuit, God knows that didn’t happen!

What are they going to do, sue me?

I am quite certain if I had been a man I would have never been sued. We would all be outraged. And, I would be raking in a book deal.

I am presently single, and living my best life as a nonprofit management consultant and grant writer in Oregon and Mexico. I have acquired over $230 million in grants and awards for nonprofit organizations in my community. I cannot say that God has made up for what the locusts have eaten; however, I have on occasion run into some of those involved… And I celebrate because I am free! That is indeed priceless.