When We Were On Fire

When We Were On Fire

By: Susan Deborah Schiller

Were you part of the great 90's Christian sub-culture characterized by "being on fire"? Lots of writers I admire are synchronizing their blogs on October 15th and sharing their 90's stories. Click here to Addie Zierman's site to read posts from some provocative storytellers!

We were on fire for the Lord and our church had doubled in size, almost to the point of needing to add an extra service. Our pastor called it "being on all 8-cyclinders" because of two things: the offerings were exceptionally high and visitors kept coming back. But something was wrong, right at the core, and I couldn't put my finger on it until one Sunday morning.

She arrived at our church one morning and my life changed … forever.

Briskly walking from room-to-room hand delivering volunteer schedules, I first noticed her standing awkwardly in the foyer. She was young – about 16 or 17-years old. I could tell by her furtive glances at all the happy, laughing couples that she felt uncomfortable… perhaps even invisible. I had seen her in church many months ago and knew from her story that her mother was an alcoholic and she lived in a trailer park known for heavy drug activity. I walked up to her and welcomed her to our church. She smiled and seemed glad someone had noticed her and was genuinely glad to talk to me. Suddenly a woman approached on my right, scowling at me and saying, "Sue, did you leave the copy machine jammed??"

On the defensive, I tried explaining that I had done my best to fix it… but a minute later another exasperated woman tapped my other shoulder exclaiming, "Sue! There are parents lined up downstairs and no one is there to take the toddlers!" Both women were extremely frustrated because if just one person or one thing didn't work, it was liking throwing a stick into the gears, and nearly the whole system grumbled to a halt. Pastor would be upset!

Running off with the distraught women I glanced back to the girl. She was again standing all alone in a sea of smartly dressed suburban church-goers, guaranteed to be invisible in her homely outfit.

That's when something snapped, and I just stopped in my tracks. It was like Time itself stood still.

Something was wrong and I didn't know what it was, but I had been praying in that church for over a year… all by myself, walking in circles in the sanctuary, and one of my constant prayers was, "God, what would it look like if you entered our church on Sunday morning?" "What kind of car would you drive?" "How would you dress?" "When you listen to our foyer conversations, what would you think or say?"

It was my constant prayer… I had learned as a young child to ask God questions and he would answer. This time he answered by sending someone to our church – a young woman – someone people called "trailer trash". And no one said hello. No one offered her a chair to sit next to them. No one invited her to dinner after church. She disappeared and never returned after that day.

"Trailer Trash", they called her.

As if it were yesterday, I remember sitting in that last row of chairs weeping through the whole service. Next to me, but with about 6 chairs in between us another woman was crying the whole service, too… the pastor's wife. Neither of us said a word to the other but we took turns passing the tissues. Shortly afterward, those of us in leadership were to hear that her husband, our pastor, was having an affair with a young woman living in their house. He wasn't the only leader involved in an affair, it turned out…  But church must go on, and on it went…. but I didn't. I tried. Even though I didn't understand much at the time, all I knew was "something was missing, something was wrong" and it had to do with the young woman who showed up at our church that Sunday morning.

I couldn't forget her. I couldn't get her out of my mind.

What if… Jesus came to our church. What clothes would he wear, what would he drive, what would he think of our conversations, and how would he respond to our sermons? What would he think of our inner thoughts and private lives? Would He perhaps show up in the form of a lonely girl? Someone people called "Trailer Trash"?

That prayer ruined me! For Jesus' words echoed back to me from a time long distant, recorded by James …

26-27Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. – James 1

 1-4If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, "Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!" and either ignore the street person or say, "Better sit here in the back row," haven't you segregated God's children and proved that you are judges who can't be trusted?  5-7Listen, dear friends. Isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world's down-and-out as the kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens!James 2

And in Isaiah 1: "Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetingsmeetings, meetings, meetings—I can't stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you've been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don't have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.

I chose to leave that church, only to discover that most churches are very much the same, no matter the denomination. I walked out into the wilderness but religion's grip was so tight that its claws still clutched my heart. It took losing everything to find my true self – the pearl of great price, His life in me.

I'm a prodigal daughter on the way home… enjoying the sacred dance of life!

Choosing love today,


PS To read the preceding chapter of this story, please see "Ground Zero: Church Quake".

Susan Schiller knows how it feels to lose everything: marriage and family, church and reputation, finances and businesses, and more. Susan's upcoming, interactive memoir, "On the Way Home," tells the story of how she came to be known as "the most abused woman" her counselors had yet met and how she learned to navigate her way out of hell to a rich and satisfying life. In her lifetime, Susan has served in duties ranging from home school mom – to pastor –  to full-time deliverance minister – and to Midwest regional prayer coordinator for a large international ministry. These days you can usually find Susan soaking in her favorite hot springs pool, reading a book (or several), blogging, baking bread, or hanging out with her family and friends. You can get a free copy of Susan's upcoming book, "On the Way Home" by registering here.

Copyright 2012, Susan Schiller, http://TeamFamilyOnline.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline and bio, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Susan Schiller.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr .Loden Rogers June 19, 2018 at 3:51 am

This is a beautiful  and informative article and so much truth embedded in it. thanks for sharing.


Liz December 2, 2013 at 10:20 am

When I saw that you participated in Addie’s synchroblog I thought I should invite you to participate in a monthly synchroblog that I am a part of.

It’s made up of a home-grown group of bloggers who like to write on topics of post-modern faith & life. This group is open to anyone who is interested in participating. We value respectful conversation and dialogue while honoring our differences. We share links & try to learn from each other.

Some of the people that originally participated in the synchroblog no longer blog and I am trying to reach out to people like you who are currently passionate about blogging in order to keep our monthly synchroblog relevant and vital.

If you are interested in joining us you can join the facebook group and receive monthly invitations to the synchroblog. Here is that link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/114506961937378/

And you can find our website (which you can subscribe to if you want to receive an email when we post the monthly theme announcement/invitation) here: http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/

(You can see all of the themes that we have covered in the past on our website in order to get an idea of what we do)


Susan Schiller December 2, 2013 at 11:18 am

Thank you, Liz ๐Ÿ™‚


Beth October 19, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Oh Susan!!  I am breathless reading this.  Particularly this:

"But church must go on, and on it went…. but I didn't. I tried. Even though I didn't understand much at the time, all I knew was "something was missing, something was wrong" and it had to do with the young woman who showed up at our church that Sunday morning."

And this:

"I walked out into the wilderness but religion's grip was so tight that its claws still clutched my heart. It took losing everything to find my true self – the pearl of great price, His life in me. I'm a prodigal daughter on the way home…"

I am out in the wilderness.  I am a prodigal daughter.  I can't tell if I'm on the way home yet.  I hope I am, but I'm so mixed up that I can't read a compass for anything out in this wild place.  But your words…oh they are powerful.  A powerful wake-up call to the church, to us all.  And they are also words of hope piercing straight into my heart.  Thank you.  <3


Susan Schiller October 20, 2013 at 8:40 am

Dear Beth,

Your words go straight to my heart, for our hearts, in Him, beat as one… and I pray that Hope continues to arise in your heart and mind! I think you often and still hope to be able to get to Missoula one day. Here we are in the same state and still it’s a 10 hour drive!

Thank you so much for your kindness. Being prodigals in the wilderness gets lonely many times!


Amar Naik October 19, 2013 at 5:16 pm

this is a beautiful story and so much truth embedded in it. thanks for sharing.


Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Thanks so much, Amar, for sharing – I appreciate you!


Nicole Romero (@nicoletteromero) October 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Susan, this is so honest and painful. Thank you for sharing. It's cliche to say that we get wrapped up in the mechanics of life and do not see the real life all around us, but it is just so true. It is so easy to be covered in my own issues and not be willing or able to reach out to another human being. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.



Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Thanks, Nicole, for your loving words today… love goes so far, doesn’t it? Thanks so much <3


Sojourner October 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

What a moving story. I love the idea of asking God questions. Beautiful!


Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Hi Sojourner,

Thanks so much for visiting today and sharing ๐Ÿ™‚


Jamie Wright Bagley October 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Yep, that pretty much nails a lot of churches I have been in. Not that loving people did not exist in those settings but love was subject to the confines of programs and leadership heirarchy and business goals. Oh, and for heaven's sake don't dare quesiton their authority! Where do we go from here? I've been striving for an answer for years, and I keep hoping. Thanks for sharing your story. I actually read it yesterday but had more time to come back today to comment. ๐Ÿ™‚


Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Your question, Jamie, is one many of us are asking ourselves. “Where do we go from here?”

The fact that we are asking the question means the answer is nearby. I feel like Addie’s synchroblog, Story Sessions, and so many others are helping to bring in the Light. The more Light, the more clarity we’ll have. It’s what I hope. I feel like we’re getting close to knowing more…

I’m really glad you stopped by today, Jamie – thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts and experience! ๐Ÿ™‚


Tandy Elisala October 19, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Beautiful story. I commented on her blog and what a great idea to share. I'm going to do that too:-)


Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I’m glad you are joining in on the launch… it’s amazing what the power of one comment can do… or sharing a blog post! Thanks, Tandy ๐Ÿ™‚


Peggy Nolan October 19, 2013 at 2:11 pm


this is beautifully and powerfully written. I'm glad I stopped by to read it.

Many blessings,



Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Hi Peggy,

You’re very sweet to come by and read – thanks so much for your kind thoughts and words ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a blessed weekend!


Tandy Elisala October 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Susan, I am in awe of this story. This touched me deeply. I believe it's not necessarily what happens in church but every moment of every day that matters to God. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.


Susan Schiller October 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm

You have a tender heart, Tandy… thanks so much for reading and sharing. You’re right … it’s not so much what we accomplish in our church activities and programs but how we live our lives out every day that matters to God. I think of 1 Corinthians 13…. “If you have no love….”

Have a great weekend, Tandy!


Michelle October 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm

How often are people in the church/ministry so consumed with programs running smoothly that they overlook people in need of human contact and love?  How often have I done it myself?  Thanks for sharing your story and for the encouragement you left on my blog – a modern example of human contact and love, I dare say. 


Susan Schiller October 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm

It’s the little touches here and there, even among strangers passing, that can make a person’s day! Thanks, Michelle, for your encouraging words ๐Ÿ™‚


Small Wanderer October 17, 2013 at 6:44 am

This is powerful and beautifully written. Those verses from Isaiah and James are chilling when we think about so many of our churches. I hope that we will learn! Thank you for sharing.


Susan Schiller October 17, 2013 at 7:51 am

Megan, thanks so much for stopping in and commenting. I agree that God’s perspective, expressed through Isaiah and James is chilling, indeed… it was enough to stop me in my tracks! Thanks again and have a great day!


Lindsay October 16, 2013 at 7:14 am

Oh, Sue, this story broke my heart. So much truth here, and so much beauty too.

Thanks for sharing. <3


Susan Schiller October 16, 2013 at 7:24 am

Hi Lindsay,

Thanks so much for visiting and sharing!

You know, I wonder how many times I missed Him in the crowds… Mother Teresa inspires us all, and she once said that she looks for Jesus every day in the crowds of people around her. This story always reminds me of her… and how He’s so easy to be missed because He doesn’t stand up and try to get people’s attention. He doesn’t intentionally try to build a tribe or gather a crowd. Instead, he quietly slips in and offers Love.

Thanks so much, Lindsay, for coming by today!


KG October 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

Thanks for sharing this! 

I was into religion so long ago and now I just don't follow and just don't believe anymore. Nothing in particular happened which is hard to explain to people who always wish to change me but I believe I'm a good human being whether I'm religious or not.

This was a great excerpt.



Susan Schiller October 9, 2013 at 10:47 am

Thanks so much KG for visiting today and for sharing your experience. God lives within us and wherever we are, we are at Home in Him, I believe. Being religious is sometimes a stumbling block, but the lessons we learn can turn the stumbling block into a stepping stone.

I’m so glad you came today, and thanks for sharing!


Gena Livings October 9, 2013 at 10:28 am

Beautiful message.  We are all children of God and I believe that God gives us each other in order to learn from each other. God truly does walk with us each day as we walk with each other…. (the grocery store clerk, the librarian, the police man, the waitress, the so called trailer trash people, etc……) I wrote about this very thing the other day:

Some people come into our lives in order to make a lasting impression and then quietly fade away. 

Some people come into our lives to penetrate our souls, wake us up and move our heart towards love.

Some people come into our lives in order to broaden our understanding, impart wisdom and provide guidance.

Some people come into our lives in order to wound us so that we can learn the importance of trust and forgiveness while also being cautious to whom we open our heart’s to.

Some people come into our lives in order to make the days more beautiful, to enrich our spirits and to leave a footprint on our hearts.

We don’t know what we have in these people until we lose them and we don’t know what we have been missing until they arrive.

So be "grateful" for each person that comes into your life as they bestow a blessing and a purpose. 

Psalm 32:8 
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." 

Blessings and Love,


http://www.GenaLivings.com – Healthy Living


Susan Schiller October 9, 2013 at 10:45 am

Gena, you’ve painted such a healing picture of Love here, in picturing all the different kinds of people that come into our lives. Even those with harmful words and actions can turn out to be a blessing in disguise, I believe!

These are great words – I really appreciate you sharing! ๐Ÿ™‚


Joanne October 9, 2013 at 10:28 am

This is a beautiful post.  I have been in a 12 step program that focused on the newcomers and making them feel welcome.  I am so grateful for that education and I put it into practice everywhere I go.  Thank you for sharing your story.  

God doesn't want you to stop serving him despite these situations in churches.  It is in spite of them that he wishes you to serve him.


Susan Schiller October 9, 2013 at 10:43 am

Hi Joanne,

That’s a beautiful story you have – it creates such a nice picture in contrast to this particular story! Those who have been through much heartache definitely know the meaning of compassion and how to express love.

It’s very true that we shouldn’t let negative experiences discourage us from serving God, but rather to help us to change, using them as a stepping stone to moving to a higher realm of life. Good words, Joanne – thanks so much!


Addie Zierman October 9, 2013 at 8:27 am

This is haunting and full of truth. Yes. May we all learn to see the unexpected, lonely Jeus in the midst. Thanks so much for sharing.


Susan Schiller October 9, 2013 at 10:02 am

Addie, I’m honored by your visit! You’re the one who started the flow of stories about “When We Were on Fire!” – and I’m so much looking forward to when the syncroblog starts on October 15th. To be honest with you, when I first heard about what you were doing and the topic, it ripped my heart open all over again. I guess God wanted to do a little more housecleaning and repair work in my foundation…. along with a healing touch!

I look forward to reading all the stories coming from your blog – thanks again for reading and for commenting ๐Ÿ™‚


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