Cotten, Kodi

My Life Story

There are many reasons that I finally stopped going to meetings. The understanding/realizations came to me over probably a year to a year and a half. I was faithfully going to meetings and spending time with the friends and workers during this time and praying and reading. One of my prayers during this time was, God please keep directing me to the truth and peace.

I had actually felt moved to offer for the work. I spoke to the overseer of the state, Lyle, after a meeting and indicated I would like to talk to him when he was available sometime. I had peace after that conversation and felt I was taking the right step. A few months later Lyle called me and schedule a time to have lunch. I had lunch with him and as soon as I offered for the work, I lost all of my peace. I was so unsettled and could not figure out why. I had financial obligations that kept me from going in at that time, so I thought well maybe there is something else I need to work out and I will take this time while I am getting out of debt and pray about it and work on it.

A lot of things started becoming clear to me. For instance, I would tell people that it was OK for others to do something, but I knew it was not right for me. One day I thought why? Does God have a double standard for other people and me? Isn’t service to God more about what is in my heart? Then I wondered why does there seem to be a double standard for men and women? There is scripture that indicates there is no gender in heaven. Also, the spirit really doesn’t have a gender that’s just in the body. I serve with my heart and my spirit does God really care about how I dress or do my hair? I know he knows the number of hairs on my head but why does he really care about what my hair looks like? It seems cruel when some folks for some reason can’t grow their hair out or they have a sickness and so then they become stressed about not being able to conform in this way. I know of many who would add more stress to their illness or themselves because of not being able to have hair they could grow out or put in a bun. Wouldn’t God want to have us conform in a way that we are all able to?

During all these questions I kept praying for direction and truth. One day I started thinking about this God I serve. I started to just put together some qualities that I expect from Him. What are the things about Him besides being creator and the decider of my salvation, that makes me want to serve Him? Well first of all I wanted a just and fair God and I wanted Him to care more about what is inside than outside. The people I love dearly don’t have to dress a certain way or act a certain way. I still love them and it’s the way I see them treat me and their children or their friends that makes me cherish them. I thought this is how I want God to think about me.

During this time I kept going to meetings and praying and reading. Meetings were feeding me less and less. I was seeing people judge harshly for what I considered little things. I started to see it a lot and realized it wasn’t new. I was just allowing myself to see it. I had seen some pretty bad things but always just allowed that people are not perfect but I am following Jesus who was perfect. I tried to surround myself with positive people who would encourage me. I thought this would make all the difference. However,o I started feeling manipulated by these people. They would say things like they would pray for so and so because they were close to losing out. They would talk to me about what they felt was right and what they were moved to do. This made me feel like I needed to do those things too in order to be right.

As long as I would talk about the bible the way they did, I was accepted and even complimented. However, when questioning certain things, for instance, some people who have such a great spirit yet for some earthly choice/circumstance not being able to take part in a meeting. Well then the excuses came and they were not really defensive but there was some defending and things were just not so comfortable. This seemed to be anywhere/everywhere. With different friends, different meetings, different conventions. Some would even agree that this wasn’t right or that wasn’t right, but it always came back to this being the only way. They would just ignore that stuff and keep right themselves because this was the right way and the only way.

I suddenly started to wonder why this was the only way. Not everyone can communicate with God the same way. Why would we all have to worship the same way? I truly believe that people that never hear the truth or go to meetings can be saved. I have pretty much always believed this. I have a hard time believing God would send someone to hell because they lived in some remote country with no access to meetings or a bible or workers. I believe God sees the heart of everyone and bases His decisions on that.

I could not believe that my oldest sister (she never professed), who is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know, could ever be considered for hell by God. She is a better person than I could ever imagine to be. There is no way that Jesus’ blood could cover me just because I went to meetings and not cover her sins as well because she did not go to meetings or profess. I was not a better person just because I went to meetings and prayed. There are other people I started also recognizing this about. That they surely have a heart and spirit so much better than mine but they don’t go to meetings. There is no way I will ever believe that God would not save them.

Anyway, around this time Roxi had to rest from the work. I told her one day that I hoped the struggle she was going through would not keep her from meetings. She moved in with me and we went to meetings. Shortly after that I looked at her one day and brought up a couple of my concerns. She had some of her own that she brought up and we talked about. This led to us cutting our hair just a little. We, of course, talked a lot and went to meetings but we didn’t really keep talking about where we were in our spirituality. However one day I told her I was not being fed by the meetings anymore and it was getting harder and harder to go.

She pretty much told me she felt the same way. So we stopped going to some gospel meetings and some Wed night meetings. We cut our hair a little shorter. She opened up to me a little about some of her experiences in the work and I was horrified! I knew it was hard and that some things were bad, but the things she was sharing that had bothered her so much was just so unchristian and against everything that is taught from the bible.

Well, I had to do some more praying about this since I had offered for the work. I still had no peace about this subject though. I did know though that if this is what God wanted for me he would provide me with the strength to do it. However, since the moment I said the words to Lyle all those months back I still had not received peace about this. I was so confused about why my peace left when I was doing what I was moved to do.

I decided I would just email Lyle and having just made that decision I got a little of my peace back. So I started the email and what I ended up saying was that my financial obligations would not be taken care of at the time that I thought they would and that I would not be able to make a commitment to the work at this time, but that I would keep following peace, for direction. I suddenly had peace again. All that peace that I had lost came flooding back.

So I went to meeting but still I was not getting anything out of it. I would have conversations with friends about the bible and it was not doing for me what it once had. Finally, one day at home talking to Roxi I told her, I don’t ever want to go back. She looked at me and said, “I wasn’t sure about telling you, but I don’t either.” (She told me she was a little reluctant to tell me because of the time I had commented that I hoped her struggles didn’t take her away from meetings). So we called the elder of our meeting and set up a dinner in a restaurant with them, and explained we would not be coming to meetings anymore.

Then I really felt better than I had for probably a year or two. Anyway, that began the journey of sort of a new discovery of God. I learned how many times and ways I had limited Him and His power in my life and others while going to meetings.

I heard from one of my friends who still went to meetings, that the couple that had the Wed. meeting mentioned that they did not want their kids around Roxi or I anymore because of what we might teach them. I was so hurt. I knew the Roxi and I would never do anything to teach their kids anything about religion or God. If they did not know us well enough to know that then they either didn’t know us or they were just being mean. Roxi had often helped to take care of these kids before.

This just hurt that we had lost this friendship/trust just because we cut our hair and stopped going to meetings. No one even knew what we believed if we even believed anything different. I mentioned this to a friend who was pretty much my best friend at the time. I even told her I didn’t think the truth would accept people who did not conform to the unwritten rules. I also told her I did not think her kids would go to hell just because they didn’t go to meetings. (She often used to worry because she said she had led her kids to the gates of hell and then turned and left them there. She had not professed until she was in her 60s. So her kids were adults when she finally started going to meetings and they did not want to go to meetings.)

Well, we finished our talk and I did not hear from her for about 3 months. Then she told me how she had been thinking about it, and she didn’t want me to explain my thoughts to her kids either. She told me how when she went to read that night her Bible opened to 2 Thess. 3:6 about pulling away from a brother that does not conform. This also hurt me much. I did respond to her and let her know how much she hurt me and that I didn’t think God wanted us to be hurting each other. She did apologize and is 1 of 2 professing friends that will keep in touch with me.

All of the friends I had made pretty much pulled away from me. They just were not there for me anymore. I still had/have peace though, but I learned that those friends were only friends as long as I was going to meetings and thinking the same way they did.

A lot of the friends at that time did still stay on my Facebook as friends. I had been working on building up a new life and making sure to surround myself with positive new friends. One day I signed on to Facebook and saw a comment from a young professing mother stating my 5-year-old needs a new friend. The friend he currently has is not a good influence. The little girl’s mother has a tattoo of a naked woman.

I thought this was awful to judge a 5-year-old little girl because of her mother. Did they even take the time to get to know the mother? Did they just judge the mother on a tattoo? Did they see this tattoo or just hear about it? Anyway, I did not want that kind of judgmental influence to be part of my new life. So I went and unfriended about 40 people, all professing, right then. People that had commented on that post indicating she was right to not want her boy around that, and people who I knew from talking to them in the past that they might agree with that attitude.

I don’t agree with the doctrine. I know they say they have no other doctrine but the Bible, but I don’t feel their actions agree with what they say.

There is peace and fellowship and the ability to be saved and have a relationship with God outside of meetings.

I have also found I can accept everything about myself and be acceptable to God, rather than always trying to fight/hide some part of myself to fit or conform. My spiritual life is still kind of traumatized, and yet I still have more peace than I have had in a long time.

By Kodi Cotten
Arizona, USA
June 27, 2011