The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Sixteen

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on January 11, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Fifteen

Part Sixteen: Gray

I can look back at pictures of those years, and somehow, I look happy in some of them.  I know that somewhere in that time I took a trip to Germany with my grandparents.  It was one of the few happy times I can remember.  In contrast, the rest of those two years, from 15 to 17, were very dark days for me.  Our home life was not happy.

Besides my dad being depressed, which lasted at least a couple of years if not longer, the discipline that my brother B received continued, and in some respects, got worse.

Once Joe LaQuiere was not there to cow B into fearful submission, my dad had a tougher time getting him to toe the line.  A now-teenage B became disrespectful, angry, arguing and talking-back to my dad.  He cared less and less that he would be punished for it.  My dad gave up using a wooden paddle on my brother.  He moved on to more creative tools, searching for one that would put the fear of God into his wayward son.  Sometimes it was a belt.  Sometimes it was a thin rod like that used for caning.  Then, he found himself the winner.  I don’t know what it was made out of, but it was a length of doubled-up, flexible, white line of some kind or other, about 1/8″ in diameter, and he used it like a whip, hitting indiscriminately whatever was in reach.  This whipping hurt far more than a wooden paddle ever could, and it left no permanent marks, which all the corporal-punishment manuals, like the Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child, which was a staple in my parents’ bookshelf, all were quick to warn against.

If it doesn’t leave a permanent mark, the books said, it was fine.

I would be on constant alert and tense when my dad and B started getting into it – I knew with inevitable dread that it would end in a whipping, and I swear I hated them nearly as much as B did.  My dad would hit his limit, grab B and push him to the basement stairs, and down they’d go.  The next thing I’d hear is my brother crying, then screaming for my dad to stop, while my dad chased him around the basement, whipping him as he went.  It seemed like it would go on forever.  In hindsight, it was probably only 10 or 15 minutes each time.  But it was enough.  It was too much.  With every beating I had to hear, my own heart was getting ripped to shreds, and my fear grew.

My mom would calmly go about her business, ignoring the cries and pleading from below.

More than ever, I tried to use my influence and experience to head off any altercation between my brother and my dad.  I played peacemaker as much as I could, and I begged the children not to do anything that would set my dad off.  We all knew how he got when things made him angry, but somehow I was the only one who tried to do anything about it.  I had always been the one to try to placate my dad and walk the fine line to avoid his wrath, but now it became a desperate need – I HAD to prevent him from getting angry, or my brother would pay the price.

Meanwhile, the whippings had the opposite effect to the one my father intended.  They made B even less tractable than before.  With each beating, he grew harder towards my parents.  He sneered more openly at them.  He grew more rebellious and more angry.  My dad continued these whippings until B was nearly 17.  Then, one day, B stopped taking it.  I remember it so clearly.  That day, when my dad tried to shove him up against the wall, B pushed back.  That was all.  That was enough.  He had grown bigger than my dad, and now, in that instant, he realized he was stronger.  It took my dad just a split second to realize what had happened.  He could no longer physically control his son by violence.

He took his hands off my brother, and said B was so far gone in his rebellion that normal discipline had no effect on him anymore…since physical buffeting was useless, he was spiritually turning B over “to be buffeted for the sake of his soul”, as it says somewhere in the bible.

I knew better, and so did B.  My dad was simply afraid of what would happen.  He never whipped my brother again.

It was some relief to know that I wouldn’t have to hear my brother’s screams from the basement anymore.  But it didn’t change anything else.  Life was something to be endured, long and weary, with no end in sight.  I became obsessed with the color gray.  I thought about it, wrote about it, all the time.  My life was gray.  Everything was gray; meaningless and gray.  I felt like I was slowly being smothered by a gray pall, and I no longer had the will to resist it.

Then, finally, came the day when I couldn’t bear it any longer.  I remember we were going somewhere in our big van, with the younger kids, and my mom driving.  I remember the seat I was sitting in.  It’s a crystal clear memory in my head.  I sat there, with daily life going on around me, while a storm of pain and desperation raged in my heart, and I knew I couldn’t take even one more second of living my hated life; and in my despair I cried out in my heart, “God, I don’t even know if You’re there anymore – I know You don’t love me, and never have – but I don’t have anything left to turn to anymore!  You’ve taken everything away, and I have nothing left – if You even can, just HELP me, please!  Do SOMEthing!”

And in that moment, for the first time in my entire 17 years of life, I felt God’s LOVE.

It was warm, and it engulfed me, wrapped me up in something indescribable.  In that blinding second, I KNEW, for the first time, that God loved me.  I FELT it.  I had never felt anything like it before, and I never have since.  It was an inescapable certainty.  I had cried to God, and He had answered me.

Part Seventeen>

Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Fifteen

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on January 10, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Fourteen

Part Fifteen: Black Days Ahead

The next few months were kind of a blur.  They were awkward.  We still ran into our friends/acquaintances/ex-cultmates often.  I didn’t know how to think of them or how to act when we saw them.  I’m sure it was equally awkward for them.  Within our family, not much changed.  We followed the same rules, lived the same lives as the people in the cult we had just left.  We just did it separately.

The main difference was my dad sunk into a deep depression.  I couldn’t rely on his sense of humor and warmth to carry me through the dark and confusing time I was now in.  He was now convinced that he was a failure, and nothing could reach him in the dark place he had sunk into.  I wasn’t the little girl that idolized her daddy anymore, but I was a teenager whose life had just been torn apart, and my dad was the one constant I relied on.  No longer.

I really felt like my dependence on my dad was the last feeble crutch I had left to cling to, and Someone had just kicked it out from under me.

Now I was not only confused and scared, I was bitter.  Bitter at a God I didn’t know, who had taken away the last piece of my security.  I decided that God existed, but He didn’t love me, and He never would.

About a year into our exile, my parents started looking for a new church to go to – a mainstream church, no more home-church for us.  We visited church after church after church.  They felt cold and unfriendly.  Even if the people smiled at us, I knew they had no idea what kind of people we were and where we came from.  We were in foreign territory, and no one spoke our language.  We would try one church for a couple weeks, then move on.  Occasionally we attended one for as long as a few months.  We weren’t allowed to do anything youth-related, so we just sat and listened to sermons with my parents.  I didn’t like it.  None of the teaching was challenging.  The preachers weren’t engaging, and no one cared about me, no matter where we went.  I didn’t like church.

I preferred the warm camaraderie of the cult family that we were now irrevocably cut off from.

Eventually, the church we were attending merged with another church, and we stopped going.  Then my parents found a new place – a Plymouth Brethren congregation called Lakeside Bible Chapel.  It was just a tiny bit more comfortable than the rest because they celebrated the Lord’s Supper every week, like we used to do.  Most things were still unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  They had a worship band.  They had a youth group, and the youth group (that we weren’t allowed to go to for a long time) had an actual BAND with DRUMS.  Even when my parents decided to let us go to Sunday school and join in on some youth group activities, we weren’t allowed to attend the youth worship service.  We had to stay in the main auditorium until the worship part of the service was over because my dad didn’t want us corrupted by the worldly music.  The people dressed in sleeveless shirts or even t-shirts sometimes, and wore things to church that my parents would never allow even at home.  But, we stayed.  Eventually, it became our new church home.

If anything, having a church “home” just made things worse for me.  People were always smiling at me in the halls and saying “How are you this morning!” in the friendly, yet impersonal way that left no possibility of a real answer.  I would plaster an empty smile on my face, and nod in return, and they’d walk on.  I hated being there.  At home I didn’t have to pretend things were fine.  At home, I started dressing like a boy.  I went for the baggy carpenter jeans and masculine t-shirts.  I pushed my parents for permission to cut my nearly waist-length hair.  It got shorter each time.  By the time I was 17, it was short enough that I was mistaken for a boy more than once.

It was my silent protest against a world that had betrayed me in every way.

My mom took the change personally.  “You’re doing this because you don’t want to be like me,” she’d insist.  “You’re just trying to be the opposite of me, and that’s very hurtful.”  She was wrong.  I wasn’t changing because I didn’t want to be like herI was changing because I hated being me.  I hated the fake smiling mask I had to wear on the outside.  I hated the growing darkness within.  I was empty.

The confusion and despair I felt, the anger that I couldn’t express, all crystallized into an intense self-loathing that grew strong roots deep into the soil of my self-image, fertilized by the years of repressive and damaging training that had taught me that I was only worth something as long as I could measure up to perfection.

I hated to be around people, and I hated to be around myself.  I hated everyone and everything, and most of all, I hated myself.  I took a look into my own heart and saw all the ugliness crawling inside, and I finally understood, with the finality of despair, why God hated me.

I used to lock the bathroom door, and look at the big bottles of pills in the medicine cabinet, and fantasize about swallowing handfuls of them.  Sometimes I’d pour them into my cupped hand and look at them for a while.  But I never took them.  My fear of standing in judgement before a God that despised me was too great.  I wasn’t ready to be sent on to more eternal torment.  So, I would put the pills back, and live through another black day.

When I was younger, I liked to draw.  I hoped to be as good as my uncle someday, who was an artist and drew amazing portraits of his children and wife, pictures that hung in the place of honor in my grandparents’ living room.  I hoped I could become good enough someday that my dad would be proud of me.  But those days were long gone.  Now I drew without creativity or inspiration, without purpose.  The last thing I drew was a bleeding heart that was ripped in two, sewn jaggedly back together with black, ugly stitches.  I finished this self-portrait, and then put away my pencils for a long time.

I’m not sure how the rest of my family was handling the move.  I feel that of all of us, my sister R was the least affected.  She started going to College and Career at our new church and made some friends.  My brother B took some time, but eventually even he made a good friend at church; heart-breakingly, it was probably the first time since he was a little kid that he found someone who actually liked him instead of treating him with contempt and abuse.  This friend was his lifeline, and without him, I’m not sure what B would have become.

My parents made friends quickly, and they were well-liked and respected in their new church.

People admired how well-behaved and clean-cut we children were, and people would commend my parents for turning out such great children. 

It was rather ironic.  My little siblings even started going to Sunday school, and to all appearances, we all settled into our new “normal” life.

I was the only one who couldn’t find a place to fit in.  I tried to sit in youth group and listen to yet another watered-down talk on bible passages I had heard a thousand times.  The shallow theology bothered me.  The lack of depth and interest in spiritual things bothered me.  The people…well, the youth leader overlooked me entirely.  It was a definite failure on his part not to recognize the quiet desperation that sat before him Sunday after Sunday…I’m not sure why he didn’t attempt to reach out to me, especially as he usually did with any other new teens that came along, but suffice it to say, he never did.  It was a familiar sensation.  I had always been the one that nobody noticed.  Unsurprisingly, the other teens in the youth group mostly ignored me.  A few were actually friendly, and I was very grateful, though I didn’t know how to respond or relate to them.  We were like two different species.  They talked about boyfriends, Superbowl Sunday parties, going to prom, and school cliques.  These were also the topics addressed by the youth group leaders.  These things were as foreign to me as they would have been to a pygmy.

No one had anything to say about what to do when your world’s been torn apart, or you hate yourself, or how to escape God’s wrath and disapproval.

I got no answers from church, and the friendliness of the other teens dissipated by the time we had been there 2 months.  I was left alone, and I didn’t even care.  I didn’t care about anything.

Part Sixteen>

Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Fourteen

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on October 7, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen: Leaving the Fold

During the last couple years we were in Joe LaQuiere’s cult, doubts were slowly crystallizing in my dad’s mind, no doubt increased by Joe’s inability to accept any criticism or challenge to his opinions.  I remember my dad being one of the only people willing to disagree with Joe on anything.  The other person who had no problem voicing open doubt was my uncle H, father of the S family.  In fact, a very heated argument between Joe and my Uncle H was the precursor to both their family and our family leaving for good.  I believe it was regarding his oldest son, my cousin J, who was around 16 at the time.

My Uncle H decided it would be a good experience for J to take a job with a landscaping company, mowing lawns.  Joe LaQuiere was vehemently against children being employed in the outside world, away from the direct supervision of their parents.

He was also very angry that my Uncle H would make this decision without consulting him first and getting his permission.

My Uncle H got very upset in return, saying that it was HIS child, and he had the right to make what he considered the best decision for J, regardless of what anyone else thought.  This argument went on long into the night, and involved many raised voices, and the other families ranged themselves in support of Joe…I don’t remember if my dad even supported my Uncle H in this.  The end result was the S family left the group.

It was very sobering to all of us who were left, and Joe LaQuiere made it clear to his followers that the S’s desertion was their first step on the road to inevitable spiritual disaster.  He would tell us horror stories of other families who had been obstinate and left the group, spurning his advice and counsel.  All of them came to horrible ends.

He told us that these families self-destructed, ending with the older children rebelling against God and parents, reporting their parents to CPS for child abuse, who took the other children away and ripped the family apart.

This was what we had to look forward to if we left the fold.  His phrase for this was “crash and burn”.  That is what happened to everyone who left: they all “crashed and burned”, and he gave the most dire warnings to us so that we wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

Then, about 3 weeks after the S family left, my dad called a family meeting and informed us that we were not going back.  We were leaving.  This was met with tearful protests and disbelief by most of us.  I initially agreed with my dad on principle because I idolized him and therefore took his side on everything, but eventually I caved and wrote him a letter saying that I agreed with my mom and sister R and wanted to stay.  The only person who was happy about leaving was my brother B.  He was so happy it was heart-breaking.

He told me later that he was afraid to believe it was true and lived for weeks in constant fear that it would turn out to be a mistake, leaving him trapped again in his personal hell.

At first it was unclear to us as children whether this was permanent or temporary.  Joe LaQuiere came by that first week looking stern and dropped off a yellow manila envelope at our front door.  He refused to come in.  He treated the visit rather like the proverbial “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them”.  He apparently didn’t want to be polluted by the act of crossing our threshold.  The manila envelope contained a letter that we were never allowed to read.  I caught a glimpse of it once, and sure enough, it contained the dreaded words “crash and burn”.  When my parents read it, my mom cried.  My dad looked very grim.  I was told later that the letter contained warnings and dark predictions for the spiritual future of our family.  Joe made it clear over and over again throughout the letter that my dad was a failure.  A failure as a spiritual leader, a failure as a father, a failure as a husband…a failure as a man.  In Joe’s mind, we had sealed our fate when we chose to leave.

We were on the path to destruction, and no one could help us.

This began one of the darkest periods of my entire life.

As difficult as it had often been to live as a part of “the group”, leaving felt a thousand times worse.

Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Thirteen

BarnHA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on September 21, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Twelve

Part Thirteen: The Squeaky Wheel and the Persistent Widow

There’s an old saying, “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.”  It basically means that he who complains loudest gets attended to first.  Joe LaQuiere used to like this saying very much.  He used it, funnily enough, to instill competition for his attention among his followers.  If one family wanted help and asked him for it, that was fine.  But if another family asked him for help and was waiting on his doorstep early in the morning, well….they were placed first priority.  They received the coveted attention, and the first family would just have to wait for another day.

Any time you could show your zeal and fierce determination to shove anything and anyone aside to get to Joe first, he would honor it by giving you first priority and kicking others further down the line who didn’t show your passion for his help.

Families that wanted his time and attention would show their determination to be close to him by tagging along with him all day while he ran errands.  Nothing was allowed to get in the way – not even meals.  I remember endless hours following Joe around Home Depot with my little brothers and sisters in tow, our legs tired from walking, stomachs empty and pinching, because we hadn’t been given anything to eat since breakfast, and it was 4 in the afternoon.  In the adult-centric world in which Joe lived, children ate…or didn’t eat…according to his schedule, not theirs.  Only nursing babies were lucky enough to have meals provided during these outings.  Our parents quickly stamped out any complaining, making it clear that our empty stomachs were a small price to pay for the chance to be with Joe all day.

Today I look back on Joe’s behavior and see him as a bit of an egomaniac.  The more your world revolved around him, the happier he was.  The more you idolized him and gave up things to prove your devotion to him, the better he was pleased.

He wanted a fan club, ready to fawn on his every word.

I’m sure he felt he deserved that, because he was doing everything right in his own estimation.  He got it right, God approved of him, and this was his reward: his own groupies who would push and jostle to be closest to him.

Some members used to make jokes about the story in Mark where two of the disciples tried to claim the places to the right and the left of Jesus and would substitute Joe’s name for Jesus’s.

We weren’t concerned about getting to sit next to Jesus – we wanted to be next to Joe!

Joe LaQuiere encouraged this currying for his favor, even though it caused divisiveness in the ranks.  He would dismiss any hurt feelings by saying “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, and then he’d shrug and walk away, and the triumphant family who had shouldered their way into first place would turn and follow him.

Another story Joe liked to use to demonstrate how we should be was the Parable of the Unjust Judge.  A poor widow goes before an unjust judge and pleads for him to hear her case and give her “justice against her opponent”.  He refuses to listen to her and sends her away.  But she is persistent and stubborn and keeps coming back day after day, after day, after day.  Finally the unjust judge, who doesn’t care about justice, gives in and settles her case, because he’s so sick and tired of seeing her in his courtroom.  Persistence wins the day!

These were our role models to follow: the squeaky wheel and the persistent widow.

In practice, it worked something like this: Let’s say my family wanted to go see Joe LaQuiere to get his help with some more child-training.  We would get up in the morning, get ready to go, and drive over there after breakfast, say 10 AM.  Ordinarily this would be enough to be first in line and get Joe’s attention all day.  But let’s say another family heard us say the night before that we were going to come over at 10.  So they got up, rushed out the door, and got there at 9 AM.  Joe would let them in, and when our family arrived, we were sh*t outta luck.  He wouldn’t see us that day, or at the most, he’d say we could wait until the other family was finished, but he had no idea how long that would take.  He might or might not get around to seeing us.  So we’d either wait around half the day, or pack it back into our 8-passenger van and go home to try again another day.

It quickly became clear which families were willing to go the furthest to guarantee Joe’s time and attention.  One family was willing to go further than anyone else.  Not only did this family take every opportunity to arrive earlier and stay later, but they were willing to do whatever it took to beat out the competition and get one-on-one time with Joe.  Then they took it to the next level: they bought a house on his street.  Joe was tickled and flattered at this show of zeal for his time and attention: and he gave it to them, generously.  They became his new favorites.  It became very rare to find them at home – they were always at Joe’s house, every day, every weekend, day-in-and-day-out.  They started going there after breakfast and would stay all day.  Then they started coming before breakfast and eating with the LaQuiere family.  It became next to impossible to talk to Joe without this family standing right there, “holding their place in line”.  The rest of us chafed a little at the special treatment they were getting.  It was nearly impossible to beat them for first place in line anymore.  They lived practically next door – I remember once or twice that we managed to get to Joe’s house early enough that they weren’t there yet, and boy, were we smug!  It was a pretty good feeling that this time we got to be around Joe all day, and they had to wait!

I can’t believe Joe actually encouraged this pettiness, but clearly he was more focused on getting his ego stroked than on preventing jealousy and petty competition between his followers.

One time my parents found a temporary solution to holding on to first place in line for a few days: we just got Joe’s permission to stay at his house.  It was like a sleepover that lasted for a week, except of course, it wasn’t about having fun, it was about being next to Joe all the time, to hear his life wisdom on each daily situation as it came up.  At the time, I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever!  We ate all our meals with the LaQuieres, we did chores with Mrs. LaQuiere, or got to tag along on errands with the older kids.  We slept on sofa beds or in sleeping bags every night.  Best of all, we knew we were finally the Number One family, at least temporarily.  We got Joe’s undivided attention for nearly an entire week. We felt like we were on the inside, and everyone else was stuck on the outside.

For that one week, we were special.

As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the family I mentioned earlier.  They were determined to regain their first place in line.  So the next thing we knew, they had moved into Joe’s house…for good.  It was the ultimate line-jump.  They now had access to him 24/7 and had permanently cemented their status as first-in-line-to-Joe.  Never again did any of the rest of us come close, not even when three of the families also bought houses on the same street, one of them actually directly across the street from Joe’s house!

It didn’t matter: he had accepted the first family as adopted family members, and Joe considered that they had earned their spot in the sun, no matter how much anyone complained. 

From that day on, their family has lived in Joe’s house, a permanent part of his household.  They still live there today: I don’t think they’ll ever leave.  For legal purposes, they “live” in their house down the street.  That’s where their mail goes, because they aren’t legally allowed to reside in the same house as the LaQuiere family….zoning regulations or something, I don’t know.  But they do anyway.  Within five years of them moving in, the LaQuiere family built a huge addition on their house.  It was poorly designed, and an eyesore that the whole neighborhood winced at, but it made sure there was plenty of room for the LaQuieres and their new “adopted” family.

Even this wasn’t close enough of a connection for the mom of this family: she used to laughingly claim Joe’s youngest son as the future husband of her oldest daughter.  At the time, her daughter was 8, and his son was about 16.

True to her word, about 12 years later she witnessed her daughter marry this same son, making at least part of her family “real LaQuieres” at last.

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Twelve

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on September 20, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Eleven

Trigger Warning: Depictions of extreme medical abuse

Part Twelve: Exorcising Demons

Spiritual warfare is quite an interesting subject, all the more so because we don’t have much information on it, though what little we can infer from the Bible is quite fascinating.  Inferences to divine armies battling in the heavens, the devil being cast out of heaven, references to the “giant dragon” trying to devour the infant Jesus…what do we make of all that?  We know that in some hazy way these events are related directly to us, and that our actions affect the other-worldly battle going on in unseen realms.  But how exactly they’re related and clear specifics?  I have none of those, and I suspect you’re in the same boat.

I’m not sure where exactly Joe LaQuiere got his own beliefs on demons.  For Joe, spiritual warfare was simple.

Any bad attitude could be evidence of an indwelling “evil spirit”. 

Just like the devil went around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, we were taught that evil spirits were lurking everywhere, just waiting for the chance to settle in our hearts and souls.  If we gave them an opening through having a bad attitude, they’d jump on it and invite themselves right in.  So our parents spent time “rebuking” the evil spirits in us every time we were grumpy.  As you can imagine, this did not endear them to me.  In fact, hearing my parents order evil spirits to leave me, in the name of Jesus, just made me even more grumpy!  It felt very stupid and silly, because I knew I was just in a bad mood, not possessed by a demon.  But our parents took these things very seriously, praying over us and ordering the demons to leave.  If our bad attitude didn’t immediately vanish, that was further evidence in their minds that it was spiritual warfare they were dealing with.

This was the environment that existed in our group when my little cousin H started having seizures.  The first time it happened, they called an ambulance and rushed her to the hospital.  She was prescribed anti-seizure medication, and I believe they even gave it to her, at first.  We heard about it the next morning, and even as children, were properly scared and worried for her.  I think she was about 6, but I could be off on the age…it was a long time ago.  We all hoped it was a one-time occurrence, and that little H with her blonde hair and sweet smile, would be fine from then on.  Then she had another seizure.  And another.  At this point Joe LaQuiere sat her parents down for some very serious discussions.

He was almost completely sure that these seizures weren’t medical – they were spiritual.

He thought they were being caused by demon possession, and he had a way to prove it one way or the other.  When she started having a seizure, or right afterwards, they needed to order her to say “Jesus is Lord”, because demons couldn’t say those words.  So if she said the words, then it wasn’t demon-possession, and presumably was just a medical condition that they could continue to treat with anti-seizure meds.  If, on the other hand, she refused to say “Jesus is Lord”, then they had a very very serious problem, and it was going to require a lot of prayer and work to drive the demon out.

With this fool-proof bit of theological wisdom in hand, they and Joe set to work on little H.  The next seizure came and went, and they tried to get her to say “Jesus is Lord”.  She wouldn’t say it.  There was the proof: their little girl was possessed by a demon.  This was further confirmed to them by odd things she would say…sometimes she would say there was a “black man” in the room, and she would want him to go away.  Even the little bit of reading that I’ve done on the subject has come up with information on visual and auditory hallucinations as a common and expected side-effect of epileptic seizures.  But apparently this research was outweighed by the expertise of Joe LaQuiere, who told them this was further evidence of demon possession: she was able to see other demons that were invisible to the rest of us.  The “black man” was clearly a demon, and little H needed to be delivered from her demon possession as quickly as possible.

So they stopped the seizure medication, and instead spent hours with her, Joe LaQuiere assisting, every time she had a seizure, ordering her over and over to say “Jesus is Lord”.

Often she would resist and fight them and cry, or say some variant of the magic words “Jesus is Lord”, but not the exact phrase.  I was told that many times they would be up with her all night, fighting and trying to hold her down to control the demon inside her.  This was a serious spiritual battle, and they were determined to win.  Joe LaQuiere told them they could, and they believed him.  Sometimes little H would say “Jesus is Lord”, and they would relax for a bit, believing the demon was gone.  Then it would start all over again with another seizure.  At one point I think she was having upwards of 12 to 15 seizures a day.  I’m not sure what else they tried in their quest to exorcise the demon from H besides prayer, and ordering her to say “Jesus is Lord”.  I was told of one time at least that Joe had them forcibly hold her in a shower as part of the process.  I’m not sure what affect that was supposed to have, but the seizures continued.  Little H started to look like she was in a constant daze all the time.  She didn’t act normally any more.  She didn’t talk much.

I don’t know how long this went on…I know that eventually the seizures lessened…for all I know, they put her back on seizure meds eventually.  I was never told.  The one thing we do know for certain: the effects.

H experienced permanent brain damage as a result of the untreated seizures.

Today she is in her 20s, but she’s never progressed mentally from the small child she used to be.  She is still sweet, but with the sweetness of a young child.  Her brain has been permanently scarred by the ordeal she went through, and her life will never be the same.  I grieve for her and her stolen potential.  What will happen to her now?  Will she ever be married?  Have her own family?  Have the emotional capacity to realize the spiritually abusive environment she is in, and the ability to leave?  I don’t know.

But I do know who is responsible: Joe LaQuiere.

Part Thirteen>

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Eleven

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on September 12, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Ten

Part Eleven: The Good Girl Who Couldn’t be Good

The first few years we were a part of the LaQuiere cult, it was fairly easy to meet expectations.

Everyone viewed me as one of the “good” kids…I was a rule-follower by nature, and that made me a perfect fit for Joe LaQuiere’s legalism!

I got in some small difficulties over the rule to “never argue”, because my dad had taught me from an early age the delights of debate.  He gave me books on detecting logical fallacies, and my favorite game (though maybe not his) was to debate issues with him, and, if possible, win my point through rock-solid logic.  If I could use logic to prove to my dad that I was right, then he would concede, and I would get my small victory!  I’m not sure Joe LaQuiere knew my dad allowed this…if he did, he would have been very disapproving (as he was already very disapproving of my dad for trying to debate with him).  When I disagreed with my dad, it was called debating, and we both understood the rules and appreciated the game.  With my mom, it was called “arguing”, and she expected (understandably) not to have to logically defend every instruction she gave me!  So I was often in trouble with my mom, but that was pretty much the only crack in my “goodness”.

My sister R, by contrast, had plenty of trouble until she was about twelve.  She was very stubborn…she liked to contradict…and she did not like to follow rules!  Joe LaQuiere believed she just needed strong enough motivation and she would “snap to”.  He was right.  Turns out, what she needed was a strong enough personality to win her allegiance, and Joe succeeded at this around the time she turned twelve.  I’m not sure what he said or did that caused her to change, but she did an astonishing about-face, and from then on, Joe LaQuiere had her complete loyalty.  She was now his biggest fan: she started scrupulously following rules, and was determined to live up to his expectations and please him.  When we eventually left a few years later, she went to bat as Joe LaQuiere’s model pupil–she begged and pleaded and argued with my dad to no avail to convince him to let us stay in the group.  Both she and my mom had extremely strong ties of loyalty to Joe, and it was very difficult for them to let go when we left.

To this day, both of them (but especially my sister R) have a difficult time hearing Joe LaQuiere spoken of poorly.

They don’t like to hear his following called “a cult”, and my sister will still talk about his “wisdom” and how much of what he taught was “really good”.  She raises her children using many of his training methods.

Meanwhile, I didn’t have my sister’s advantage of a flattering conversion story to endear Joe LaQuiere to me, but he still seemed to approve of me for being the small rule-follower that I was, and I eagerly lapped up the crumbs of his approval like a starving puppy.  As one of the younger children, I would vie for the coveted opportunity to sit on his lap while he taught – the ultimate place of privilege.  It made me feel special and noticed. On one very special occasion, I was sitting at Joe LaQuiere’s feet while he was talking to the adults, just quietly listening to him, while Mrs. LaQuiere was getting ready for dinner, setting the table, and handing out related small chores.  My sister R was enlisted to help from whatever she was doing, and after a minute, she or perhaps my mom tried to pull me away to come help too.  Joe intervened, comparing me to Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, and my sister to Martha.  He said he wasn’t going to send me away.  I had chosen “the better thing” by sitting at his feet listening to him, and that was where I could stay.  I couldn’t believe it: it was one of the huge moments in my young life where I felt of value.  I never forgot that moment.  Occasionally Joe LaQuiere would also use me as an example of a “good child”, or say to someone, “S would never think to do that, would you?  She’s a good girl.”  And I would duck my head shyly, but inside I was beaming.  It felt so incredibly good to earn his approval!  I lived for those moments.

Like my sister, I too had found in Joe LaQuiere someone to hero-worship: someone to fill the yawning hole left in my heart by my shamed failure to make my own father proud of me.

Years later, when we left the cult, I joined with my sister and mom in trying to convince my dad to change his mind.  I didn’t want to leave behind the only source of approval I had.

Even though I was a veteran rule-follower, it was still more difficult than you’d imagine to earn an “A” in Mr. LaQuiere’s class.

He taught us that God had given all of us “everything we need for life and godliness” – which meant everything we needed to be perfect.

In fact, we were called to “be perfect” – it was right there in black-and-white in Mr. LaQuiere’s King James Bible: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.  Joe reasoned that God would never call us to do something that we weren’t perfectly (ha, see what I did there?) capable of doing!  Therefore, we could be perfect: we could live our lives and never sin, not even so much as one bad attitude or snarky look.  It’s pretty clear that if you can be perfect, and yet, you’re not perfect, it’s because you are choosing not to be.  Because of this, we were berated for any and every misstep, because our goal was to live perfect lives, and so win God’s pleasure and approval of us.

As a part of these impossibly-high standards, our parents used a system of public praise/shame to encourage all the children to work harder at correcting character flaws.

Every week, all the parents in the group would announce what character fault each child needed to work on, and then the following week, our “scores” would be publicly announced.  Those who did well…90%…93%…held their heads high!  Those who squeaked by with something in the high 80s could at least heave a sigh of relief and jump off the figurative hot seat until next week.  But those with bad scores had nothing but public shame to look forward to.  They would be reminded that not only were they required to please their parents and God in everything in all their outward actions, but to be perfectly obedient inside as well, in their every attitude.  Nothing less would satisfy a holy God.

As a champion rule-follower, (with no small amount of pride in the fact, I may add!) nothing less than a perfect score satisfied me.  But it was surprisingly difficult to achieve, even for someone like me.  I did get a perfect 100% the first few weeks…but as Mr. LaQuiere would have said, pride goeth before a fall.  The very next week I was supposed to work on “not arguing”…and on “doing everything I was asked without question, with a good attitude”.  Not only did I scrupulously avoid arguing with my mom, giving ingratiating smiles and being sickeningly cheerful while I followed out every instruction she could think up, but I even swore off debating with my dad!  Finally Wednesday night came around, and before we left for our weekly meeting at Joe’s house, my dad tallied up our scores and averaged out percentages.  He told us what we had earned, and I waited eagerly to hear that coveted “100%”.  I knew I hadn’t argued even once – I didn’t trip up a single time all week – I had been perfect!  Then my dad gave me my score…99%.  I gulped at the unfairness of it, and had to stop myself from arguing with him (talk about pouring salt in the wound!), which would have been punished by my dad lowering my score even more.  I carefully asked him why I only got 99%, and what I had done wrong.  He informed me, my mom nodding in agreement, that the 99% was because he wanted me to learn that I was not perfect, and that I could not be perfect, and that a 100% would be puffing me up with sinful pride.  And that was that.  I never got 100% again, even though plenty of other parents gave their children perfect grades.  I gritted my teeth every time another child got what I was sure in my youthful arrogance was an undeserved perfect score, while my own dad refused to give me the scores I felt I earned.

I’m not sure how I was supposed to reconcile Joe’s teaching that we could be and must be perfect to earn God’s approval with my dad’s insistence that I could never reach perfection.

Of course, I now realize that my dad was closer to the mark than Joe was.  We can never reach perfection on our own – but we don’t need to, because we have Jesus’ perfect score applied to us every day!  I wish I had been taught that as a child, instead of being pushed further and further into harsh perfectionism that exhausted my soul and set me up for a life of spiritual defeat.

In my quest to reach perfection, and finally feel God was pleased with me, my failures loomed far larger than my small triumphs.

There was the time that I said something wrong while working construction together with the rest of the families…I can’t even remember what it was I said.  I have a feeling I gave an adult a sarcastic answer (my gift of sarcasm was definitely not appreciated!) and I remember my parents, Joe LaQuiere, and my Aunt C discussing my crime while I sat unnoticed or ignored beside them on the floor in Joe’s office (a place I hated because it was always associated with shame and punishment).  I wasn’t spanked for being disrespectful, but Joe LaQuiere told me he was very disappointed in me, and that I had lost his respect, and my Aunt C said, not to me, but meant for me to overhear, “If I knew she was like that, I would rather have seen her dropped in the foundation we’ve been digging, and buried up to her neck.”  I’ve never forgotten those words.  I’m not entirely sure why she came up with that theoretical punishment, exactly…but she was quite fond of hyperbolic half-serious threats of things she’d “rather see” or “would do” if the occasion warranted.  She once told my sister R that if she ever caught her painting her toe-nails like worldly girls (what shameless harlotry!), she would rip her nails out by the roots!  And then she laughed, so we would know it was (at least partly) a joke.

My other failure that haunted me for a long time was of “carelessness”.  My mom’s best friend, Mrs. W, had a proof-reading business where she would scan and then proof manuscripts or articles for spelling errors.  She had the bright idea to include my sister R and me in her business.  She would send us some of the work to proof and would pay us a small amount per hour that we worked.  It was exciting!  I got to sit at a computer and read for hours – my ideal job!  I was about 12 at the time, and R was 14.  We finished our work, corrected all the spelling errors we found, and sent it back, delighted that we got to do real, grown-up work!

A few days later, Mrs. W called us in to talk to her in private.  She was frowning, and I didn’t know why.  She said she was seriously disappointed in us.  We hadn’t done a good job – they had sent the work back with spelling errors that we had missed, and she had to redo it all herself.  She told us she would pay us for what we had already done, but she was firing us for being careless.  She thought she could trust us, but she couldn’t.  She was sorry, but she no longer wanted our help.  I walked around all that day in a haze of shame and humiliation.  I felt that everyone’s eyes were on me, knowing what a disappointment and failure I was.  When we got home that night, I found a private place to go and cried there for a long time.  These moments still loom large in my memory…I can still feel the crush of humiliation, the painful knowledge that despite my constant efforts, I was a failure.

Each ugly incident seared itself into my little soul, pushing me deeper into the abyss of perfectionism and reinforcing my deep inner conviction that, hard as I tried, God would not accept me.

Part Twelve>

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Four

Homeschool

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kallie Culver’s blog Untold Stories. It was originally published on June 29, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Three

Homeschooling and the Woman It Is Making…

Many people, upon finding out that I was homeschooled, inevitably ask if I will homeschool my children someday. Growing up, when asked that question, my answer was always yes. My plan was to grow up, go to Pensacola Christian College, get a degree in education, find a husband, get married, and home-school my own children…. or so I thought. As one might surmise, homeschooling for me brings with it very mixed emotions.

It stands as a double-edged sword, acting as both gift and weapon.

Homeschooling gave me the gift of years of wonderful childhood memories spent playing, laughing, swimming, and growing up surrounded by a loving family on a ranch in Texas. It gave me self-discipline, a love for reading and imagination, a love for writing, and an insatiable thirst for traveling. It was never just enough to read about things on a page. Each new book and place I learned about made me want to go and see and do. Because we were homeschooled and my parents loved traveling, I got to visit places like The Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Yosemite National Park, Mount Rushmore, ski slopes in Colorado, sandy beaches in Florida, the U.S.S. Alabama, The Vicksburg War Memorial, and so much more. These memories and the life we built as a family, I will forever cherish.

With light however, also comes shadows, and I have seen where even something meant to be good also became a weapon. As a child, it is hard to distinguish what is a healthy fear and what is not. Looking back, I can now see how, as a sensitive child, I gravitated towards fear and allowed it to consume me. Instead of giving me tools to understand my fears, and to reason through which ones were healthy and which were not, the homeschooling environment I was raised in only fueled the fire. Looking back, I see traces of fearful and defensive mindsets everywhere–in my class materials, in the community around me, at home, at church, in the books I read, in the magazines we read, in the conferences we attended, in the conversations I had with peers, etc.

For many parents I knew, whether it was the original reason or not, the decision to homeschool became more about protecting your children from the worldliness and dangers of public school than anything else. The fundamental homeschool networks we encountered and conservative political voices we were inundated with feverishly fed apocalyptic predictions. Whether it was the rapture, the end times, Y2K, fear of bombings in the wake of 9-11, fear of the social work system, fear of liberals, fear of homosexuals, fear of people of other races, fear of men, fear of rape, fear of secular college campuses, fear of psychology, fear of philosophy, fear of the darkness…

Evil was waiting for me everywhere I turned, and so I absorbed terror like a sponge.

Its web only grew stronger and spread further as my environment taught me to be afraid of anyone different, afraid of learning too much, afraid of wanting to much, and afraid of the unknown world outside my small comfort zone. In schooling it made me feel alone and forced to confine my love for learning to what I could teach myself, what was allowed, or what was better for others. The weapon only cut deeper as I believed the lies to discount myself and anyone else I felt unable to compare myself to.

Perhaps, however, its most fatal flaw was that it taught me to know all the answers to the questions of faith before I asked them.

I know that, for some, homeschooling was merely a means of education, and religion was more of a side note. However, for me, homeschooling and fundamental Christianity were inextricably intertwined. I cannot separate one from the other. Both were all I knew and everywhere I turned. I was given the questions anyone might use to doubt either and then given the answers, chapter, line, and verse with which to decry them. If I ever did doubt, I read scripture and prayed to take my thoughts captive unto Christ, for strengthened faith, and for forgiveness for my unbelief. As a result, Belief and Faith became a formula to master and a list to memorize, all the while blinding me to the reality that to actually have faith one must first understand its absence.

To this day the words Rachel Held Evans wrote in her recently re-released book Faith Unraveled haunt me with their accuracy:

“It was within this social context that I and an entire generation of young evangelicals constructed our Christian worldviews. You might say we were born ready with answers. We grew up with a fervent devotion to the inerrancy of the Bible and learned that whatever the question might be, an answer could be found within its pages. We knew what atheists and humanists and Buddhists believed before we actually met any atheists or humanists or Buddhists, and we knew how to effectively discredit their worldview before ever encountering them on our own. To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn’t need to be born again; we simply needed to be born. Our parents, our teachers, and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.”

(p. 78 in older version, originally titled Evolving in Monkey Town)

In the end, through pervasive fear ordained by Christianity, homeschooling taught me to limit my life to what was safe and comfortable, leaving me unprepared for the harsher realities of life and adulthood. For these reasons, I now know that I will not homeschool my children. I do not say that lightly or vindictively, and I know my experiences and struggles as a young adult have largely produced that decision. Homeschooling afforded me and my family time together, travel opportunities, and a personal love for learning that I will always be grateful for and never deny. However, when I evaluate my homeschooling experience, I have had to allow myself time to be very honest about not only the good, but also the bad.

For years, I often felt pressure to hide my feelings, or to only focus on the good. However, remembering only the good did nothing to address the lack I have struggled with, whether it was in self-confidence, self-discovery, my understanding of others, my education, my socialization skills, or my experience at large. Only by taking the time to truly grieve and to evaluate my experience honestly was I actually able to see beauty beyond the pain. It was easier to have a knee-jerk response of “all homeschooling is evil,” when all I could see and feel around me was my unacknowledged pain. Everything became a reminder of what I was trying to forget and trying to hide. So now I am learning that, by dragging the skeletons out of the closet into the light of day, not only can they be buried in peace, but the sunlight also seems to reveal some hidden treasure buried there, too.

Because of my childhood environment, I have done a lot of my growing backwards.

In today’s society, many often spend their single years finding themselves, finding their individual passions, and pursuing their own interests until they feel ready to enter a serious relationship commitment that entails building your life together and yes, sometimes even having to sacrifice for each other. For me, Rick and I began dating when I was a sophomore in college, and we were married in the summer between my junior and senior years. If I had been the typical college girl, I would have probably had my heart set on a four year university plan, and not interested in a wedding till at least after graduation, but given I was homeschooled, even my college path was far from normal. Instead it involved attending a community college, a private university, and a public university. It entailed taking preparatory classes and taking the ACT and SAT during my freshman year. It meant transferring twice, taking summer classes, and completing courses online in order to complete my degree in the midst of our move to Japan.

Even so, while my college path was abnormal, each year I grew more confident, more independent, and more aware of how much I still had to learn.

My husband has also been a huge support, as he has encouraged me to discover my own dreams alongside his. Instead of discovering ourselves separately as many do in their 20’s, we have been discovering not only how to make marriage work, but also how to grow and celebrate our own individuality at the same time. From the very beginning, he was never interested in me just adopting his dreams and losing myself behind housework, homemaking, having babies, and raising children, as was my first tendency to expect. While these are abilities I have, skills I utilize at times, and things I will pursue more someday in the future — he quickly challenged me to realize that I did not have to hide myself behind them as my only source of meaning and identity.

We have both found what works best for us is to work hard at mutuality in decisions and reciprocating support and interest in each other’s dreams versus mandating his or mine over the other. Yes, moving to Japan meant me giving up the chance for law school immediately following my graduation, and yes, it meant me having to forgo career opportunities at the time. Acknowledging that has been something we have worked to be very honest about in our communication and all the emotions it brought with it. Some days it has been very hard, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having felt sorry for myself at one point or another or felt torn on more than one occasion between his dreams and mine. Still, I have someone who acknowledges those feelings and appreciates the depth of my support, and that makes all the difference in the world. He has long believed in me more than I knew how to believe in myself, and it’s just one of the many reasons I love this man as much as I do. When I have felt my lowest and questioned my sanity the greatest in giving as much of myself as I have over the past six years in volunteering for ministries, nonprofit organizations, and our base community here in Japan—often given in addition to a full-time course load or due largely to the absence of gainful employment—he has been my greatest encouragement in reminding me of my value, my passions, my strengths, and what I bring to the table.

When I get fearful about the unknowns of the future, how I will make a career work with the constant moves, what jobs will even be available, how we will work kids into that plan, etc. — he is my anchor that brings me back to reality. With my long-ingrained anxious and fearful tendencies, I struggle with constantly worrying about what is over the horizon. This seasoned military brat I am married to, though, knows that it’s a recipe for misery to waste time worrying about what you don’t know. So, as he constantly reminds me, “you might as well sit back and focus on what matters today.” I am a slow learner, but a grateful one.

I know this may sound strange, but the greatest gift Japan has given me is the time to truly discover myself. In looking back, I would make the same choice again and I would not change these past three years abroad for the world. Living overseas has given me the opportunity to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures. It has pushed me to learn how to be a capable, independent woman on my own, given how often my husband was either deployed or traveling for work. It has taught me how much I love being an active participant and leader within my community. It has given me time to learn what I wanted to continue to study, and how to be creative in pursuing higher education. It has increased my passions and shown me that more is always possible. It has given me the courage to learn what I truly think and believe, and to find my voice.

It has been a safe haven, providing a space for my faith to fall apart and time for me to search through the rubble for what to rebuild it with.

It has taught me the gift and cost of true friendship that only the fires of distance reveal. Leaving family and friends behind and facing months at a time without your spouse forges friendships of a lifetime in this military community. I also found that some friendships from home bloomed in ways I never dreamed possible, thanks to inventions like Skype, Facetime, and iMessage, while others (to my surprise and grief) slipped away. So, while homeschooling did not give me the space to discover much about myself as an individual, its footprint in my life has pushed me to do just that.

When I was young, I thought I needed to be a mother and a wife before I needed to be a person. I thought I would marry some nice Christian boy who would think just like every other male I grew up knowing. I honestly thought that was all I was allowed to be and never dreamed my life would follow the path it has. Instead of becoming everything homeschooling taught me to be, I have found meaning, identity, and a life far richer beyond its boundaries.

Instead of a Christian college, I went to three secular colleges over the course of finishing my bachelor’s degree. Instead of a degree in Education, I got a degree in Political Science. Instead of a Protestant homeschooler from the country, I married a Catholic boy in the Air Force and have traveled all over the world. Instead of being a homeschooling mother at the young age of 25, I am instead working on my Master’s in Public Administration and a certification in Nonprofit Management, with only my cat and husband to care for. I am not sure yet exactly what my career path will look like, as being a military spouse means being extra creative, but I do know that I will find ways to utilize my education and talents, and to contribute to my community and the world at large.

Instead of being an active member in yet another church, being an active church leader, or being a minister’s wife (all of which seemed highly plausible in high-school) I have now gone through three plus years of my faith falling apart and my participation in church slowly decreasing. In the last year alone, I finally found the courage to be honest about my need to heal, and have spent the larger amount of my Sundays at home resting and feeling safe to have my own time of private reflection. Instead of being 100% certain of my faith and beliefs, I have learned to honestly question. With that, I have also found peace in accepting that I don’t have to know all the answers to hold on to a faith in a love and life source bigger than myself.

Christianity is what I am most familiar with, given my upbringing. It’s a familiar language, and one that I have learned to love for all its strengths and despite its weaknesses, both present and historical. However, in questioning it, I have also discovered respect and beauty in learning about other religions and faith outside my own. Instead of being close-minded, judgmental, and afraid of anyone different than me, I am now learning how embracing diversity and difference makes my life more interesting. Instead of limiting people based on gender or sexual orientation according to the doctrines I was taught but had never examined, I am now a feminist and an LGTB-Affirming Christian.

The ever-pervasive fear I lived with for so long is now a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute process to deprogram and unwind. I have learned to treasure activities like running and yoga, as they have taught me to hone my racing thoughts and to simply breathe.

In and out.

One step at a time.

One day at a time.

Until suddenly I look up and around, and I see the woman I am becoming:

A Woman with a voice.

A Woman with hope of a life, filled with passion and purpose, unchartered by fear.

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Ten

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on August 29, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Nine

Part Ten: Wives, Children and Dogs

After we had settled into the routine of belonging to “the group”, as we called it, it was relatively easy to know what was expected of us, as children.  I knew I needed to obey anything and everything my parents (or other adults) told me, with no questions.  I knew I wasn’t allowed to complain about things I didn’t want to do or argue with my parents about anything.

As a child, I was inherently inferior to adults.

I was not their equal.  I learned this through watching Mr. LaQuiere, my parents, and the other adults routinely put down children.  We were taught we were all full of “foolishness”.  We “needed our wills broken”.  We needed to be taught our place.  We needed to learn absolute obedience and submission to authority.

I still remember the exact place I was when Mr. LaQuiere told my parents explicitly what “complete submission” meant.

“If I told my 15-year-old daughter to take off all her clothes, and get down on her hands and knees and bark like a dog, she should obey me instantly,” he said. “That is the kind of obedience children must give their parents.

Absolute obedience, without questioning.”  This level of humiliation had never even occurred to me.  To know that it was possible was a very distressing thought.  Would my parents or Mr. LaQuiere ever order me to humiliate myself like this?  I silently decided that if my dad ever told me to strip naked and bark like a dog, I wouldn’t, no matter how much I was punished.

I didn’t mind the idea of obeying, because I was naturally obedient.  But I hated the “without question” part.  I liked to ask questions.  I liked to know the reasons behind things.  I liked to know the ‘why’, not because I wanted to “challenge my parents’ authority”, as Mr. LaQuiere called it, but because I genuinely wanted to know.  I had an active mind, and it was always probing to get to the bottom of things, to know why they worked the way they did.  I was told this was disrespectful to my authorities, and that they should never be questioned.  I didn’t need to know the reasons.  I was only a child.

I had no right to know.

This absolute, unquestioning obedience did not just apply to small children.  It applied to all children (a label determined not by maturity, but by parentage), regardless of age.  Mr. LaQuiere expected his adult sons and daughters to snap to attention and instantly obey with the same cheerful alacrity that he expected from a 5-year-old.

This system was put in place by God himself, and it was God who said that any child who did not obey was rebellious, and should be stoned to death by his parents, his siblings, his friends, and everyone else as a lesson in how seriously He viewed disobedience.

Obedience was a universally-praised virtue, with the exception of men.  Men didn’t need to obey anybody (except God, that is).  But wives, children, and dogs were all expected to obey.

Dogs and children were often trained with similar methods.

We had a small, fluffy, Maltese puppy named Sasha.  She was friendly and happy, and eager to please.  But just as my parents were told they didn’t know how to train us the right way, Mr. LaQuiere told them they were failing in training our puppy as well.  She needed to learn absolute obedience as well.  She needed to instantly come every time she was called.  She needed to be punished severely for every infraction, whether it was not coming right away, or making an accident on the rug during the process of house-training her.  Any time we found a mess she made, Mr. LaQuiere said, we needed to drag her over to it, rub her nose in the excrement, and tell her “BAD DOG!” in stern, disappointed tones.  He demonstrated this for us multiple times.  I felt bad for her…she looked so forlorn and sad, being reprimanded for making a mistake.  But Mr. LaQuiere said it was the only way to train a dog.  If she didn’t come when she was called, he demonstrated the proper punishment technique – sometimes he would drag her by her collar or the scruff of her neck.  Sometimes he would hit her, not with a rolled-up-newspaper, which he said was useless, but with his hand.  One time when he was correcting her for something, and dangling her in the air by the scruff of her neck, she yipped at him.  I imagine it hurt to be hung in the air by her skin like that.  He responded by throwing her against the wall.  Never allow a dog to challenge your authority like that, he told us.  I still remember how she yelped, and what she looked like in a frightened heap on the floor, her sides heaving in and out.  After Mr. LaQuiere “trained” her in obedience, she did learn to come when called…her tail between her legs, often slinking along the floor, looking guilty and anxious, never knowing if she was going to be smacked across the room, or welcomed.  Poor little Sasha.  She wanted so badly to please us.  I honestly think she didn’t know what she was being punished for most of the time.  My parents might have thought his techniques were more cruel, if it weren’t for the fact that there wasn’t a single one that he didn’t also use on children.

Children, dogs, and wives were taught absolute obedience. In wives, however, it was called “submission”.  Wives were to submit absolutely to their husbands, who were the heads of the family, and their authorities.

This was true not only if the husband was right in what he asked, or if was kind, but also if he was cruel or wrong.

Mr. LaQuiere said God instructed wives to submit, and men to love their wives: and one way to love wives was to teach them to submit.  One Wednesday night, he described how he taught his own wife absolute submission.  He called it “The Story of 11 Mile”.  He and Mrs. LaQuiere were driving somewhere one day, and it was a place they hadn’t been before, so Mrs. LaQuiere was trying to help him find the way there.  They needed to turn on 11 Mile, so as they were driving, she saw it, too late, and said, “Dear, we’ve passed 11 Mile!”  He said she was wrong, he was sure they hadn’t passed it yet.  She disagreed.  He was displeased by her lack of submission.  As they drove on, it quickly became clear to him that they had, in fact, passed 11 Mile.  But this was not important compared to the fact that Mrs. LaQuiere had insisted on contradicting him, showing him disrespect, and refusing to submit to him and agree that he was right.  So to teach her a lesson, he refused to turn around, until she showed submission by saying “You’re right, dear, we didn’t pass 11 Mile.”  Apparently she didn’t want to do this for a while, and he kept right on driving.  Finally she told him, “You’re right, dear.  We haven’t passed 11 Mile.”  Once she submitted to him by accepting that he was right, no matter what, he turned the car around, and they drove on to their destination.

Today I think of this, and I HAVE. NO. WORDS.  What the heck?!  He was wrong, and she merely pointed out that he passed a street, but he couldn’t even allow her to think he might have made a mistake.  His pride, his sense of absolute authority and need for submission was so great that he actually forced his wife to lie to him and tell him he was right, before he would make a simple U-turn.  Poor Mrs. LaQuiere.  I sometimes wonder how she stood it.

Mr. LaQuiere’s worldview was simple: wives, children and dogs were all divinely ordained to be submissive and obedient to him.  He wasn’t being revolutionary – he was just following God’s plan.  It wasn’t his fault that God had made him male, human, and given him offspring.

He knew his place in God’s design, and no one was going to shove him out of his rightful position of superiority.

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

UnBoxing Project: Surviving and Thriving on the Outside

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on April 7, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.

< Part Thirteen

I came from an upper middle class, well-educated family. I was privileged.

I moved out as a college student with a couple of jobs on campus after my parents emptied my savings account. Most of the people the Underground Railroad helped were in similar circumstances.

Our counselor friend Sandra, who was in graduate school when I moved out, talked to me a week after I left. I didn’t have a car and was bicycling everywhere. She taught me how to take care of myself when I was broke.

These resources helped all of us stay independent on a low-income budget.

  • Food pantries and food stamps
    When my paycheck barely covered rent and gas or three other girls were living out of our tiny apartment, we couldn’t afford food. Mercy’s Gate, American Charities, and other Care and Share pantries felt like small miracles. There’s even Peak Pet Pantry for cats and dogs. And El Paso county provides SNAP benefits (food stamps).
  • Cellphone plans like Straight Talk, Wal-Mart Family Mobile, and Tracfone
    Our monthly bills were between $30-40, or we used pay as you go.
  • Dollar stores
    One day my friend Josh issued me a challenge: go to a dollar store and see what they sold. It was so eyeopening that now I take other refugees there, showing them what a dollar can get in a pinch.
  • Thrift stores
    Here in Colorado Springs, we have the Arc and Goodwill, and places like Promises Resale Boutique that benefit disadvantaged teens resell the leftovers from bigger thrift stores even cheaper.
  • Temporary agencies
    Our little band of cult refugees all needed jobs, but I didn’t know what temporary agencies did until one winter when I was down to only one of the three jobs from the summer. Then I got a call from Front Range Staffing.
    They’d found my resume on Monster and wanted to hire me for a receptionist position at a pharmaceutical company, something related to my chemistry degree. They also gave me odd jobs like hotel housekeeping for extra money, enabling me to support myself.
  • Housing / utilities assistance
    Most cities have section 8 housing. El Paso County also has LEAP, which provides heating assistance in the winter.
  • Internet
    Several major companies like Comcast and CenturyLink also offer low-income internet service. This website even gives a comparison chart.
  • Mental health
    We wrestled with anxiety, self-harm, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt. But we found counselors on campus and in the community who worked on a sliding fee scale, who wanted to help us heal most of all. Due North Counseling was one of the local places that helped us.

We also found many organizations in Colorado Springs had resources also.

  • TESSA
    The 24/7 crisis line (719-633-3819) offers advice to abuse survivors, although they mainly deal with intimate partner violence.
  • DHS / CPS / Adult Protective Services
    In El Paso County, call (719) 444-5700 or 1-844-CO4KIDS or email childabusereport@elpasoco.com to report child abuse.
  • Inside / Out Youth Services
    Provides housing for homeless LGBT youth under 25 and other resources.
  • The Independence Center
    Provides services to empower people with disabilities.

On the outside, we formed our own little family, a chosen family rather than by blood.

Dale Fincher, who talks about recovery from spiritual abuse at Soulation, writes in The Exodus From Family:

“When our biological family puts a brake on friendship, we must look for friendship elsewhere. This year, I am no longer defaulting to blood and legal relatives as my ‘ohana. They will not lock me into a family orphanage until I conform to their demands. No. My family has become my Chosen Family, for we cannot live as orphans (John 14:18).”

A theme that resurfaces in the dialogue about spiritual abuse is Christian fundamentalism’s idolization of family values over the well-being of the individuals within the family. The family unit’s survival becomes the trump card, enabling denial of abuse.

We learned we could all find freedom together.

No, we couldn’t save each other or support each other–we all had to ultimately find our own way because all of us are broken and hurting.

But we knew we weren’t alone.

Sometimes a hug, a shoulder to cry on enabled us to just keep walking, to not give up.

Even if we were outcast, we believed our experiences were valid, we grasped for something better.

And we wanted to share this new life, this freedom with others.

R. L. Stollar, one of the founders of Homeschoolers Anonymous, wrote:

“I learned that Jesus of Nazareth was not content with 99 sheep when 99 sheep means that one gets left behind to suffer in silence and solitude. [….] But Jesus dealt with human beings, not statistics. Human beings are what I want to deal with, too. […] Us “bitter apostates” will be out in the wilderness, searching for the one you abandoned.”

And that is what we did, too.

End of series.

Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Three

Homeschool

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kallie Culver’s blog Untold Stories. It was originally published on June 20, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Two

Homeschooling: The Fall Out

When we first started homeschooling, we utilized a mixture of curriculum, beginning with Christ Centered Curriculum, Christian Liberty, and Saxon Math. In fifth grade, we switched to a new curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education, or A.C.E. By this point, my parents had been researching and were unhappy with the academic quality of the material that we had been studying. Research in the Christian Homeschooling world led them to settle on the A Beka Video curriculum, one that I know many in our circles considered too rigorous and too expensive. My parents settled on doing Program 2. This program entailed your parents doing all the grading, setting any deadlines, determining the calendar, etc., whereas Program 1 entailed sending all reports, grades, quizzes, tests, etc., into Pensacola Christian Academy to be graded and recorded. With Program 1 you were considered a satellite student and thus allowed to travel to Pensacola to graduate at the end of high school if you wanted to participate. We continued to do Program 2, however, until I graduated six years later. Given that the number of children in our family continued to expand, A Beka gave my mom more freedom to focus on the babies and toddlers, and required less hands-on time spent with us older children in school, as we could watch the videos, do the required work, and come to her only when we needed help.

For me, homeschooling was something that I loved and hated. I was a very self- disciplined child and an avid reader, so I loved the challenge academics posed. I loved learning new things. I loved learning to write. I loved every time I aced a quiz or a test. Most of all, though, I loved reading. I can’t even remember when I couldn’t read. I was the kid who would check out 40 books at a time from the library. I would read in the bathtub, outside in a tree, and under my covers with a flashlight late into the night. Every chance I could possibly find, I was probably somewhere with my nose in a book. History was fascinating to me, and I quickly developed an insatiable love for the historical fiction genre in the library. Granted, my choices were greatly censored to safe children’s versions, or Christian versions, but I didn’t care. I read every single book I was allowed to, and then read them again. If, however, I had to list out what hurt me the most and impacted me negatively through homeschooling, it would be a lack of structure, a lack of personal boundaries, a lack of accountability, a lack of educational opportunity, and a very biased education.

Today I want to focus on the first three.

A Lack of Structure: 

I saw how kids who went to school got to have a set schedule every day. They had teachers available whenever they needed help. They got to socialize with friends every day, play sports, and do extra-curricular activities that I could only dream about doing. So many people like to throw out that homeschool kids aren’t socialized. The problem was not that we weren’t socialized – if your basic meaning of the word entails being around children your own age. We had plenty of friends and people of all ages that we interacted with socially on a daily basis. My parents worked hard at that time to maintain a social life for us kids, which then meant monthly outings with other Homeschool families, where we would go bowling, roller-skating, on a picnic, or to a church hosted pot-luck.

Every few months they might arrange a mini-conference, or an art clinic that we would also participate in. We attended weekly piano, voice, ballet, and tap lessons throughout my junior high years, and continued with piano through high school. We also had an in-ground pool, so we had friends coming over to our house all the time. The problem was we only socialized with people exactly like us. The only diversity I ever really encountered growing up were the extended family members and few friends that I knew who went to public school, most of whom also grew up in a small town in Texas, going to church every week, and living the typical Friday Night Lights life. It just so happened that my bubble of a world was even smaller.

In family as large as ours, there is very little room for an “I,” since for things to work, individual needs are frequently sacrificed for what is best for the family. Sports were out of the question, as it meant a minimum of driving an hour one way for practices and two-hours one-way minimum for home games. Packing up the entire family for that kind of rigorous schedule for just one kid was not an option, much less the cost involved. As far as a schedule, given my father was a pastor and operated a Christian counseling ministry out of our home, the only word for describing my family’s lifestyle growing up is flexibility. My father was also a private investor, for additional family income as well as his own personal business pursuits. With a Father who worked from home and a stay-at-home mom there was no schedule to build our lives around. The schedule could change at a moment’s notice, whether it was a sudden family trip, a decision to go spend the day with some of our closest friends, a homeschool group event, a church event, or a trip to the nearest city – the schedule changed frequently.

In order to allow for this kind of lifestyle, we did school on a calendar year, year-round. As long as we finished out the video curriculum by the return deadline at the end of the year period, it didn’t matter as much how strict our schedule was. This also applied in the daily school schedule, since when you have all day to do it and you are at home anyways with that large of a family – interruptions were frequent and easily found. This often drove my list-loving, black/white, rule-follower personality insane. I would create schedules, chore charts, and lists for my mom, thinking that if I created the perfect one the family would all fall into a system where I could feel a sense of stability and control – but they kept failing again and again. This is where my mom would ironically point out how it was probably great training for life as a military spouse in the Air Force, because if it’s one thing you can’t do in the military life with a husband in the flying world, it’s plan too far ahead or plan on a predictable schedule.

Life has taught me there are two sides to every coin. Flexibility and finding the serenity to let go of controlling every detail of our lives is a challenging quality to develop in a healthy way. I am thankful that I learned from a young age to embrace change quickly, even if I didn’t always like it. However, for a child growing up in that atmosphere, I also learned too easily how to sacrifice my own feelings and needs for the greater good, believing that was the only option.

A Lack of Boundaries:

When I talk about a lack of personal boundaries, homeschooling for me and many other kids I knew meant that an individual child’s needs often suffered or went completely unnoticed for the greater needs of the family. I never learned how to say no or to express an opinion without first validating it by either saying “I feel that God is leading me…” or pointing to someone else and attaching my need to theirs. Personal space in a house with that size of family was also a rare luxury. I didn’t even know what it meant to have healthy personal boundaries, or that it was ok to need and want personal space. I have learned the hard way that for a child to have a healthy development into adulthood, they need to begin learning how to establish and articulate their own likes, dislikes, personal preferences, and wishes at home. This means they have to be able to feel safe to express an opinion, draw a boundary line, or even say no. While it may seem best for a young child to be wholeheartedly compliant, never learning boundaries and never learning how to be an individual within the safe confines of a loving and healthy family environment translate into a lot of heartache later on.

In sharing this, it is not my intention to ever minimize the good that I experienced growing up, because I know that my story could be far different. My parents or siblings never abused me physically or sexually. I was a happy child for the most part, who loved my family, God, and life, and saw everything in life with an undeniable optimism. I have read story after story of others like me who endured far worse, and I would never want to portray my experiences as anything else than what they were. My trials and pain came more after I left the home. Those ingrained traits of selflessness, unquestioning submission, and my desperation to please and be liked—turned into seeds for some of my hardest lessons and greatest nightmares as an adult on my own.

Having little individual development as a young adult coupled with self-hatred, insecurity, and a belief that being a girl severely limited my role in society at large meant I left home with no clue as to who I was, what I wanted, how to say no, how to establish healthy boundaries, how to trust my own decision-making abilities, or how to value myself. I was powerless, having been taught to only be a submissive child and female completely dependent on men. I transferred that submission and unhealthy levels of co- dependency to mentors, to church leadership, and to men that would come into my life – never realizing that for years I would be a walking doormat and frozen at any sight of conflict.

Growing up with the belief that for me to want something on my own was wrong meant that (as a young girl) for years all I knew to do was to want what other girls wanted. When my older sister got a horse, I wanted one, too. When my cousin started playing the violin, I wanted to learn, too. When someone did something different then me, lived differently then me, or pursued an interest different then me – it would only cause me to further buy into the lies of comparison. Who I was and what I wanted on my own was not only not allowed, but also never good enough. This is why I easily fell into the traps of first copying, and if that wasn’t allowed, then judging and mocking. It was easier to criticize and set myself up as better than others than to deal with the ache of wanting to know why I couldn’t be like them.

My parents and I have discussed this at length. I know that, as a parent, it would be hard to realize the messages your children are internalizing, especially when they don’t communicate them to you. I know now that the community and the spiritual teachings we fed on at that time played a large role in making me believe I had no right to voice what I was internalizing. I am sure it also played a role in why my parents never thought to question if I was hiding my true feelings. The entire family structure was often a subject of sermons and teachings, and many of these teachings centered around what proper familial roles entailed. It meant a strict patriarchal and complementarian view of marriage, where the man is the leader of the home and all decisions defer to his wishes and judgment. So, as a daughter, I was raised in an environment that taught me that my wishes were secondary. They were to be subordinate to my parent’s wishes, as it was our role to honor and obey our parents unquestioningly. They were secondary because I was female, and daughters and wives did not question what the father or male leader in their life wanted. They were secondary because I believed there was no time or room for individual wishes with a family so large. Lastly, they were secondary because, as a Christian, personal wishes were highly subject to being classified as selfish and self-serving.

In effect, a message that was perhaps at one time or in certain situations begun on some level as basic consideration for others – I internalized as a far more violating message:

Your opinions do not matter.

Your wishes are selfish and wrong.

You are a girl and thus your voice doesn’t count.

In believing these, I began to try to kill my desires and dreams by telling myself things like:

Your love for school and academic achievement is a source of pride, so not getting to pursue education further is the cross you must bear.

You would probably love your friends and activities too much at school, and thus become selfish and too easily influenced by peer pressure to sin – so not getting what you want is God protecting you.

Your family needs you too much at home, so for you to want to leave them and to secretly wish for things like graduation or a prom is selfish, worldly, and wrong.

So the struggle to hide only grew stronger. The web of comparison, lies, and self-hatred spread everywhere. The harmful reality of these messages, doctrine, and beliefs hung my family out to dry a few years later when my sister’s marriage was destroyed. As I have mentioned in previous posts, for my family, choosing to support her divorce meant losing a community and lifetime of friendships. We never realized how debilitating our doctrines and beliefs concerning women were until they left my sister at the mercy of protecting reputation and enduring abuse for the cause of Christ. The mere fact that those who claim to follow Christ can then twist and use Him as a reason to protect abuse in any situation makes my blood boil to this day.

It has been a journey for all of us to process through, grieve, recover, reexamine, change, and move on. It has now been almost eight years since our world fell apart, and I am so grateful that my siblings today are receiving a completely different childhood experience. I know that not every kid or family gets a second chance.

A Lack of Accountability:

As far as a lack of accountability, given how many children there were and how much my mother had to divide her focus between so many children – homeschooling placed a huge responsibility on me as a teenager to be self-disciplined, self-motivated, and studious. If I had wanted to skip subjects I could have. If I had wanted to look up answers I could have. I often graded my own quizzes and tests. By high school, I was largely on my own when it came to my education. Granted, I actually enjoyed school, and I was a Pharisee about following the rules, so the thought of trying to cheat was contemptible. Yet, I know other siblings of mine, and friends in similar situations, who found ways to work that system and missed foundational parts of their secondary education, if they got a high school-level of education at all. I know girls my age that were lucky enough to get to an eighth grade education level, as college was considered unnecessary and a waste of money for girls. I myself only completed pre-algebra, geometry, and a consumer business math elective in my math high-school classes, and so had to retake several preparatory math classes to be able to complete College Algebra once I got to college.

In high school I remember crying after every local high school graduation ceremony I attended because I knew I would never have one. I carried that pain with me through my college years, and the day I walked across a stage to receive my college diploma felt like someone had given me a pair of wings. College for me was a gift I will treasure forever. It sparked a flame, and I am still not done. Now I am in the midst of obtaining my Master’s Degree, and, knowing how much I love school, it probably isn’t the end.

Education is an investment that will never give a bad return. Through college I have found that I thrive in a classroom setting where there are clear expectations, accessible help, accountability, and competition. I wish I’d had that as a child because I know I would have done well.

As an adult, I have developed a love for running. It makes me feel powerful. It helps me de-stress and produces tangible results I can see in increased strength, discipline, and endurance. I have also found a community, inspiration, and well of encouragement in running with other women. Knowing how good it makes me feel has made me wish, on more than one occasion, that I could have discovered it sooner through something like track or cross-country, as a young girl, with other girls my own age.

I know that many parents today, mine included, find it hard to hear voices like mine point out how homeschooling failed us. For those parents who made this decision with the best of intentions and hearts full of love, I know it’s hard to see something you thought would be so good lead to your child’s confusion, heartache, and pain. However, what must be remembered is that it is equally as important for me, and others like me, to be honest about homeschooling’s failings–even if it means being painfully honest.

Consider how you respond.

Do you automatically reach for conversation stoppers? Consider how, if you respond defensively, refuse to listen, or respond with “but it wasn’t all bad” or some version of “don’t write it off altogether” it comes across dismissive and leaves little room for the conversation to go anywhere. Suddenly, the focus is again on the adult child taking care of your needs, your comfort level, your emotional stability, understanding your decisions, or protecting their relationship with you—instead of it being about honestly communicating what they have experienced and how it has affected them.

Love and healthy relationships grow with truth and vulnerability. It’s not easy to listen to where we have failed each other or how we see, interpret, and experience things differently. It takes courage.

Nathan Pyle, when writing about his relationship with his son and what he has learned about parenting, couldn’t have put it in a more beautiful way when he said,

“No parent gets it perfect. For all of our best intentions and best efforts, we will create wounds in our children. We have a better chance of avoiding paying taxes than we do at not creating a wound, or thirty, in our children. It is going to happen. I’m not beating myself up over this. Nor do I think I am overstating my impact as a parent. I’m just being honest about what is so. I need to tell the truth about this so that I can begin the internal work necessary to hear him tell me about his wounds. The key isn’t to try and become the kind of person who doesn’t create wounds, the key is trying to become the kind of person who helps heal wounds – even the ones we inflict.”

Part Four>