How I Accidentally Swindled My Way Out of Conservative Christianity: Dallas’ Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Dallas” is a pseudonym.

Once upon a time, I won awards for citing Ann Coulter and defending her viewpoints. I’ll get to all of that in a moment, but to fully appreciate this story, you first need some background about my homeschool upbringing.

Living as a teenage atheist in a home of pastors and devout Christian lifestyles is one of the strangest American experiences I can think of having — yet that was my reality. For most of my growing up, my father was heavily involved in church life, eventually becoming commissioned to be an ordained pastor around my ninth birthday. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who picked her battles, and my three younger siblings were and are all very active ‘Jesus Freaks.’

I was one of those myself as a small child, but I was quickly withdrawing from the church by the time I was 13. As church community was stripped away from me as my father’s church grew, then shrank, then reinvented, then rebuilt, my need for people was taken away as my parents felt dogma and religion was the most important elements of a “Christian Walk.”

Part of that “Christian Walk” at the age of 15 was being forced into participating in Impromptu Apologetics under the NCFCA umbrella.

(Background concluded, we now resume the buildup for why I defended Ann Coulter.)

Now, I was already a strong speech and debate kid by the time I was 15. I had already qualified for Nationals in Impromptu Speech, Extemp and Lincoln Douglas debate, and I served as a ‘Senior’ student in our local club. I was ready to try my hand at something in the interpretives, but my parents had a different idea in mind. By gosh, I was now the son of a pastor, and I needed to know how to defend my faith (despite the fact I was already well-weary of Christianity).

I protested. I fought. I cried. It didn’t matter. I was going to do Impromptu Apologetics, and that was the beginning of the grand swindle.

The next school year came up, and at first, Apologetics wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was given a lot of non-direct questions about Christianity, with questions like “Why does a society needs laws?” and “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?”

Sure, those questions asked for a slanted answer and biblical references, but I was able to use reason and historical examples to defend my points on a philosophical level. I was placing near the top at club mock tournaments, and I was feeling very comfortable during the events.

Then, the next semester came, and my fears came true: I started getting the weird questions which could only get dogma-based answers, and even worse, several questions were touching the subjects of Christianity and modern politics.

Unsurprisingly, I started getting low marks for not giving specific Southern-style, conservative Republican, Christian answers on gay marriage, abortion, the infallibleness of the Bible and the historical proofs of Jesus.

Although I was uncomfortable, I pretended it was all fine and good. I embraced my inner Lee Strobel and Frank Turek, giving the circular reasoning that the homeschool mothers who judged the club events were looking for. I didn’t like it, but it let me keep winning.

My faith declined and declined further as I gave arguments I didn’t believe in, but in February, my Lightbulb Moment hit.

In front of the club president and head coach (a deeply Southern Baptist Republican 50-something woman who was campaigning for Mike Huckabee while actively lobbying against civil unions in our state), I pulled out the first question I had zero answer to. As an adult, I still don’t know what it wanted.

The question was this: “How does the Book of Acts describe the moral code of the church similarly to the one seen in Genesis 2?”

I was in a deep panic. I was the ‘senior student’ who routinely knew his business. I was supposed to never flinch. I was supposed to answer the question and give a logical answer rooted in Christian belief. Stuck at my wit’s end as the timer told me my prep time was up, I was active in my Lightbulb Moment.

For the next seven minutes, I made up Bible verses, biblical characters and spat out fake philosophy that I credited to the 14th century theologian St. Saban.

Did Stephen the Martyr really command to obey the Lord fully like Adam as he was stoned to death? Did a prophet really foreshadow the church’s early movements in the book of Nehemiah? Did St. Saban, a man I made up based on the then-Miami Dolphins head football coach, actually exist?

I don’t know. Nor did I care. Because when I got my ballot back, not only had I won the round against nine other speakers, but I had the highest speaker praises including “Well-credentialed arguments and excellent research points”.

That was my Lightbulb Moment: If it sounded good, then that’s all that mattered for Christians and defending Christianity.

After reading that ballot, I decided to try an experiment. For every club event, for every practice and for every tournament, I was going to make it all up.

The 3rd-century Roman historian Nicholai was going to have lost works that explained the miracles of Christ. Verses like Matthew 17:48 and Exodus 49:11 were totally going to exist and be real. Hezeriah was going to be a part of the Old Testament of Biblical prophecy, as would be Surach and Baruch.

Surely, I thought, surely one of these deeply fervent homeschooling mothers, fathers or friends would call me out on it. Surely someone at the regional tournaments would smell something off, right?

I got my answer when I reached out round after out round, eventually finishing in second place in my region, qualifying for the NCFCA National Tournament.

As a 15-year-old who was learning how to bend the rules and get away with it, it didn’t take long to take my deceiving to other speech and debate fronts.

I’m embarrassed to say I was winning extemp rounds by saying Hillary Clinton told reporters at a campaign stop that she’d be willing to invade Israel. Likewise, I won Impromptu rounds by citing that Christianity was blackballing a Russian pop act from entering a recording studio.

What I’m most embarrassed about though is that I qualified for nationals in Team Policy by quoting an Ann Coulter column disguised as a “study by Yale University,” resulting in a standing ovation after that quarterfinal round debate.

I haven’t really forgiven myself for that one. Sorry Yale.

Regardless, there was my moment.

By faking everything, particularly conservative Christianity in culture, history and philosophy, I became an award-winning speaker and debater.

The epilogue is that I refused to go to the national tournament, selling my parents that the tournament was “old hat” and that I didn’t want to return to that competition. They saved the money they would have spent on that trip and we went on a family vacation to Arizona instead, where I happily played golf with my uncles and saw the Grand Canyon with my dad – experiences I’d take any day over bickering with teenagers about why I like AC/DC and why Obama isn’t a secret Muslim terrorist.


To this day, I cannot believe the dozens of Christians I somehow managed to dupe and I now play the “what if” game on what would have happened had I tried my strategy at the national tournament.

Drinking From the Final Straw

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on February 25, 2015. 

Trigger warnings: alcohol abuse, child abuse, graphic descriptions

“We were addicted to the blueprint
But we threw it in the flames and now we’re never gonna trace it
You, you lied
Ha ha ha ha I was right all along
Good job, good job
You fucked it up…
Now you’re walking on your own
Rain falls down, I’m not answering my phone
I got to phase you out my zone
Hope you realize now that I am never coming home
You were meant to be alone.” –Charli XCX

I wrote a post on addictive personalities as a prerequisite to an element I haven’t talked about yet on my blog. Many people who were, like me, abused in the Christian-homeschool-patriarchy movement, still maintain at least moderately rocky relationships with their parents. I gave up, in the end, because of the events surrounding how my parents started drinking.

One day near the end of 2013, I visited my parents’ house. Mom was in bed, recovering from her last miscarriage. She’d saved the fetus, named him Ezra Mark, dressed him and taken pictures, and buried him in the backyard. What shocked me the most, though, was that she had a bottle of Jack Daniels on her nightstand.

“Mom, why do you have hard liquor? I’ve never seen alcohol in our house.”

She said something about dealing with the pain. She was referring to both the emotional pain of losing a child, and the physical pain of blood loss. She insisted, though, that she was only taking small amounts of it as a medicinal solution.

I accepted this answer. After all, I drink alcohol sometimes. I wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite.

On the 6th of January last year, mom’s sister Debbi died suddenly. She was only 52, and she’d practically raised my mom and her brothers and sisters, because my maternal grandmother was, as previously mentioned, addicted to alcohol. I asked for time off work so that I could travel to Minnesota for my aunt’s funeral.

Mom was losing both a sister and a surrogate mother, and she turned to alcohol with the shock and grief. I’d always taken care of my mom, but she was making me worried. We ordered drinks on the plane. When we got to my paternal grandparents’ house, she asked me to sneak more liquor for her from their cupboard. It didn’t matter what it was – she had no taste preference, it was to numb herself.

Within weeks of our return to Colorado, dad was drinking, too. They had wine regularly, and there was a twelve-pack of beer in the fridge. When I asked about it, mom said that since she couldn’t have kids anymore (a statement I never got full clarification for), it was okay to have alcohol now.

Again, I accepted this. I didn’t accept alcohol for myself until I realized there was space between alcoholics and people who completely abstained. The problem was, mom and dad had never seen someone demonstrate moderate drinking. I assumed that they only drank when I was there, which was once or twice a week.

Once in the spring, we built a bonfire in the backyard and roasted marshmallows. Dad was acting strangely – less mature than the kids. He wanted to burn a whole door, and he threw it on the fire, scattering sparks and making the fire spread and smother. When I told him he was being dangerous, he laughed at me. My brothers and I nervously sat him down and contained the fire ourselves. It would take me months to look back on that night and realize dad had had at least three drinks, and was playing with fire around children.

By the time I started to get suspicious, I realized my parents were showing all the red flags of addiction: denial, minimization, and defensiveness.

Lydia was living with them again, but only kind of. She slept on the floor in the girls’ bedroom for a month, so technically she didn’t have to pay $500 rent. Mom sometimes lamented that Lydia didn’t have a bed to sleep in, but Lydia knew she didn’t mean it. She lived there to be around the kids. I couldn’t take the way I felt suffocated there.

Lydia started counting drinks when she wasn’t busy with work. Dad said to her, “I’m not an alcoholic, I just have a couple of beers in the evening.” Whenever Lydia voiced criticism about the alcohol, dad took her outside and yelled at her – for the first time in her life, he swore at her regularly. My parents weren’t being themselves, and it was getting dangerous.

Dangerous, because if you can’t admit that you’ve had a few drinks, you can’t admit that you need to wait before driving, or stay away from fire. Responsible drinkers keep count and stay accountable. The house felt less and less safe.

The last day went something like this…

I come in the house on a Thursday.
Mom offers me wine.
I turn her down, saying I try not to drink more than once every two weeks.
She looks hurt and suspicious, like I’m putting myself above her.
She adds what would have been my serving to her half-drank glass.
I start counting mentally: that’s two glasses of wine altogether for her, and it’s 5 p.m.
I offer to help with dinner, we talk about work and how my therapy is going.
I give vague, slow answers to her questions.
I watch as she drinks half the glass again, and refills it.
It’s a clever way to lose count.
Meanwhile, dad is outside at the grill.
He’s finished a beer when mom brings him his wine.
When we sit down to eat, mom’s wine glass is full again, and dad is drinking from a non-transparent covered cup.
I wait for him to get up, then I taste his drink. It’s kombucha mixed with wine.
He can’t possibly be drinking for the taste.
It’s 9 p.m. now. They’re both still unfinished with their wine glasses when we do family prayers, bless and kiss the children, and send them to bed.
Dad asks Lydia and me if we want to play a game.
We say no.
Yes, I think you do, he counters.
We really don’t.
But we don’t even know what the game is, he says.
We say it’s obvious that he wants to play a drinking game, and we’re not interested.
He looks dejected and rather disbelieves that we’ve just said no to him.
Before I leave that night, I ask mom: “Do you drink every night?”
She laughs loudly. It’s pretentious and insulted.
“Of course we don’t!”
I turn to my 12-year-old sister and murmur in a lower tone: “Do they drink every night?”
She nods slightly so mom doesn’t see.
The next time I visit, they don’t serve alcoholic beverages.
It’s like they’re trying to prove without words that they don’t drink every night.
It’s too late.

It was early September when Grandma – my dad’s mom, Judy – messaged me to ask how I was doing. I opted for honesty, and told her everything. She used to be an alcoholic, and she’d been a sober AA member for as long as I could remember. She saw what her and her husband’s alcoholism did to her kids. Surely she’d understand that something needed to be done so my parents didn’t hurt her grandkids.

She called me, and I told her what was happening. She said it sounded like alcohol abuse that had gone on for nearly a year, but she conservatively chose not to call it addiction.

She also questioned the validity of my story, because I was only going off hearsay from my siblings and extrapolation. I wasn’t living there and I couldn’t watch my parents all the time, so I couldn’t be sure.

Grandma said she was worried about my parents, since their alcohol use indicated stress.

“But Grandma,” I asked, upset now, “What about the kids? Aren’t you worried about them, too?”

“Well,” she said slowly, “I think you and your sisters have turned out okay. I’m amazed at the resilience I’ve seen in you and your siblings.”

“So you’re more concerned about my parents than about the kids.”

“I’m concerned about my son, and as a parent I want to know why he’s so stressed.”

“Well Grandma, that’s not good enough for me. I’m concerned about my brothers and sisters who are stuck there, and it’s not safe. What am I supposed to do?”

This part of the conversation was well-practiced for her. “I’ve worked with recovering addicts for decades, and we always learn the serenity prayer, do you know it?”

“Yes, I know it. I don’t think it applies here, Grandma.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

I burst into tears, and for the first time in my life, I vented my full anger at an elder in my family. Elders are to be respected, never contradicted. I broke protocol. “No, Grandma! I do not need you to tell me to answer this with prayer and acceptance! That is not what I need right now!”

She was quick to backpedal, rephrasing her words, trying to find some other practiced line that would please me. I realized that my dad had learned his habit of using all the right words from his mother.

Nobody was going to help me or listen. So I blogged about my parents being abusive. Grandma told me she felt like her heart was going to break, and I didn’t respond. If her heart could break and she could still treat my trapped siblings with indifference, I had no reason not to hurt her feelings.

The day before my dad released the podcast responding to my blog post “Melting Memory Masks”, I met with one of my brothers for lunch. He told me the alcohol was gone. Dad had thrown all of it out, saying that if it meant so much to Lydia and me, it wasn’t worth keeping. I asked why dad didn’t say that to me directly. My brother didn’t know.

Alcohol was the breaking point. It’s what made me realize that I had so few allies in my family, and that I needed to get away for myself. That’s what made 2014 different from all the years before it.

When A Child is Taught to Hate: My Version of the Alicia Story, Part 2

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on November 12, 2014. 

< Part One

Part Two

“That’s not despair you’re feeling, it’s the petulant reaction of a wounded child
And that’s not the door I’m looking at, it’s an escape hatch to the zeppelin we’re inside…
This ain’t an insult, it’s the clearest truth I’ve ever had the misery to speak
These aren’t words, these are the terms of my surrender and defeat
But I’m not sorry, beyond the sorry nature of existing with no plans
Please don’t touch me, just wave goodbye with that claw that’s not a hand.” -El-P

I didn’t see the woman who raised me for three years. “Alicia” became a word that could incapacitate me for want of an emotional outlet. I didn’t know what triggers were, but the mention of her name was a trigger, and is still something I have mixed feelings about.

My aunt Becky visited my sister sometimes during those years, and she once showed me a picture of my baby nephew. I saw his picture, and felt no loss for myself in having never met a family member. My mother had already killed that idea: he was a symbol of my sister’s rebellion, proof that she was as “promiscuous” as mom said she was.

In 2006, we filmed for The Learning Channel and the film crew didn’t press the issue. My parents said my sister lived far away, and was, unfortunately, unavailable to participate in the show. Becky told me recently that when she met the on-site producer, he dropped this information offhand: “It’s too bad their oldest daughter couldn’t make it.”

“Alicia? But she lives twenty minutes away. I’m staying with her.”

“What? That’s not what I was told.”

That’s when they pressed the issue with my dad in an interview. This was the juicy story Reality TV was looking for, so they planned to film extra footage of a meet-up. My mom had met my nephew that summer, and the TV cameras filmed her getting a meal with Alicia and her son. Dad filmed his first meeting with his grandson, and the Learning Channel used his footage in the final show’s cut. I knew nothing of this at the time.

I saw my sister for the first time in three years the night before I’d be watching her on TV.

At the beginning of 2007, there was a short reunion. My dad called it the return of the prodigal, and we actually ate elk calf from a recent hunting trip. He said we’d “killed the fatted calf.” It looked great and we were all smiles, and it helped my parents sell a lot of books under the “Love in the House” brand. Seeing those pictures now makes me shudder. In the last two photos, I’m smiling unnaturally brightly, saying to my dad’s camera what I couldn’t say aloud – that I was desperate to let the world know how glad I was to have my sister back that night.

The next seven years were rocky. We tried to make it work, but mom and dad insisted on condescending to Alicia. They refused to treat her relationship as a marriage, saying she and her boyfriend, Josh, were “shacking up,” even though they were in a steady, stable relationship and we live in a common law state. They wanted to print in the Christmas Letter that she’d had another child out of wedlock, with no mention of her committed husband. Alicia gave my mom a family picture including Josh and their two sons, but my parents refused to use it. In turn, Alicia and Josh refused to let them put pictures of their kids in the Christmas Letter.

I believed my parents were right to treat my sister the way they did. After all, she wasn’t really married. She had done some pretty bad things by the standards with which I was raised. I fought with her and cut off communication because she wanted to keep talking to me, even though there was conflict with my parents.

I only started to doubt the way my parents had treated Alicia when my parents kicked Lydia and me out. This was all familiar, something I hadn’t heard in over a decade: “You can’t be here. Get out or do as I say.” It was what my dad had said to my older sister, Alicia, in their fights before she moved out.

When my dad used the same phrases on me, I doubted for the first time: maybe Alicia didn’t do anything wrong. I fought to keep my voice steady against his onslaught: “This sounds familiar, dad. Like what I heard you say to Alicia.”

Dad’s reply was, “Oh, so now it’s personal, huh?”

For some time, Lydia and I had been discussing dad’s lack of understanding for other people. He just wasn’t aware of others’ feelings or perspectives. Earlier that year, when I’d told him I couldn’t read through an entire book and copy-edit it on top of work and school, he’d gotten me up two hours before sunrise and forced me to edit it before I had to leave for class. That summer, when I’d spent a few days working on my own writing, he told me that I was letting my summer get away from me because I wasn’t working for him all the time.

When I interact with people, I recognize that they have a whole life, and we’re interacting briefly. Dad didn’t seem to have that kind of capacity. When I worked for him, his wishes came first, and I couldn’t ever say “no,” even if I was overwhelmed. If I wasn’t working for him, I wasn’t doing anything important.

My theory of dad’s inability to understand others flashed through me when I mentioned Alicia. I later learned the word I was looking for: empathy.

He didn’t see that I’d mentioned it because I was hurt. He thought I was attacking him. That’s how my interactions with my dad have always been if I try to stand up for myself.

I’ve told this story to countless people, painting my sister as the villain in the situation. My parents first sent me to Christian counseling because I felt so betrayed by Alicia. Many people have heard a very different story.

For the sister I lost and regained after ten years, I need to tell my version of the story. This is how I see it now.

When A Child is Taught to Hate: My Version of the Alicia Story, Part 1

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on November 10, 2014. 

Part One

“I’ve been trying to justify you
In the end, I will just defy you.” -Dream Theater, ‘Honor Thy Father’

It started with fights, and I’d never heard my parents yelling. I would be in bed already. Alicia had missed her curfew again. Dad was yelling at her. I crawled out of bed and hid at the bottom of the stairs, listening.

“You’ve made your mom worry sick about you.”

“Dad, I just barely missed it.”

“Where were you? Out partying with your friends again?”

“My youth group friends, dad. They’re Christians…”

“Because our family church isn’t good enough for you, huh?”

Alicia was the person I loved most in the world. When I was a child, I hated getting my hair brushed. Mom would tug at the knots and snarls, and she could move my head by my hair, making me scream and cry. Later on, if my mother ever grabbed my hair, I’d freeze and obey her commands instinctively. Alicia brushed my hair gently, working up from the ends.

I also fondly remember helping with laundry, because she let me clean the lint filter in the dryer, which was fun. When we made Kraft macaroni and cheese, Alicia let me pour the cheese pouches. With these little acts of consideration, she won my affection.

When my family attended Kevin Swanson’s church and my friends there pressured me into wanting a simple life, Alicia fed my love for music. She took me to concerts, and helped me buy my first tall black boots and a jacket with red and black fabric. I wore cool clothes because of her. All of the kids who remember when Alicia still lived with us have sweet memories about why they loved her.

One day in 2003, when I was listening at the bottom of the stairs to my parents arguing with Alicia, I heard dad say, “Get out of my house. You own a car. You can sleep in that tonight.”

She yelled back, “Fine! I will!”

Horrified, I ran upstairs and hugged Alicia. I knew I couldn’t keep her here by wrapping my small, thin arms around her, but I clung like I could. I started crying and begged her not to leave.

I became the device for the argument. “This is why you can’t treat me this way!” Alicia said.

“No, this is why you need to stop being such a bad influence!” Dad said, pointing at me. “Look, they’re attached to you. They’ll do everything you do.”

I cried louder, drowning out their voices. Then I was scolded and punished, but at least I’d made a distraction from the unbearable fighting.

Through more spying and listening in on adult conversations, I learned more of what Alicia had done: at first, she just wanted friends who didn’t go to our parents’ church. My parents said her clothes were too immodest, and once she got in trouble for sitting on a boy’s lap for a picture. Alicia brought Christian guys home, to see if my dad approved of them as friends. My parents didn’t like the friends she chose, and dad didn’t like her first boyfriend.

“No matter what I did, I was rebellious and in trouble,” she told me recently. “So I gave up trying. I thought, ‘If I’m going to be accused of being a bad kid, might as well make the most of it.’”

That’s when she took a housesitting job when she was 18, and hosted parties there. She drank alcohol and she had sex. This was the worst thing she could possibly have done, according to the standards of the world I grew up in.

As the story was told on The Learning Channel, Alicia tried family counseling, and then chose to move away from the family.

What actually happened was that my dad gave her an ultimatum: live in Kevin Swanson’s basement until she’d repented of her ways and submitted to her father’s authority in every way, or she could never see her siblings again.

My parents both cried on my shoulders when I was eleven. They told me all about the pain and heartbreak they were feeling, and I comforted them as best I could. I’d lost my sister, but I told myself that my parents were in more pain than I was. Alissa moved out soon afterward (a different story altogether), and I became the oldest kid in the house, and I became responsible for far more chores than before.

Between the ages of 11 and 14, I learned that mom and dad could express their emotions, but I could not. That was puberty for me.

I was determined to never turn my back on faith and family, as Alicia had.

Part Two >

You’re not a victim because…

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog. It was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Trigger warning: victim-blaming.

Observing the backlash against my friend Cynthia Jeub’s blog series on family abuse has been quite informative for my journalistic aspirations.

Cynthia and I worked at the campus newspaper as editors for two years, and we share a passion for investigative reporting.

Together, we advocated for disabled students on campus, plotted together to conduct social experiment videos, followed the conflict over sermons about homosexuality at Bob Jones University last year, and cheered on the BJU students leaking bootleg recordings.

But two weeks ago, it got real.

Cynthia wasn’t just supporting Homeschoolers Anonymous and the spiritual abuse survivors blog network anymore, we weren’t just swapping links back and forth on chat. She shared her own story.

People told us to be quiet, to not make God or Jesus or Christianity look bad.

And all I could think of was a verse from memorizing the book of Ephesians with my youth group nearly 10 years ago: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (ESV)

There is no need for silence any longer. I noticed several types of attempts to stop Cynthia:

“You’re mentally ill.”

Cynthia’s parents and siblings keep using “mental illness” in attempting to discredit her, posting comments like: “Hey I’m Cynthias lil brother Micah Jeub and she is making this stuff up. she is just lying. Cynthia is dealing with mental illness and needs prayer.”

In the Jeub family’s responses, the fact Cynthia is even seeing a therapist at all is grounds to claim she is “mentally ill” and that her memories should not be considered credible.

I’ve noticed that American culture often misunderstands mental illness, as illustrated by the Matt Walsh post on Robin Williams’ suicide.

But legally, the state only interferes when the patient states or acts to threaten their lives or others.  When their issues keep them from functioning in society.

So I don’t believe the Jeub family can label Cynthia “mentally ill” because she goes to counseling. She holds a full-time job and attends classes. If Cynthia’s crazy, well then so am I.

“But you forgave me.”

Another phrase abusers use to cover up the past. Especially in the church, because forgiveness is a Christian virtue, and Jesus forgave so much more than you ever could.

This brand of “forgiveness” just enables abusers, as illustrated in power and control cycles.  Read the “minimizing, denying, and blaming” section.

Last week, a friend of mine received a message from her former boyfriend’s phone, sent by his controlling, manipulative girlfriend who assaulted him back in 2012.

“Anyway, it’s all in the past now. The only thing we can do now is move forward. You seem to be doing good things in your life. And we are doing good things in ours. Lets just all be happy and forgiving and let the negativity finally subside.”

If we cannot tolerate this behavior in romantic relationships, we shouldn’t in child rearing, either. Even forgiveness does not heal the hurt.

“You’re exaggerating.”

Chris Jeub’s podcast was loaded with this excuse, mostly from Cynthia’s siblings.

“That’s not abuse, that’s what every mom does when her kids don’t do the dishes, she throws silverware at you.”

“A lot of moms would have popped before mom did.”

The Jeub children still living at home assume explosive outbursts and physical attack is normal and happens in every household.

A more aggressive attempt to discredit Cynthia’s story, in the form of libel accusations, came from Patricia Byrnes, former counselor to Cynthia and the other older Jeub sisters.

She and her husband Kurt Byrnes founded Anchor of Hope Ministries in Monument, Colorado, and provide services to the homeschool community.

I received the following Facebook message from her on October 7:


Also, notice her comment on Chris Jeub’s Facebook status two days before, discussing a therapy session:


And her comment on Cynthia’s Melting Memory Masks post:


So I screen-captured Patricia’s message and posted it publicly to my Facebook account. She dialogued with us on the thread:


In these online encounters, Patricia Byrnes violated her own confidentiality agreement in revealing details from prior therapy sessions. Anchor of Hope’s policy states: “Interactions between client and counselor are confidential. Unless I have permission from you, what we talk about will be private; I will not discuss it with anyone else. Our discussion will be private and confidential.”

And she actively discouraged Cynthia from sharing her story, although a counselor’s role should be to enable and empower.

Patricia Byrnes also avoided questions about her credentials, while still telling us to “use caution” and “be quick to listen and slow to speak.”

The homeschool community becomes abusive and toxic when authority figures mislabel and deny our voices and then advocate a false forgiveness above all else.

These scenarios are what perpetuated our harm for so many years.

Silence only enables abusers. Our scars have stories. And the stories matter.

Four Reasons Why I Believe Cynthia Jeub

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Susan Gabriella Douglas’s blog The Little Fighter That Could. It was originally published on October 12, 2014.

Susan’s disclaimer: the claims made in this article are drawn only from a Christian homeschool background and thus only pertain to similar such circumstances. Because this article responds to information found in this post, it may be useful to view it before resuming.

Cynthia Jeub’s claims of parental abuse on her blog have caused an uncomfortable stir in the Christian homeschooling community and beyond. Some people offer comfort to her and her sister, Lydia, who were both kicked out of their house, while others, obviously less moved by the story, are demanding reasons. Reasons for why Cynthia’s claims are true, and then, even if they are true, reasons why she feels the need to publish them.

This made me angry. I asked myself why an audience so detached felt the need to demand such technical answers of abuse victims like Cynthia. Why wasn’t her word good enough? Interestingly, I was actually able to get a partial answer.

A large portion of the people who hear Cynthia’s story may already know of her family—with sixteen kids, it’s hard not to get some press. And what most people (at least speaking for the Christian homeschool world) have been educated to believe is that the Jeubs are all reputable people up there with names like the Duggers and the Pearls. Consequently, due nearly only to the fact that Cynthia’s parents gave us our first impression of the family, Cynthia’s unexpected claims are now being weighed against a reputation toward which we have already been biased.

It’s been estimated that physical first impressions are made in one-tenth of a second. First impressions are hard to change. But imagine this—the tables turned. What if Cynthia presented to the world everyone’s first impression of her parents as abusive, hypocritical people? How much harder of a time would it be for Mr. Jeub to come along and retrieve his reputation?  You see, it’s not a question of credibility as much as it is our subconscious bias. And our bias requires logic to supersede it. Therefore, it cries out, give us reasons.

I do understand this. But I’m also still convinced that there ARE reasons. The reputations of those who came before Cynthia may be uncomfortable to question, but I believe they are worth braving in the name of open-mindedness. After having done this myself, I have even been surprised—with four reasons why I believe Cynthia Jeub.

 1) The Jeub’s Response to Cynthia

An article and a podcast were recently put up by Cynthia’s father, Chris Jeub, which were interestingly removed by him days later. While the article was eventually reposted, the podcast is now only available due to the initiative of those who believe, contrary to the podcast’s original intentions, that it supports Cynthia’s case. Here are a few reasons why.

In the article so appropriately entitled Responding to Heartache, Chris makes a bold statement meaning for it to prove that humans respond inadequately in the flesh to heartache. The statement he actually makes, however, gives a very different vibe.

“I envy the abusive parent whose kids never lip off, or the hot-tempered boss whose employees just do as they say, or the fire-breathing pastor who beats their congregation from the pulpit. Everyone seems to behave. I don’t know how they manage it, because I have not had good results with the response of the flesh.”

I do not intend to twist what Chris is saying to mean something it blatantly does not. I believe his train of thought was that this is the wrong attitude to have. He mistakenly assumes, however, that this power-hungry attitude is normal amongst the rest of us. And yet, somehow, I do not envy the abusive parent whose children never speak up for themselves, or the position of a hot-tempered boss whose employees just obey, or the fire-breathing pastor of a seamlessly behaving congregation.

It seems to have slipped Chris’ mind that even in the flesh we shouldn’t wish to be monsters. Certainly our flesh is weak, but a desire for complete and utter authority isn’t assumed, it’s developed. This is an attitude that is not healthy, which—if Chris took abuse seriously, for the crime that it is—he would know not to take lightly.

This is evidently not the case, because the podcast put up in defense of the Jeub’s reputation attempts to make a laughingstock of Cynthia’s first blogpost as four of her siblings attempt to debunk her claims.

It is my personal opinion that the reason the podcast was hastily removed was because it comprised of too much evidence in Cynthia’s favor. Below are the paraphrased alibis the Jeub children provide to disprove the abusive events disclosed by their sister.

  • “This always happens—this is normal.”
  • Mom only hit him because I hit him first and she took my side.”
  • “He wasn’t bleeding; mom and Micah only gave him a bruise.”
  • “Mom said she was sorry and she’d never do it again, so it’s irrelevant.”
  • “I don’t remember this happening but my siblings said it did, and it sounds like abuse—but mom would never abuse us kids. It can’t be abuse.”
  • “Why wouldn’t mom be upset if she didn’t do the dishes while cleaning and cooking and caring for ten kids? It’s her job to do the dishes. Cynthia’s an adult, she should just grow up and do the dishes.”
  • “Cynthia’s only mentioning this one part of the conversation. Dad didn’t only ask her ifthe reason she was cutting was to follow the trends of her college friends.”
  • “I doubt this even happened, but if it did, mom didn’t ORDER Cynthia to not tell her counselor she was self-harming…she just suggested it. Besides, that makes no sense.Why would she be in counseling and not tell her counselor she was self-harming? Cynthia totally is contradicting herself.”
  • “Mom and dad used to think spanking was a really good thing like ten years ago, but they don’t do that anymore.”
  • Mom blew it that one time and threw silverware at me, but that’s just what moms do when their kid doesn’t do the dishes, right?”
  • “Remember, mom was in the middle of a miscarriage. She was having a hard time. We have to cut her some slack.”
  • “She was so sorry, and you’ve forgiven her, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”

These statements do NOT justify what happened to Cynthia. In fact, if you read her blogpost and then listen to the additional information explained in the podcast, the abuse becomes even more evident. If you have any doubts about what’s been paraphrased here, I encourage you to go listen for yourself. I’ve also transcribed the entire podcast, which you can read here.

2) Brainwashing

Brainwashed Children Don’t Know They Are Being Abused.

Cynthia’s first post claimed three main things. Physical abuse—abuse her siblings did not deny happened, and instead trivialized by normalizing it or saying it was forgiven; psychological abuse—which her siblings responded to by doubting; and emotional abuse—which her siblings made fun of.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I relate closely to Cynthia, as I grew up in a family that was—not physically, but—psychologically, spiritually and emotionally abusive. I therefore feel that I understand where she is coming from.

From growing up with such abuse, I also know that the most confusing part of it can be that you don’t know you are being abused. If you grew up in a successfully abusive family, you would’ve been taught from the earliest age possible that your life as a victim was normal. To you, the world outside was a dark, scary place that wanted you to be miserable…unlike in the house where you lived, in the loving arms of your abusers: Your Christian homeschooling parents, who tell you they love Jesus more than anything else.

When you do something wrong or that makes your family look bad…that is your fault. When you don’t want to obey your parents because it hurts…that is your sinful spirit, which must be broken. You suffer from guilt and shame and the constant, crippling fear of inadequacy.

The reason why most children who are being abused don’t realize it is because they have been brainwashed. I know I was. In fact, I am out of school, and it was only last year that I began to realize my parents hurt me a lot more than the world has, or can. This is because, as an independent adult, I choose who hurts me by choosing how I live my life; but under my parents’ authority, I had no control over what I could do, say, or believe. I was not only withheld from being myself, but I was pushed into a mold that I was not designed to fit in.

Siblings Are Willing to Stand By Their Parents Even When Their Siblings “Rebel.”

Cynthia, Lydia and their two older sisters all agree that they have been abused, and yet the younger siblings make no such claims. Likewise, my older brother, Ryan, and I know that we have been abused as children. But our two younger brothers? They angrily have been pitted against us, believing we’ve rebelled against our parents.

In the comments of one of Cynthia’s blog posts, her younger brother, Micah, blatantly denies any abuse. Jumping on top of this, people immediately asserted that he was only brainwashed. In Micah’s defense, someone realistically pointed out that he was far too sharp to be brainwashed. And I have to agree. At the age of seventeen, it would be difficult to brainwash anyone. But…what if it had started at the age of two?

I don’t think a genius could stand a chance.

The brainwashed are simply people whose worlds have been painted inaccurately, in a way that causes them to function on someone else’s terms. It’s harmful for our independence to be denied for the same reasons that the American Revolution is considered just.

Seeing Micah repeatedly insist that his sister was the one to blame reminded me of myself years ago.

My older brother, Ryan, as a legal adult, had gotten into a relationship against our parents’ wishes. This was the situation that I firmly believe God used to get him out of my family’s abusive home. But in the wake of the moment, and for the next two years, our family was in shambles “because of his mistake.” It broke my mother’s heart, it pissed my dad off to the point of swearing in front of me for the first time in my life, and I and my younger brothers became very bitter at him—all because we believed he was sinning by dating instead of courting. I have many memories of talking with people who disagreed with me about Ryan’s situation, but I held fast, and never for a moment did I question whether my parents were right or not. That’s just how powerful brainwashing can be.

Perhaps this explains why Cynthia’s younger siblings are all standing with their parents—they simply do not yet have the unveiled eyes to see the truth.

Parents Can Be Brainwashed Too.

I am not here to proclaim that Mr. and Mrs. Jeub are evil, although I definitely feel that what they’re doing is not right. Instead, I sincerely believe that parents can be brainwashed too. Brainwashed to believe that what they’re doing is best for their kids. Brainwashed like mine were to believe that the man who tells them what is right is representing God. Brainwashed families quite often aren’t self-invented. Sometimes they’re hoodwinked by their leaders. This doesn’t justify anything abusers do—but it’s helped alleviate my perspective toward my parents, and people like them. Therefore I don’t look upon the Jeubs as monsters; instead, I see them as terribly, tragically misled people who—for the sake of their children—must be corrected.

3) Similar Testimonies

Cynthia’s story sounds like a plethora of others posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous, a blog dedicated to telling the stories of homeschool alumni who hope others can learn from their negative experiences. I have found the same behavioral patterns in her story that are evident in many preceding hers, and they all point to the same tragic idea: the misled continue to mislead others. Maybe it’s believing that God teaches them to beat the wickedness out of their children; perhaps it’s the simple idea that obedience trumps all else, regardless of the expense. There are many different patterns of abuse each with its own unique effects, but in every situation regarding parental abuse the children pay the consequences—often long after they’ve left childhood behind.

Cynthia’s story is one of many—too many to turn a blind eye toward. I can’t just reason stories like hers away, like I did with Ryan. They are becoming too loud and too real for me to continue to justify.

4) Track Record

Cynthia is not the only Jeub to leave the nest with less than stellar relationships with her parents. She is one of four—the oldest four—to not only leave with different beliefs than her parents, but to be kicked out of the house for refusing to be controlled. I really wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Jeub can fall asleep at night without wondering what they did wrong. Really, how can you parent and watch as 100% of the children who move out leave as disowned rebels without questioning your tactics?

Cynthia’s parents and siblings claim that Cynthia is mentally ill. I don’t argue that struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts is the epitome of emotional stability. Having struggled with self-harm and suicidal thoughts myself, though, I quote my counselor when I say that “emotions serve as an internal thermometer; so when our emotions tell us death is the best option, we know something is terribly wrong.”

But not wrong with us.

When people want to die, they’re not crazy—they’re being seriously oppressed. When I wanted to die, it wasn’t because I was losing it. I have never been diagnosed by anyone but my parents with madness; instead, what I have been told, and what I have grown to believe, is that the way my parents were treating me was threatening my mental well-being.

Suppose with me for a minute that Cynthia was mentally ill once (loosely defined according to whatever extent you may believe it); and by the way, she says she’s gone to therapy since moving out. Now ask yourself why she might be mentally ill. After all, there is no effect without cause. Perhaps she was in an unhealthy, abusive environment. Perhaps she was so oppressed that her only coping mechanism turned out to be the dream of a better reality, which—in her sheltered world—turned out to be none at all.

I don’t know this for sure.

But here is what I do know.

Cynthia’s track record is the same as her three other sisters. Interesting that her family is claiming that only Cynthia is mentally ill… And yet all three sisters support her words. All four sisters claim the same growing up experience. Clearly, we have few choices to be choosy with. Either:

  1. These sisters are telling the truth, or
  2. All four of them happen to be insane.

I believe each of these reasons stand alone as evidence that Cynthia is simply sharing her heart. I can’t blame her—her siblings are still living in the abusive conditions she’s clearly spent so much time recovering from. Besides, the whole idea behind blogging is to share opinions and experiences. The people who condemn Cynthia for sharing her story should likewise be condemned for telling her how they feel about it.

I, for one, think Cynthia is doing a really brave thing by sharing the truth. I hope that her story will someday feel worth the pain living through it has caused her. I hope she inspires people to be courageous and honest, as she has inspired me. I hope she educates people about the reality behind Christian homeschooling. And dear God, I really hope she helps her siblings.

“We Didn’t Kick You Out”: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Five

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on October 10, 2014. 

< Part Four

“Easy for a good girl to go bad
And once we gone
Best believe we’ve gone forever
Don’t be the reason
Don’t be the reason
You better learn how to treat us right.” -Rihanna

Want to know what it’s like to be a Jeub? If you check my dad’s Facebook, you’ll see smiling faces and positive talk.

Let me tell you a story.

Dad walked into the bedroom I shared with my sister, Lydia. To consolidate space, Lydia had taken to hanging up most of her thrift-store clothes in the closet. We didn’t have room for another dresser in addition to my dresser, a bookshelf, the bunk bed we shared, and our two desks.

Lydia was 19 and I was 21. It was normal for dad to walk into our bedroom without knocking. Our door handle’s lock was broken – when you have fifteen rough brothers and sisters, most things don’t last, including bedroom door locks. We didn’t have curtains hanging in our window, so I usually changed in the bathroom, carrying my clothes with me each time I showered. The bathroom door was broken, too, and I shared it with six sisters, so I’d been dressing myself behind the shower curtain since I was eleven.

“Girls, get in my office.” He was yelling. “We need to talk.”

“Dad, will you please close the door behind you?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t. In winter, the open door would chill the basement room, with a thin layer of carpeting protecting us from the icy concrete floor. We used spot heaters to warm our rooms during the colder months. It wasn’t cold today, but dad always left our door open after waking us up.

It was Labor Day, 2013. I’d just started my fifth semester of college, and I was working three jobs: my part-time desk job, editing a section of the school newspaper, and working for my dad. My best friend often said it was too much for me to do, when there could be five to ten kids in my bedroom at any given time. I told her it was fine, and this was normal for me.

Most of what Lydia and I owned was already in boxes. We’d planned to move into our own apartment that week. There was just one problem: we needed proof of income to take over an apartment lease. Lydia had just interviewed for a store that was about to open, and I’d just started my part-time job. The newspaper didn’t record many hours, and my new employer quickly produced what I needed to prove income. We just needed dad to show that, as our main employer, we were making enough to move into our apartment.

When we asked our dad to help us show proof of income, he refused. He said we couldn’t make it on our own, and we wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment on our own. We were confused, seeing as we both had jobs and incomes, but you couldn’t argue with dad.

So this morning, Lydia and I shuffled into his office. Mom was sitting in the corner, the two of us took seats in front of the desk, and dad shut the door behind the four of us.

“I’m upset.” He said. “You drain our resources, you eat our food, you live in our house, you drive our cars, and you were supposed to be moved out by now.”

He was worked up, pacing and glowering down at us in our chairs. For the first time in my life, my dad started cussing at me. He said we didn’t help out around the house enough, and we were ungrateful, and we were wasting his money. Mom sat in the corner and approved the whole episode with her silence and nodding.

If we stayed, dad told us, we would need to pay for everything: the printer, the Internet, the SUV we already fueled whenever we drove it, and rent to sleep in our bedroom.

I’m not sure why I was determined not to cry. I know dad had made me cry many times in these kinds of exchanges, but this was too far. He’d never used swear words, and I had done nothing to bring this on, and I needed to protect my little sister. “Dad, you’re not making any sense. We are literally packed and ready to leave.”

My training in competitive forensics let me see the status dynamics. He was standing, and when I stood up, this threatened his power over me. He demanded that I sit back down, or leave his house immediately. My mind raced. Where would I go? He’d already taken away my ability to get an apartment. I only had a few thousand dollars to survive, and with me being enrolled in school, I didn’t have time to try for more income.

I finally sat back down. “Now, see, why did you sit down?” Dad jeered. “Because you’re admitting that you can’t make it on your own. You need me. You need my resources, everything I pay for and can’t afford. Now, since you’ve chosen to stay, I’m going to charge each of you $500 per month for rent.”

I stood up again. “That’s it. You’re being completely unreasonable.” I walked out, and, as soon as the door was closed, started shaking uncontrollably. I frantically texted a handful of friends. I was afraid dad might disconnect my cell phone, since we were on the same plan. I told my friends to show up if they didn’t hear back from me in half an hour, because I might lose my ability to contact them.

I still had paperwork to print for school, but dad had yelled at me for using the network and printer. I was in a double bind: I could ask to use the printer, and have my request denied. I could print without permission, and risk him confiscating or tearing up my papers – which I sincerely thought was a real possibility in his current mood. I could also hand him twenty-five cents, which would cover the cost of a few sheets of paper in his industrial printer, purchased for the family business’ publishing needs. The last option seemed the least risky, but I also knew my dad would probably be offended. I gathered two dimes and a nickel from my wallet, brought it into his office, and said I was paying for sheets of paper and ink. I went back in my room, and began loading the last of my belongings into boxes.

Dad slammed my door open and threw the coins at me. “Take your damn money!” he yelled.

I yelled back at him, saying I thought he wanted me to pay for using his things.

Lydia and I have twelve younger siblings, and the kids looked frightened and worried. I asked mom if I could take a shower before I left, or if I should pay them for it. She seemed surprised that I even asked, and said, “of course you can.”

I cried in the shower, knowing it would be my last day living in my family’s house, I was being kicked out, and I hadn’t done anything. Mom came in the bathroom while I was toweling off, and she said I should apologize to dad for rudely offering him change. My brother Micah, age 16, just wanted peace, so he begged me to hug my dad and say everything was okay. Five little kids stood around and watched while we obliged him begrudgingly.

One of my friends was still living with her parents, and they said they could come pick us up. I informed my parents that I had a place to go.

Lydia went for a walk and angrily processed what was happening for two hours. When she came back, mom and dad were opposed to letting the two of us have a private conversation. “Don’t think that if you leave, your sister will want to go with you,” dad told me.

We ignored their wishes and talked briefly anyway, before meeting in the office again. Dad smiled widely. “You guys found a place to go, and we’re so proud of you guys!”

Lydia and I exchanged glances at the heel-face turn.

Dad said, “We just have some finances to sort out, and then we’ll send you on your way.”

In our family, we never really tracked finances. Most of our work for the family business was contracted, so extra hours weren’t paid. Most of those contracts were spoken, not written or signed. Dad controlled all our bank accounts, so he just transferred agreed-upon amounts when we finished projects. Lydia and I often thought he changed his rates before and after, but we had no way to track it, and besides, he would ask, aren’t we committed to the business? When we did get paid by the hour, it was supposed to be minimum wage, but filling out timesheets wasn’t a priority.

We talked about cell phone charges and other expenses. Lydia and I forced dad to look at his bills and do the math, and this always meant we owed him less than he said at first. When we finally figured out what we all owed each other, he paid us for the past six months of our work, and we paid him for utilities and phones. He came out ahead and transferred the difference from our accounts.

Then he said, “I’m so proud of both of you. We gave you options, to stay and rent from us, or to find a place of your own. So you’re moving out, and we don’t want you to go around to all your friends and complain about us. We didn’t kick you out, so don’t say we did.”

The next hour was perhaps the most awkward of my life. My friends came to get us, and my parents showed smiles and invited them in for dinner. We hadn’t gotten so much as an apology, but now everything was fine. As Lydia and I left, dad stopped us at the front door to take a picture. Of everything that happened that day, this is the Facebook post people saw:


That’s the difference between Jeub home life and what you see of my family online or on TV.

End of series.

Why Mom Never Told Us: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Four

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on October 8, 2014. 

< Part Three

Trigger warning: physical abuse, self-harm

“We are thrown away in the house you made of every stolen moment.
Don’t pretend, I know how this ends, and who you are in secret.” –Blue Stahli

When I read Libby Anne’s article, “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?” it resonated with me. My parents had been doing the exact same thing with me for years.

“I want you to know that I never believed everything in Created to be His Help Meet.” My mom told me recently, after having taught Bible studies from it for years.

I was 18, and in my super-senior year of high school for another season of debate. Throughout my teens, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter books. I was okay with that, though, because I knew why. I argued with everybody because I’d done my research: Harry Potter had real spells in it and kids had gotten into witchcraft because it made devil worship attractive.

One of my friends said I should read the books for myself. I thought that was a reasonable request, so I went to my parents for permission. I was careful in presenting my case: I was just going to read the series critically, so I could tell my friends that I’d read them when I had arguments.

When I’d finished, my dad said, “Harry Potter was never not allowed.”

I replied, “Oh. I thought it was.”

My parents were both offended. “We would never be so controlling as SOME parents!”

I felt guilty for assuming, so I quickly apologized for my oversight. My parents were forgiving, and I went on to read and enjoy the series of children’s books, and my mom and siblings also read and enjoyed Harry Potter. It wasn’t a set of instruction books for devil worship; it was an intriguing, well-written, and powerful story.

The problem is, I remember the books being prohibited. My older sister read the first Harry Potter book in the early 2000s, and my mom read an article talking about how evil they were. She proceeded to tell us countless stories of people who’d gotten into the occult through Harry Potter. We had friends who hosted book burnings at their churches for anyone who, as my mom put it, wanted to repent of their sin: reading Harry Potter.

It would take me a few more years to realize that my parents made a habit of denying any unfavorable memories I had of them. They also denied anything that made them look uncool by the standards of whatever crowd they wanted to blend with.

I have a good memory. I was only four when Michael and Debi Pearl stayed at our house, but I remember what changed.

The Pearls were treated like royalty. My mom was pregnant with her fifth child, and all the kids believed, because our parents taught us to, that the Pearls were magnificent people.

My older sister, perhaps ten at the time, was terribly afraid of hell. She told Debi that she wanted to make sure she was saved, and Debi prayed the sinner’s prayer with her to make sure.

When my parents found out, they did two things: they forced my ten-year-old sister to write an apology letter to the Pearls, saying she’d lied about her salvation.

Then they started beating her with a belt every day, no matter what she did. She got additional “spankings” if she did something wrong.

This physical punishment was never predictable. Sometimes she’d endure five swats, other times forty. Sometimes she was allowed to keep her pants on, other times she was not. I was also spanked, but not with a belt, and I could expect punishment for specific disobedience. It frightened me to see my big sister suffering, but I didn’t have the words to identify my own emotional reaction at the time.

If any of us had known what anxiety attacks and survivor’s guilt were, it might have partially explained why my sister jumped and lost her breath every time my parents called her name, and why I started self-harming at age four.

Five years ago, while my sister was living in another country, she tried to ask my parents why they beat her every day for some part of her childhood. They said it had never happened. She thought it was a problem with her own memory until I mentioned that I remembered it, too.

Abusers deny and minimize what they’ve done, and if they can’t deny it, they’re so sorry, and once you’ve expressed forgiveness, you can never bring it up again.

Because bringing it up again is keeping a record of wrongs. That’s not love, according to the Bible, and we’re all about love around here.

Only when I started researching patterns of abusive people, did I recognize this pattern in my parents. They didn’t give explanations at the time, because they could deny it later:

“Your sister was never physically abused.”

“You were always allowed to read whatever you wanted.”

“You’re not being fair to us when you say otherwise.”

So Libby Anne, about your post: “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?”

For a long time, I didn’t know why our moms never told us that things were different than we remembered them. I think it’s because they didn’t disagree with what we were taught. It’s easier to make your kids believe every new version of the narrative than to see the problem and change it.

Part Five >

Why Does This Have To Be Public?: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Three

Image from Cheryl Spieth Gardiner. Image links to source.
Image from Cheryl Spieth Gardiner. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on October 7, 2014. 

< Part Two

A lot of people are asking me why everything I’m saying must be public. Why not just go to counseling, why not sort it out privately?

We have tried. I’ll go into more detail later. In short, as my little sister explained it today: “mom and dad believe the way to solve their family problems is if they can’t control a child anymore, they kick them out and won’t let them back unless we agree to more control.”

My first sister was kicked out in the early 2000s, and at 18 years old she was given the option to live in Kevin Swanson’s basement, having counseling sessions with him and my parents every night until she succumbed to their authority, or to leave and never see us again. She lasted for two weeks before she couldn’t take it anymore, and I didn’t see her for three years.

My second sister was more abused than any of us, and she just hopes we can all get along. The most healthy thing she did for herself was literally move to the other side of the world. She’s very torn over me going public, so please, if you have the urge to contact somebody or ask questions, message me or Alicia or Lydia. She doesn’t need the extra pressure.

When our parents kicked Lydia and me out last year, we saw the pattern for the first time, and thought perhaps we were wrong to feel abandoned by our older sisters. I tried to confront my parents more than once, and it always ended with me in tears, feeling guilty and ashamed for ever seeing anything wrong with them. Mom and dad found a counselor last month who we planned to go see, but then they took the liberty of spending two long sessions telling their own story to this counselor before inviting Lydia and me to join the conversation, and asked us to write an essay about our top three grievances so they could deliver these to the counselor secondhand.

We gently informed them that we thought they were controlling and cared too much about their reputation, and they said they disagreed. We said there was physical, emotional, and financial abuse, and they didn’t reply. We backed out – there were too many red flags surrounding the attempt to reconcile. We later found out that this counselor was recommend by a family friend who gave Christian counseling to both my sister Alicia and me (conflict of interest), and who made me distrust therapy in general for a long time.

Lydia and I received messages from my dad saying we would not be allowed to visit our family until we followed their demands to reconcile on their terms. Both of us heard the phrase “Our love is unconditional, but our welcome is not.”

This abuse and dysfunction has been going on for the two dozen years since my parents met – and my mother abused my older sisters before my dad entered the picture. My parents chose to make everything public when they put us on TV, happy and smiling, to demonstrate how great our family was. Extended family knew about it, observers noticed hints of it, nobody did anything. My youngest brother is three years old, so if nothing happens, my parents will continue doing this for at least another fifteen years. My older sisters didn’t have a voice. I’m using mine now.

Part Four >

The Breakthrough Moment: Cynthia Jeub’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog It was originally published on October 6, 2014. 

< Part One

“How can I pretend that I don’t see
What you hide so carelessly?
…It’s not what it seems
Not what you think
No, I must be dreaming…
Help, you know I’ve got to tell someone
Tell them what I know you’ve done
I fear you…” -Evanescence

I have blogged very little about my family, even though I know many of you follow me because you’re interested in what a girl with fifteen brothers and sisters has to say.

I never thought of much to write about. My family felt normal to me. There was nothing deeply introspective or philosophical about it. My lifestyle was intriguing for people because we were different. That’s all.

Recently, the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed gave domestic violence victims a chance to tell their stories. They piled in by the hundreds – women and men explained how spouses, significant others, and parents had abused them. I chimed in with this tweet:


The most informative thing I first saw about domestic violence was Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk, “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.”

In it, she says that when we ask why the abused people don’t leave, we’re asking the wrong question. Such a question blames the victim for being in the situation. She also tells her own story, and says she didn’t know it was happening.

Her husband beat her, but she didn’t think of herself as a battered wife. That’s how many, many victims feel before they get out. Abuse is the norm, especially for children raised in abusive homes. Some abusers may even tell their victims that it could be worse, and abuse is what happens in other homes, but not here.

Often, victims don’t realize it’s a problem until the breakthrough moment. For me, the breakthrough was a few things – being told that I couldn’t live in my parents’ house anymore was one. For Steiner, the breakthrough was “a particularly sadistic beating.”

Every morning I wake up and think, “How did I never see it before?”

Some days, I have trouble getting up in time for work. It’s debilitating to look at my past as something different than what I thought it was.

Nobody has to ask me why I never said anything about my past in abuse. I ask it of myself, and I question my own sanity. I trusted my parents completely, and I couldn’t identify manipulation or emotional abuse. I was physically abused, and I don’t just mean that I’m opposed to spanking.

I didn’t know I was abused. For every violent incident or when my parents lost their tempers, I had three options. First, I could blame myself and assume I deserved it, or that one of my siblings deserved it. Second, I could see this instance as isolated and minimal, totally out of character, and thus erase my logical ability to recognize patterns. Third, if the first two options didn’t work, my parents apologized profusely and demanded forgiveness, which meant I could never bring it up again.

The life of abuse isn’t full of anger, getting thrown and smacked and bruised, and being yelled at and torn down. That’s only part of it. You also feel special and needed. You don’t feel like life is hell, even if it is, because you know how to force a smile. It feels good to damage your own health and wellbeing for your abusers, because you’re told that you’re doing what is right. You fight for acceptance and admonition, because you’re always getting small tastes of it, and it’s always just out of reach.

The breakthrough moment isn’t the only reason domestic violence victims don’t leave. They also stay in their situations because they feel trapped. Once they know what’s going on, it’s unsafe to leave.

The reason it’s unsafe is because nobody knows about it, and if you speak up, the perpetrator threatens and punishes.

I wasn’t safe to talk about my family life until now. I had to get a new bank account, so my dad could stop financially abusing me with easy transaction-making access. I had to get my own car, so my mom could stop using rides to my much-needed mental health therapy as reason to tell me I was ungrateful if I stepped out of line. I had to buy my website’s domain name from my dad so he couldn’t delete my blog for prying the mask off my family’s face.

These stories have always existed. I was taught to tuck them away as if they never happened. To speak of them would be unforgiving.

There’s so much to tell. I’m assuming that those of you who don’t know anything about my family can use Google to fill yourselves in on what I’m referencing. My parents love the spotlight, so it’s not hard to find the pieces.

Ages will be estimated. Because my parents deny so much of what happened, I can’t confirm exactly when certain events occurred. I’ve chosen to include specific ages for the sake of narrative.

Also, I want to say a thing about abuse. I am not labeling everything in the following stories as abuse. Some things are abusive, some things are just a little weird, and some things are totally common. “Bad” and “common” are not mutually exclusive terms, but I want to be clear that I don’t classify everything my parents ever did as abusive.

Never letting my older sister and me grow our hair very long, and pressuring my sister who wanted short hair to keep it long, was bizarrely controlling. It was just a piece, a detail, of how our bodies were not our own.

But the time my mom grabbed my ear as a small child and threw me on the hard wood floor so my head rang, or the time my dad hit my sister over forty times with a belt not as punishment, but because she had a rebellious spirit, or when my brother wasn’t allowed to attend his regular extracurricular activities for a couple of weeks so nobody would see the bruises my mom left on his face…I think it’s fair to call those things abusive.

I’m just telling stories about my past, so there’s a mix of everything: the abusive, the controlling, the bizarre, the good, how I dealt with it, and how I see it now. I’m undecided on a whole collection of things. Parenting, for instance, is something I can only write about as someone who well remembers being a child, not from the perspective of a parent.

I predict this, and some of it has already happened since Friday’s teaser: people will say it’s disrespectful to put these stories on display. Others will say I’m complaining about things that aren’t a big deal. Still others will discredit my voice because I sound angry and hurt, as if the people who’ve been hurt have no right to speak up about what they’ve experienced. I will be, and have already been, accused of lying. I’m prepared for all of these things.

You have to reassure people when you’re talking about such things, so here’s that reassurance: I have a great support system from friends since losing trust in my parents and connection with my siblings. Yes, I have friends who disagree with me, so I have accountability. Yes, I’m prepared for being accused of slander and I can back up my claims. I’m moving forward in my career, and I’m in mental health therapy. I am living in a safe place.

I hope my stories are redemptive.

Part Three >