Four years ago, when I was beginning to process my life story and to critically think through the things I had been taught, believed, and practiced growing up in homeschool culture, I wrote a piece called “How The Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships”. It was just my thoughts on the courtship movement and teachings about emotional purity that had dominated mine and my friends’ teen years. I had no idea it would be my most popular post ever, that it would still be read 4 years later and re-posted by thousands of people. I’m glad it’s helped and given clarity to so many stuck in that system. I never dreamed it would be so popular or that my experience was shared by so many until the comments started rolling in with stories just like mine.
I read back over it today as it popped up yet again in my Facebook feed, remembering where I was when I wrote it. I still agree with some of what I wrote back then, but my journey has been so vast since that time. Covered so much space. I suppose blogging is much like journaling in that respect, only in public where you can all see my thoughts and the evolution of my soul.
In my original post, I argued three negative outcomes that often are the result of the teachings of emotional purity. I spoke from still inside the paradigm of Christianity, using scriptural ideas and assuming Christianity as a framework for my thoughts.
But, like most journeys, you never stay in the same place. You might come back around to it eventually or you might leave never to return. The me of 4 years ago that wrote about how God doesn’t do formulas is not the me of today.
The me of today doesn’t believe I need to use God to justify my choices.
I’ve done that my whole life….used scripture and God and “God’s will” to make decisions and defend them to everyone who thought I was wrong or had an opinion about me. And no matter what the choice was or how well I defended it “from scripture” someone always thought it was wrong. Because they too could defend their belief about my wrongness from scripture. It always turned into a “who has better hermeneutics” war, which I often won, given my upbringing steeped in knowledge of the Bible and Bible interpretation. But what I didn’t realize for so long is that all these mental and scriptural gymnastics were unnecessary. Even from a Christian stand-point, it really wasn’t anyone else’s business telling me what God wanted from me. In that belief system, we were supposed to “hear God for ourselves” and discern His will on our own (unless of course we were of the persuasion that our parents did that for us).
But the most important point and perspective comes now from outside that theoretical framework. From a more humanistic one that says that all people have value and innate human rights. Among those rights are the right to live, to love, to choose, and to not be controlled and manipulated by others; our value is not determined by them and how well we followed the rules. The same rights our parents took for themselves when they chose to go against the rules and the status quo and live their lives their way were denied to us. In the Name of their God. With Biblical justification.
“I read my journals and even the story I wrote out 6 years ago, and I am angered. I should not have had to use God to justify my choices. I should not have had to invoke His will for my life, to try to convince my parents that I knew my own mind and could “hear God for myself”. I should not have had to field emotional abuse and manipulation and spiritual control of my mind and heart and body. I should not have had to flee home just to get away from them and find peace. I was an adult, that should have been enough to make my own choices. But in our world, it was not. In the world for which courtship was invented, the ultimate sin was rebellion against God’s order of authority, against what your parents wanted for you, and choosing to walk on your own amid cries of “rebellion”. In this world, men could not be trusted and women were assets to be controlled, and the two could only meet under many layers of rules meant to keep us dependent on our authorities, despising of our own desires, and mistrusting of our own hearts and minds. It has always amazed me how two people who were declared not mature enough to conduct a relationship without supervision and under extreme outside constraint could somehow be mature enough to begin a marriage.
It took me until about 4 years ago to finally stop making spiritual-sounding excuses for why we conducted a secret relationship, why we rejected courtship, why we did everything “wrong” and against my parents’ will; to stop trying to get anyone listening to acknowledge the legitimacy of our choices by invoking God’s will.
To finally simply declare, “Because it was what we wanted and we had that right”.
Such a basic idea yet so foreign to those of us who are refugees from the homeschooling movement. We have that right….the right to love, to choose, to live. To not have our adult choices dictated by another, our autonomy robbed in the name of “because God says so”, coerced by ideologies that left us no real choice because “do this or suffer hell” is not a real choice. It was what we wanted. And that should have been enough.”
Do I still think that these teachings cause “pride, shame, and dysfunction”, as I wrote years ago? Sure. But I think those things are far less important than the idea that our human rights were violated. That we were taught to allow them to be violated from a very young age. That we were assets to be controlled and not people in our own right. That idea, far above all the rest, is far more damaging in my mind these days.
A loving relationship between two autonomous human beings, on our terms, was what we wanted. And that should have been enough. The teachings of courtship and emotional purity stole that from us and we let them because we had been convinced that “God wants this from you”.
The following list is intended to be somewhat satirical.
The Courtship Commandments
1. Thou shalt prize thy emotional, spiritual, and physical virginity above all else, as it is a special gift to be given to thy spouse on thy wedding night.
2. Thou shalt never be alone with thy intended, for, as Jeremiah remindeth us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Therefore, thou shalt not be without the supervision of a chaperon. After all, everyone shall act the same when alone with thee, as they did in front of thy family.
3. Thou shalt not hold hands, kiss, or hug (other than a brief side hug) for that may spark desire, and lead thou and thine into unforgivable sin.
4. Thou shalt not have crushes, nor enter into a relationship with one whom thou will not marry, for if thou dost so, thy heart shall be irrevocably compromised, and shall not be able to adequately love thy future spouse.
5. Thou shalt adore, revere, and worship thy father and mother, since they are the direct voice of God in thy life
6. Thou shalt utterly spurn any male who doth not first approach thy father to discuss his interest in thee.
7. Thou shalt always treat thine intended as thy brother or sister in Christ in all purity, forgetting not that any desire for physical relations with thy betrothed is sin.
8. Thy body belongs to thy future spouse, therefore, thou shalt not defraud him/her, through any means.
9. Thou shalt loudly proclaim that God is capable of restoring the damage done to thy emotions/heart/body, done when thou didst not know any better, yet vehemently declare any person who doth not live up to thy laws to be damaged goods.
11. Thou shalt carefully screen thy son/daughter’s future prospects, and pressure them into the match which thou determinest to be the fittest for them.
12. Thou shalt look down upon those who, through worldly influences and corruption, allow their children to date.
13. Courtship is to dating what homeschooling is to public schooling – the obvious Godly choice for thy house, and to be followed if thou desirest to say ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’.
14. Thou shalt attend purity balls, wear purity rings, and claim thy father or thy Lord as thy spouse in the interim.
15. Thou shalt feverishly work on thy hope chest, learn traditional tasks done by thy gender, in preparation for the traditional western gender roles which thou shalt assume after thy nuptials.
16. Thou shalt not become close friends with an individual of the opposite gender, for doth thou not know that it is emotional adultery?
17. Family knoweth best. Always. Thou shalt have no private communication without their knowledge and screening. Thy brothers art thy guardians.
18. When asked by strangers whether or not thou dateth, thou shalt always reply that thou escheweth such a worldly form of relationships, and passionately proclaim the wonders of courtship.
19. Thou shalt save thy first kiss for the altar on thy wedding day.
20. Thou shalt be committed to a virtual stranger, during thy courtship.
21. Thou shalt hold thy intended to the high standard of Fitzwilliam Darcy, and loudly bemoan the lack of “real men” in thy generation.
22. Thou shalt marry the first person thou courteth, for otherwise thou shalt have given away an irreplaceable piece of thy heart.
23. Thy heart hath only so much love to give. Squander it not.
24. The man is the initiator. Thou shalt not, if female, express interest in one who has not already expressed interest in thee.
25. Thou shalt always, above all, GUARD THY HEART.
My most popular post ever, the one on courtship and emotional purity, is making the rounds again, as it does every few months. And with it come the loads of ridiculous assumptions, explaining, excuses, and outright dismissal of everything from my character to my experience to my beliefs. This isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since I started telling my story. It happens to all of my friends from Homeschool Land who also tell their stories. It’s woefully predictable.
“She wasn’t really raised Biblically.”
“He isn’t a good example of proper homeschooling.”
“She’s bitter.” (Because obviously being bitter means you’re making stuff up. Or something.)
“His parents obviously didn’t do it right.”
“She’s not indicative of all homeschoolers.”
“He obviously courted in a legalistic way, but that’s not the right way, the way we will do it.”
“The experience she writes about is extremism and not the Godly way of raising kids/homeschooling/courtship/whatever.”
And after every dismissal, an explanation of why they’re different, they’re doing it right, they know better. Their kids will turn out as promised. They have it all planned.
But what these people that comment on our blogs fail to understand is that my parents had it all planned too. They did everything “right”. They read the right books and followed the right teachings that explained how to raise their kids in such a way as to ensure they will grow up to be Godly offspring. People who are the exemptions. People who are whole and full of light and unstained by the world. The next generation of movers and shakers. People who are super Christians.
Had these people who so easily dismiss us met my family 15 years ago, they would’ve wanted to BE us. We were the perfect family. We dressed right, acted right, said all the right things. People used to ask my parents to help their family look like ours; to help them make their kids as good as we were. They called us “godly”, “a refreshment”, “a good example”, and so much more. These people who now turn up their noses in disbelief at me now would’ve been our best friends back in the day.
I think that these people, who are overwhelmingly current homeschooling parents, have to have some way of making sense of the phenomenon of the so-called Homeschooled Apostates. They have to find some reason why what they follow and believe to be “God’s Plan” didn’t work. They encounter people like me and have no idea what to do with us.
Because I was not supposed to happen.
We were not supposed to happen. Every last one of us who was raised in a culture that promised abundant life and Godly children and have now since rejected all or part of our upbringings were not supposed to happen. Sites like Homeschoolers Anonymous, with it’s stories of horrific abuse, neglect, and everyday pain were not supposed to happen. We shouldn’t exist and our stories weren’t supposed to sound the way they do. Not according to all the promises made to our parents, made by our leaders and the authors of the books and the speakers at the homeschool conventions. Yet, here we are.
We who have grown up, evaluated, rejected, and chosen a different path for us and our children….we are threats. Our very existence is a threat to the happy little paradigm that is the conservative homeschool movement. We are realities that threaten to unravel the idealistic fabric of their worldview. They have no idea what to do with us.
They say “well your parents did it wrong, but we’re doing it right!” as we watch them practice the exact same things that damaged and hurt and broke us. We’re desperately waving red warning flags only to be completely disregarded, blamed, and even attacked. Our lives and real stories are no match for the rosy promises of the perfect life, couched in beautiful scripture and Christian idealism. Instead of critically thinking through anything we have to say, evaluating and considering the experiences of countless numbers of people, instead of re-evaluating their own choices and philosophies, against all reason and logic they dismiss us. Pretend we aren’t how we say we are. Convince themselves and others that we and our parents aren’t like them; we did it all wrong and the formula isn’t broken, we’re the ones who are broken. Even after the formula keeps producing the same result, they cannot let go of it.
But we aren’t going away. We happened, we exist, we aren’t abnormalities…..we’re just people. People who all lived similar lives in a movement our parents all followed for very similar reasons. Every day there are voices added to ours. When I first started blogging, there were very few people telling the story of the homeschool alumni. We had only begun to grow up and process our lives and many of us thought we were alone in this. In the last 5 years, that number has grown exponentially and I predict will continue to do so.
Homeschooling parents today have two choices: ignore the now thousands of warning voices of experience, or carefully listen, reconsider and change direction. I often wonder how many children of the people who dismiss us will end up on our blogs or with blogs of their own that are just like mine. Parents, don’t fool yourselves. You aren’t “doing it right” any more than our parents were “doing it right” when you’re doing the exact same things they did and following the exact same teachings. Your children are not more special than we were.
They are people with free will who will grow up to make their own choices, either because of you or in spite of you.
There are many times that I don’t realize just how much strange teaching I’ve had to “un-do” in my life until I try to explain them to someone else. This happened to me the other night. A dear friend and I were talking about our kids and how to help them transition from children to adults. The topic of dating and relationships came up and we started talking about my story. Sometimes it’s actually comforting to me to be met with blank or incredulous stares from people I consider “normal”, good Christians. It somehow validates my belief that some of the teachings I grew up with were very wrong.
I’ve also lately started facing the ways in which the teachings of “emotional purity”, (a la Josh Harris, the Ludys, and others) have damaged the part of my brain that makes healthy relationships function.
I define “emotional purity” in the same way that popular homeschool writers have: it is the idea of “guarding your heart”. Which sounds all noble and righteous and everything but in this context is really just a facade for fear. Fear of loving and losing. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of being damaged. Fear of not measuring up. In my life it meant never having a crush on a guy, never allowing myself to “fall in love”, basically training myself to shut down a normal, healthy, functioning part of my human heart.
I’m 27 years old, been married for almost 7 years. I rejected the teachings of courtship and emotional purity when I was 19. But their effects have yet to leave.
There are several ways that these teachings can damage a person’s heart.
1. They cause shame.
Shame because sometimes you can’t help but like one guy a little more than another. Shame because that’s “sinful” and “emotionally impure”. Shame because it sets a standard and proclaims that you are somehow shameful if you cannot keep it. You are considered damaged goods if you have fallen in love and had your heart broken. It was Josh Harris in I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the Ludy’s in several of their books that popularized the idea that everytime you fall in love or get “emotionally attached” to someone, you give away a piece of your heart. The more pieces you give away, the less of your heart you have to give to your spouse someday. He even went so far as to say that each of those former flames actually have some sort of hold on you. This has got to be the most bogus and the most damaging teaching of this entire movement. Love doesn’t work that way. The more you give, the more you have. My 3rd child doesn’t have less of my heart just because I’ve loved two other children before him. And, really, I haven’t given them “pieces” of my heart. I’ve given them each all of my heart. The miracle of love is that it multiplies by being given.
Each person I love has “a piece of my heart”…my best friend, my sisters, my husband, my parents, my kids. It is ridiculous to suggest that there is not enough of my heart to go around.
And what view of redemption does this teaching proclaim? Not one that I want anything to do with. It is an incompetent redemption.
2. They cause pride.
Pride because suddenly you are better than everyone else. Because you have never had a crush on a guy. You have kept your heart for your spouse. You didn’t say “I love you” til your wedding day. Pride in human accomplishment. Pride because you are so much more spiritual than that poor girl over there who is crying because her boyfriend broke up with her. Because your heart is whole and she just gave a piece of hers to a guy she isn’t married to. Pride because you did it right, she did not. You have more to give your future husband than she does. She is damaged goods, you are the real prize.
This is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. They made up laws that God never condoned, then patted themselves on the back for keeping them, while looking down on those who didn’t. This has nothing to do with the righteousness and grace of God, and everything to do with the accomplishments of man. I remember watching a video where one of the biggest names in the courtship movement bragged with obvious arrogance that he didn’t tell his wife he loved her until their wedding. And I thought “how twisted can we get?” We took something as simple as saying “I love you”, built a strawman rule around it (“saying I love you is defrauding”) then hung it like a trophy on our walls. Job well done, folks.
3. They create skewed views of relationships which lead to dysfunction
This is where I still struggle. Where others see nothing wrong, I am suspicious of every look, every situation, every witty exchange. I am still uncomfortable hugging one of my best friends who is a guy. Because we were never to hug or have physical contact, even innocent, with a guy. Voices in my head scream “defrauder!” just by giving a friend a quick hug. I feel ill at ease sometimes even talking to other men. Oh, they never notice. Because I’m really good at pushing those feelings away and acting “normal”. But I am bothered by my reaction to everyday situations. We were taught never ever ever to be alone with a guy. Because it could look bad. He could be tempted. You might start thinking impure thoughts. You might even *gasp* flirt!
I was trying to explain this to my friend and it came out sounding so….crazy and embarrassing. I told her if she was to walk out of the room, leaving me and her husband in the same room, my first reaction would be one of panic. “This might look bad…. what if he talks to me…what if someone else sees us….what is he thinking…” My second reaction, close on the heels of the first, would be a coping mechanism that I learned long ago: I calmly tell myself that “this is perfectly normal and perfectly innocent…he probably doesn’t even notice me…this is a Godly man I know and trust….the only person who would ever freak out about this is me….to the rest of the world there’s nothing wrong here”. I then calm down, act normal, and hope nobody noticed my crazy internal battle. Cuz they’d probably admit me to a psych ward. Thank you, Josh Harris and Co. I hatethis about myself! I am a strong, confident person. But the idea that I can defraud just by a look, that I could become emotionally impure just by a thought, that I might become damaged goods with pieces of my heart strewn all over tarnation, and that guys “only have one thing on their mind” and we need to help them control themselves, has truly negatively affected what should be normal interactions with my friends. Honestly, I don’t get embarrassed talking about much. But this admission isn’t easy for me.
Guess what? In the real world, men and women can have innocent relationships. They can talk to each other without one of them thinking there’s ulterior motives. They can laugh and exchange wits and, yes, even drive in a car together without anybody thinking anything dubious is happening. They are not naiive but they are not afraid of their own shadows. Purity and integrity in relationships can be there without being unnaturally freaked out about it. The other night, I stuck my tongue out at a guy friend who was teasing me and his wife cracked up laughing. As I laughed, I felt myself looking down on the situation, amazed that nobody thought twice about it, then amazed that I DID…that I had to push away feelings of guilt because what if someone thought I was *gasp* flirting?! This is one dysfunction that I really wish I could be freed from. Maybe time is the only cure and I need to be more patient with myself. These teachings have deep, rotten roots and it takes time to pull them all out.
4. They teach us to make formulas to be safe
1 + 1= 2. Emotional purity + Biblical courtship = Godly marriage. But life doesn’t work that way. You can do everything “right” and your life can still suck. You can do everything “wrong” and still be blessed. Rain falls on the good and evil. Time and chance happen to them all. People who follow the courtship formula still get divorced. Or stuck in terrible marriages. Courtship is not the assurance of a good marriage. Life is too complicated for that. Love involves vulnerability. When you choose to love, you are choosing to accept risking a broken heart. No formula can protect you. Life involves risk. Following God involves risk. He is not a “safe” God. But He is good.
God doesn’t seem to like formulas. Because formula is the opposite of faith. Formula says “I will follow a God that I’ve put neatly in a box, to give me the desired results”. Faith says “I will follow You even when I can’t see where I’m going, even when the world is collapsing around me”. Formula says “I will not risk, I will be in control of my future”. Faith says “I will risk everything, I will trust Whom I cannot see, surrender what I cannot control anyway.” Formula is the assurance of things planned for, the conviction of things seen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But we are afraid. So we control instead of trust. We don’t take a step unless we can see where we’re going. We build neat little formulas and say “THIS will keep me safe!” Then we blame God when our puny formulas fail.
These teachings need to be stopped. They were new in my generation and now I, and others like me, are reaping the fruit of them. And the fruit is rotten to the core. I’m sure those who promoted such ideas had good intentions. But good intentions aren’t enough. Without Truth and Grace they can do more harm than good. Thanks to those good intentions, we are seeing an entire generation of homeschool alumni who have no idea how to have normal relationships. I have talked with literally hundreds of alumni my age, and am not exaggerating the extent of the issue. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my dysfunction but discouraging as well. What is encouraging is that most of us have determined to stop the insanity. We will not be passing these things to the next generation. Instead we will teach our children to love God with all that they have, all that they are; and to love and respect others as they love themselves.
I leave you with the words of a very wise man:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
My best memories from high school involve dressing up in suits, sorting through philosophy books and shopping for office supplies for the next speech tournament. It was a dignified, serious existence.
And then there’s this photo — which I will get to.
A lot of this post may seem like it focuses on my parents more than homeschooling per se. However, from what I have seen the homeschooling experience is made or broken by the parents doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling was a lifestyle for our family. Everything — every experience, every family friend, every activity we did and book we read was all centered around my parents work homeschooling us. And they did that work with passion and care.
A Little Bit of Backstory
My homeschooling experience had its ups and downs. I loved the ups: Choir tours (all by my-middle school-self!) with my co-op friends; Highschool trips to Europe to visit the historical sights I’d studied for years; Family weekends at the Scottish Festival; Learning beekeeping… The ups were largely thanks to an amazing peer group that I adored and a good relationship with my parents and siblings.
The downs were mostly usual issues; teen angst, and the occasional tousle with my parents. I never felt like I really fit in with the more conservative majority of our social/church circle. My parents were alright with that. They never really fit in with them either. My parents were reformed, but they rejected heavy handed theology that sidelined women or centralized church authority to squash dissent and learning. Because of this we found ourselves moving often from church to church, even though my parents desire was to be active, participating members of a stable church community.
My family wasn’t perfect. A couple members of my extended family vehemently, sometimes explosively, disagreed with my father’s relatively liberal interpretation of “biblical patriarchy”. My mother, an educator and a passionate advocate of higher education for girls, was sidelined more than once from homeschool conventions for that perspective. My relationship with my father was sometimes rocky, but he has been more than willing to invest time in working through those issues with me.
Today, I value our relationship more than ever.
When my parents’ marriage ended three years ago, I was confronted with a mountain of baggage that was compounded last summer when my mother suddenly passed away to cancer. Now I’m left picking up pieces while building a life for myself in California, and I’m struck by the rich silver lining to all my drama.
My family wasn’t perfect.
But for all its imperfections I think that they got a lot of things right.
My parents home schooled me K-12, not because they thought they had discovered the perfect formula for parenting, but because they loved me and my brother and sister, and wanted to give us the very best of everything. And in the process they gave me, a lot of tools I treasure now that I’m on my own.
And that brings me to explaining the picture at the beginning.
I was a speaker/debater for all of highschool and I loved it. My biggest challenges, and best friends growing up were found there. One of the debate camps I helped coach had a ninja debater theme. Needless to say it was awesome. I believe that this is a carefully staged photo illustrating the mesmerizing power of effective criteria. Through homeschooling my parents inadvertently passed along a plethora of moments like this filled with possibility, wonder and hope, which I have only just begun to mine.
They have helped me sort the other wounds that I have received in the normal course of life.
School in your PJ’s?
Similar to many of you reading this, my education was largely custom built. Both of my parents were college educated, lifetime scholars with a passion for knowledge. My mother worked to bring education to life for us on a daily basis early on so we’d catch the passion too. History lessons about Egypt tied into real-life biology lessons as we dissected and mummified a frog – which we then placed for display in the handmade sarcophagi we’d done in the art lesson that day.
What kid wouldn’t like that?
Or in highschool we volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their new space exhibit, getting cutting edge lectures from NASA/NOAA scientists and then running cool experiments on a daily basis for the museum patrons. School was a wonderful time for me and my parents did a good job of teaching me not only tons of information, but how to find it and how to love the search for knowledge.
My mother was the primary teacher, but as we got into highschool years my dad took over languages and History. A Russian linguist for many years, he taught me Russian for high school language studies. Now I have a degree in Russian and endless cocktail conversation about my semester abroad in Russia to accompany it.
We also were not limited to classes taught by my parents.
From very early on me and my siblings were involved in classes taught by outside tutors whether it was in a co-op setting early on, or a community college setting later in our schooling career. All three of us graduated highschool with at least a full year worth of credits from the local community college. Those classes were especially helpful for areas that my parent’s weren’t so prepared to teach like upper level math or chemistry.
Silver Screen Dreams
While many of my peers were limited in their consumption of media, my parents encouraged an active dialogue on just about any topic. I remember the awe in my friend’s eyes (and the horror in her mother’s) as 12-year-old me happily announced at lunch one day that I had seen The Matrix the other night.
Granted, my parents watched it with us and they had remote-edited a couple of scenes they didn’t think were totally appropriate.
But the fact remained that I was raised in a really rich creative environment. Movies were a part of my life from early on (I literally can’t remember I time I didn’t have all of the original Star Wars movies memorized). Natural next steps for me were interests in living out these movies somehow.
What started as imagination and play acting turned into a real passion for acting, writing and producing for both film and theater. My parents were delighted with my creative talents and encouraged my theatrical tendencies wherever they could, even though I know my mother in particular was a little worried about what might happen to me were I ever to pursue them professionally. As I grew however, she was willing to work through those concerns as I demonstrated that I was thoughtfully investing in my God given talents.
She knew she had to let her girl fly and she was willing to make that sacrifice even if it meant that she was a little uncomfortable.
That willingness on her part, to let me try things that scared her, was key in building a relationship that allowed me to actually grow up — not just get older under her watch. T
hanks to her encouragement early on I’ve had the tools and the courage to step out on my own now and go beyond just being a productive member of society. I’m chasing dreams out here in California and hopefully you’ll be reading my name in the credits of your favorite summer flick someday soon.
Learning to Speak My Mind
My parents also encouraged debate. But long before the competitive bug bit me, I remember my parents hosting “Soirees” at our house after church; potluck food, and a grab bag of topics to discuss ranging from literature to politics to science. I loved them and felt so grown up when I was included at 11 years old in the adult discussions. We’d invite the most interesting people we could find. My Dad often would actually seek out people with odd views just to have them over so we could have an interesting discussion. “All opinions are welcome here. If you have a problem with that, you can leave.” That was his rule.
Looking back, the group was mostly varying shades of conservative and the occasional communist friend of Daddy’s from the Tattered Cover Bookstore where he worked. (They liked us because we were all a little bit different. He liked them because they knew about Russia — his deepest passion in life.)
But while the opinions weren’t that diverse, those afternoons ingrained in me early on that everyone deserves a voice. Even if you think you don’t agree with them.
That attitude served me well as I emerged from the homeschooling community into a liberal college where I encountered people with actual differences in opinion. They weren’t scary to me. They were just different people – with opinions of their own. And since I knew how to listen, it didn’t take me long to figure out that “the world,” as many christian worldview apologists like to call it, is just made up of people like me; People who have passions, who have loved ones, who have been hurt, who have dreams.
And when the debate is over and the ideas are put to bed, you should still be able to sit down with them over a lovely meal and ask them how their kids are doing.
One of the Boys
I was kind of odd in our circle of girls, because I never got the romantic fascination with marriage and boys and Mr. Darcy. Frankly, if you ask me even now he’d have made a really boring husband.
But, that meant that after about 9 years old, a giant chunk of my good friends growing up were boys. Even in college they were often the most interesting (drama-free) people around. I’m sure that there were mothers who thought that was odd or inappropriate, but my parents were fine with it. They were great guys and I’m proud to say that I’m still good friends with many of them even after almost a decade in some cases and marriage in others.
I love them like brothers — totally inappropriate brothers who would let me rough house with them, who would play stupid games with me, who would match my banter word for word, who would take me swing dancing and who would talk theology, politics, video games and movies with me till dawn. I am deeply grateful for those guys in my life because I truly believe that without them I might not have been able to process the Daddy issues which are inevitable for any girl whose parents divorce.
In those friendships my parents gave me a piece of the external security net that has kept me grounded as I begin to live life as an independent adult.
Learning to Say, “No”
My parents’ marriage was far from perfect.
But, with all their issues, they were a rock of help for several families struggling with abuse. They worked so hard to provide a harbor in the storm. My dad partnered with other men to help mentor a few of the fathers who were struggling. My mother hosted bible studies and invited single moms over to learn how to make jams or study child development. They even included us kids in a limited fashion, asking us (never forcing us) to watch the young toddlers while my parents had coffee or dinner with one or both parents.
I was never really privy to details and for that I am grateful.
But in light of the little I did know, my mother made sure that my sister and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we never had to stand for abuse whether it was verbal, physical or emotional. It was an especially important lesson to her because of the systematic abuse we observed all around us which was justified under the label of “biblical patriarchal theology.” When seeking help from many churches for their own marriage issues the constant refrain aimed at my mother seemed to be, “If you would just submit better to your husband, your marriage would be fixed.”
With this useless advice ringing in her ears, within our conservative circle there was no one able to help until it was too late.
When my brother was a senior in high school, my sister was finishing her last year of college and I was doing my first year of internships post-college, my parents finally ended their marriage. They had sacrificed much to try to make a home that was healthy for me and my siblings. And when they finally ended their marriage I was witness to another step they were taking, at least in part, for us kids; they had the courage — even in the face of the social stigma in the church against divorces — to walk away from the marriage so that they themselves could heal. Many people would see this result as a total failure. But as I watched both of my parents wrestle through that time, I saw two people emerge with an even greater capacity for grace and forgiveness than ever before.
The divorce was not a failure.
It was the first step towards healing and restoration.
Hindsight, Always 20/20
The area that I look back on with the most pause is just how much I held my parents up as perfect — especially my mother. They were responsible for introducing me to the most fascinating ideas, the most wonderful people and for sheltering me from as much of the junk theology as they could. So their opinion of me, their blessing, their respect was something that I not only wanted, but it was something that I needed on a deep and very unhealthy level.
This was something I didn’t fully register until recent years.
As I hit the later years of high school and throughout my college years I found my opinions shifting as I experienced the world without parental filters. I knew the filters they had applied had been applied in love, but they were filters never the less. My experiences began to show me that perhaps my parents aren’t infallible after all. Especially spending as much time as I did with the theater department at my school my perspective on LGBT issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, democrats, republicans, “world view”…. all of it was shifting in light of my new experiences —
And the thing that tore me up was that I felt I had no tools for telling anyone from my family.
At school I was one person, and at home I became expert at active listening, passive questions, sidestepping issues, or sometimes just lying to avoid telling my parents I’d come to a different conclusion than they had.
The internal dissonance didn’t really come to a head until I met the love of my life. His name is Dylan. We met in Stage Combat learning to sword fight. It was awesome. And really quickly we became fast friends. He was the adventure I’d always hoped for in the moments when I dropped my usual “one-of-the-guys” act. He was kind and smart, better read than anyone I knew, a professional athlete, on a full ride scholarship for acting and passionate about making a positive impact through politics.
But he was also a Democrat, a former player with the ladies, and I had no idea where he really stood on the spectrum of religion but I knew it wasn’t nearly “christian” enough.
I was terrified to bring him home.
I didn’t even tell my family I was dating him for about a month. I knew in my heart that our relationship was healthy, that I was growing and that I trusted him with my life even with our differences. The fact that our friendship was based on a choice to be invested in each other rather than a checklist of intellectual compatibility was freeing. But my parents didn’t know how to handle him. They were shocked by my choice because for about 7 years I’d been hiding behind my silent nods.
They didn’t know me anymore because I had stopped letting them in for fear of losing them.
I had to learn to speak again.
And this is the juncture at which I find myself today. My mother passed away last summer, so I never got to finish letting her back in. But my father and I are watching our relationship slowly heal. I still have the need for approval of people I respect — but I think that’s more me than any homeschooling-bred need for perfection. And I’ve finally been able to be honest about my choices — choices that I make on a daily basis using so many of the tools that my homeschooling experience gave me. I would never give back that experience. The glue that held it all together and kept my parents from being dysfunctional task masters, or chronic busy bodies with a messiah complex was that they loved us kids and wanted the world for us. And they sought every day to live out a faith that convicted them to serve, love and empower.
That is perhaps the greatest example that they left me.
And while I now no longer really identify as a conservative as they did, I carry that passion of theirs with me. And I carry a faith that I have inherited but have also grown to own as mine. In many ways I’m still the crazy kid in the photograph: Obviously not totally put together, but self possessed enough to fake it till I make it — and wise enough to love the journey along the way.
For that, I have my parents and my time homeschooling to thank.
Part Eleven — Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation
For the past two weeks, and more, I have been working through Phil’s and my story.
I’ve gotten very interesting feedback. A lot of positive feedback and that seriously has meant a lot. I have felt more sure of myself, our story, and of what Phil and I have especially as I worked through the entire story. Unveiling our story, working out the hardest parts, and writing about the things that went wrong has only further solidified my feelings of why I don’t believe in parent-driven, parent-controlled relationships.
(NOTE: I think what I have to say could make some of you parents who read my blog feeling discouraged or angry. Please know that I am not writing to push anyone’s buttons, point the finger to say you did wrong. I am simply writing what I have observed, what my thoughts are on the topic and where my husband and I sit with this. I know I don’t have kids yet, so maybe my perspective will change, but for right now, I am writing as the child who experienced these things.)
First, I want to give a little background to why Phil and I have reached this point.
One of the biggest difficulties in our relationship prior to marriage was the lack of being taken seriously. Yes, we were and still are young, but we were completely serious and were not taking our relationship or our goals lightly. We both felt very strongly that God had given us each other, and we were 100% committed to getting married.
What was heartbreaking for us was feeling like our parents laughed at us, called us too young.
In my case, my dad brushed everything off and made me feel like I literally was crazy when he in fact didn’t know my own mind or heart. I have heard multiple people call some of my generation and the generations under my generation as the generation that is fading away, that can’t make responsible decisions, or make wise choices.
While I agree that I do not have the perspective of many, many years of life, or the “wisdom from experiences” right now in my life, that does not mean that I am incapable of making good, informed decisions that are wise and exactly what I’m supposed to do right now for me.
While I am not someone who has lived for over 50 years, been through many, many things, and has (hopefully) wisdom from experience, I am someone who has already lived 22 years, I have been through a lot, and my perspective right now is important. I think my perspective is especially important right now because I have not been faced with total cynicism yet, I have not lost the dreams and imagination that makes me me and that comes with youth. I have a fresh perspective that I think as an adult I will lose the older I get unless I keep using imagination, continuing to stretch my mind in creating new ideas.
I have a problem with parents who brush off their children’s dreams, ideas, and experiences.
It creates this idea that children are stupid and can’t think for themselves. The more parents brush off their children, the more that idea gets reinforced.
Am I suggesting that it’s the parents’ fault that young adults can’t seem to make good decisions, be responsible, or even dream? Yes, maybe I am. See, I have a unique perspective. I just went through the child’s side of a relationship, I have been on the other side of parenting. And I expect to be taken seriously because I know that my perspective is not any less important than the parents.
Frankly, I think getting a child’s perspective and not just the parents is important in getting the full picture.
There are at least two sides to every story, so why not go right to the people (and yes, children are people) who are being directly influenced by parenting ideas like parent-driven relationships? Can you see what I’m getting at yet? If a parenting style is shutting down your child (at any age), teaching them that their opinions are unimportant, insignificant, and that mom and dad’s opinions are the only thing that counts, that’s dangerous and has a lot of potential to damage the child’s capability to grow up with a healthy self-worth and a confidence in their own opinions.
Growing up, I learned/taught myself how to read at a very young age. By the time I was ten, I was reading college level books, and understanding them. I worked on stretching my mind, my understanding of my surroundings without really realizing that I was doing that. As I got closer to graduating high school, becoming of age (turning 18) and the potential of being in relationship, I fully and wholeheartedly bought into my dad ruling and controlling who, when, and where I got married.
I bought into this because that was all I knew.
I had no reason to think anything other than that could or even would work. I had no problem letting my dad be my decision-maker, letting him be my heart, mind, and my opinions.
I didn’t realize that letting my parents control an entire relationship from start to finish left no room at all for my own opinions, feelings, or decisions.
It is the equivalent of treating me like a child, a toddler incapable of really making a complicated decision. But even toddlers have opinions and likes and dislikes.
Phil and I will not treat our children and their love interests how we were treated. We believe in letting our children have their own opinions and taking them seriously. We want to be able to raise our children to be fully function adults able to make their own decisions, confident in their own opinions, and able to trust us to help them if they need help.
I know what it feels like to not be taken seriously or to not be heard.
I want to make sure that I document those feelings so I can look back when I have children my age now and remember what it felt like to be their age. I don’t want to forget the perspective I have now. One day, I will most likely have a child who will tell me that I don’t understand and I want to be able to look back and remember.
You will find “Parent-Driven Relationships” most often among Quiverfull and Patriarchy cultures. Especially the homeschooling culture that is tied into these two.
I need to make a specific distinction here.
The usual circumstances for this set-up is when a daughter gets into a relationship, “dad” is especially controlling and protective. Daughters are special property to dads in these cultures, and thus it is usually the father of the daughter who is driving the relationship. It all stems back to the idea that “dad” is “God” in the home.
“Dad” is the ultimate authority, he is the final say on everything, including his adult daughter’s choice of hairstyles (not kidding).
Add in daughters who are unusually, unhealthily complacent and content to stay at home until they are 30+, willing and happily ready to give “dad” total control of their lives and you get a living nightmare of control, abuse, manipulation, and brainwashing. When “dad” drives the relationship, controls everything from which boy/man gets accepted into the precious family fold, to how much time the girl and guy get to talk, spend together, including assigning one or more of the girl’s multiple siblings to play “chaperon” — individual personalities and individual hearts get lost.
This idea for relationships is not only not Biblical, it is not an accurate interpretation of the Biblical ideas it’s supposed to be based on. The Old Testament structure of parent-driven relationships is based on daughters literally being property that is sold and traded for goods, money, and social standings.
Not only are we not in that era anymore, women are not property.
We are whole beings with hearts, minds, and souls, very capable of making wise decisions and holding good, strong opinions.
Now, here is what I think a parents’ role in their children’s relationships should look like. I think it should look like parents respecting their children’s opinions, decisions, hearts, and being there to help, share advice when asked, and to be a trusted person.
I think it’s great that some parents have a relationship with their children that automatically puts them in this situation. But that’s not all parents, all children, all situations. I believe that as a child becomes a young adult, and they start reaching the age of marriageability, and they look for a relationship, only they will know who is the right person for them. A healthy adult will know who is right for them. Phil and I felt frustrated more times than I’d care to recount with older parents, friends, not taking us seriously, not believing how strongly we felt about getting married.
We alienated ourselves from a lot of those people because we couldn’t be ourselves around them.
We felt put down.
I applaud the parents who have healthy, strong relationships with their growing children, and it makes me very happy when I see healthy relationships as the result.
I finished chronologically writing our story yesterday.
Although, in a weird way, I haven’t finished it.
Our story still continues, and even though I reached over 2,000 words with almost each post, I left a lot out. Like, pages upon pages of information, memories, circumstantial happenings left out. I had the opposite of a writing hangover yesterday. My mind was buzzing with freshly remembered memories and I felt like I needed to go back and add even more to each part.
Like I didn’t talk about how we had nicknames for each other, how Phil called me Lady Mysterious because he couldn’t figure me out in one conversation like he could most girls. I called him DLF; reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia. Or how Phil said that I was like a good book; a good book that makes you think and that you can’t read in one sitting. I didn’t mention how it became my goal in life to make him laugh.
Do you know how rewarding it is to know that you can make someone laugh?
Especially after he had told me that he didn’t laugh much. I still have a mischievous side to me that will try to catch him off guard by doing something he least expects. Tell you what, I have pulled some awesome stuff on him, and thoroughly enjoyed making him speechless.
I haven’t talked about how Phil once compared me to an onion, multi-layered and all that. He covered his tracks by hastily saying I smelled so much better than an onion. We even once tried to write a book together. It was going to be called The Official Guide to Modern-day Hermitage. Trust me, that would have been one heck of a spectacular book!
We both have felt the pull of wanting to be hermits for a very long time.
I didn’t mention how I stupidly almost ruined our friendship at the beginning. I held on to these very damaging ideas of emotionally purity and how I couldn’t be friends with a guy unless I was going to marry him. When Phil asked for a week of communication silence, I retaliated and basically told him our friendship was wrong, we needed to stop talking, and I apologized for “allowing the friendship to reach this point.” Gah, I was so stupid! I broke his heart without even realizing it because I thought that was the right thing to do. Girls, if you any of you are ever in a situation with a guy like this, put yourself on the line and speak the truth. Be bold, be honest, and be real.
Don’t let “purity-catchphrases” get in the way of a real friendship.
I didn’t write about how high and mighty I felt when I told Phil that our friendship was wrong. I don’t want to remember just how rude I was to a genuinely caring guy who was falling in love with me. I don’t like mentioning just how goody-two-shoes I was about a lot of things, especially when it came to relationships. I was a thoroughly messed up girl, and yet, I thought I was doing it right.
This is what is coming back to me as I work through the details I left out about our story.
It’s in those details that the guilt lies. It is in those details that I remember just how flippant I was with this precious man’s heart. Even though having him ripped from me was devastating, I needed that wake up call. I needed to know just how much I needed him. I needed to see that I could love him, and did. I needed a slap to the face for how much I played with him and wasn’t honest. I don’t like remembering or reading about how shallow I was with hinting I liked a guy when talking with Phil, but never being honest and saying look, I like you, really, I do.
I didn’t mention about a little red heart I made for Phil.
He told me one day after the six months of silence that he really wanted a token of love from me. I thought about it, and before I even thought all the way through it, I had crocheted a perfect red heart. From the day I gave it to him, to this very day, he still carries that heart with him. I didn’t mention that I still have the first two roses he ever gave me. Those roses — one red, one pink —are tucked away in a thin wooden box which I still open every once in awhile. I still have the first dozen white roses he gave me on our first officially dressed up date.
I didn’t mention how much I hated saying goodbye to him.
Out of everything that happened to us, having to say goodbye every night for so long was the worst thing. There is something about saying goodbye to the one you love that really eats at you. Our first words to each other after being pronounced man and wife were now we don’t have to say goodbye!
I have a sense of being unfinished. Maybe, one day, I will write about our first year, and this past year. Our story does not end at our wedding day, it has continued and will continue until the day we die.
I have learned to never say never when it comes to writing about something.
We both have looked back on our relationship and recognized it as a testing ground for us both. I have often taken the stand that God was/is preparing us for something as we went through our pre-marriage relationship.
I say “bring it on!” to anything that’s coming in our future. If we were able to get through what we did, then there is no reason why we won’t make it through anything else that might be coming. Going through those three years of trial after trial only taught me more about being resilient. The past four and a half years have proved to me that I can make it. The past six months have taught me that I am strong.
I am a Phoenix, I will continue to bounce back even stronger than before.
Phil and I made it through some of the worst years of our lives only to come out stronger in love, in trusting each other to have the other’s back.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
I am going to try to wrap up the before-marriage part of our story in this post.
This will be about a day that broke my heart. The walls that went up around my heart after this day have still not been taken down, only reinforced. I didn’t know that the same person could break my heart so many times.
I didn’t feel much when my friend passed away. I said in my last post that something happened to me as our relationship continued. Part of what happened was I lost my innocence.
I lost faith over and over again that my dad cared at all about what happened to me, or whether or not he loved me.
Losing my friend was hard, but it wasn’t until almost a year later that I was able to really grieve her loss. My heart was slowly hardening and I was seeing just what I meant to my parents.
The Saturday of Phil’s guitar teacher’s funeral, the day before my friend’s funeral, I went out to breakfast with my mom. My mom’s and my relationship had grown increasingly rocky, and my trust in her was just about as broken as my trust in my dad. I felt like she wasn’t supporting me at all.
She didn’t stand up for me.
I was upset for most of our breakfast and we definitely didn’t see eye to eye on barely anything. I finally said that maybe it was time for me to move out. Some of the biggest issues that my parents, specifically my dad, had with me was that I wasn’t helping mom out enough at home. I wasn’t filling to huge role I used to fill with making dinner almost every night for 11 people, cleaning more than my fair share because my siblings wouldn’t clean, and babysitting without pay for all of my siblings. I was working 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, add in every other Friday off, and trying to get time with Phil, trying to see my other friends, and I simply had no time left.
Top it off with the snide comments, and the constant cold shoulder or being picked on from my parents at home —
Home was just not a place I wanted to be at anymore.
When I said that maybe it was time for me to move out, she surprised me by agreeing that yes, maybe it was time for me to move out. I was so surprised especially considering how just under a year ago I had tried to move out and both of my parents manipulated me into staying by using my siblings against me. I couldn’t believe my ears. I went home and sent a text to Phil about what mom had said, and then sent an email to my pastor because I wanted to make sure that I did things right this time.
Not even five minutes after sending the email, my parents walked into my room. I knew something was up right away.
My dad opened the dialogue by saying something about knowing I had breakfast with mom. He then told me that he wanted me to move out and I had two weeks to do it. He told me that he was tired of dealing with me, he didn’t have time for me anymore, and then proceeded to blame me for the problems he was having with my siblings.
He said I was a bad influence.
He said it all in a very nonchalant, “I don’t care,” kind of way while I sat there crying. I couldn’t believe that once again my dad was twisting my siblings against me. He asked if I had any questions and when I shook my head no, he then looked around my room and pointed out the few things I could take with me. He said that if I needed help, that I could ask, but basically, I was on my own.
The breath had been completely knocked out of me. I felt betrayed by my mom.
I felt like I was nothing to my dad but someone who he could no longer control and could be easily discarded.
My heart was ripped open and I felt any shred of faith that I might have had in my parents disappear. My parents walked back out of my room while I sat there, sobbing, and wondering what now. I emailed my pastor again and said disregard my last email, my dad just kicked me out. I called Phil, sobbing on the phone that dad had kicked me out. He hung up on me because he was so incredibly pissed. He tried to call my dad to talk to him and confront him. Phil tried to ask about listening to me, or caring about me, but my dad shut him down.
I had made the mistake when talking to my mom that morning about our pastor counseling Phil and I about needing to start looking at moving forward without my dad’s blessing. So when Phil called my dad to call him out, my dad turned the conversation back on him and accused him of disrespecting him and daring to go behind his back and moving forward without his blessing.
Phil was so incredibly upset. That was his breaking point. I have never seen Phil so knocked flat. I had reached my breaking point as well. My heart shut down that day.
But the day wasn’t over yet.
My mom came back into my room and told me that dad had told her that appeals were welcome. What the fuck. My dad expected me to come to him on my knees and beg for him to let me stay? Absolutely not. I was completely done. He cared nothing for me besides having to have control over me.
I was not a daughter. I was not a person. I was simply a thing to be controlled.
I told my mom that I was not going to do that. She came back into my room even later around dinner time and told me that I was welcome to come out to dinner with the rest of the family. It was not an invitation like I was expected to come, it was an invitation like I wasn’t a part of the family. My dad was happier than I have ever seen him. He was practically bouncing around. He even let the kids play the games at the pizza place we went to. He never let them do that. Never. My siblings had found out that I was being kicked out and the oldest ones were furious with dad.
My dad was celebrating.
At my friend’s funeral the next day the drama of the day before hit Phil and I really hard especially during the service. I grabbed our pastor after the service and we ended up talking with him for a good half hour. He told us right away that through my dad kicking me out, my dad had renounced any control he had over our relationship.
Our pastor told us that he was completely 100% behind us and he wanted to get us married.
Phil and I were grateful for the support from at least one person.
I spent the next week frantically looking for a place to stay. Because I didn’t have a car, I had to rely on Phil, and he was right there waiting for me. He was by my side every single step of the way. I found a small bedroom and a bathroom that I could rent for a month while waiting to move in with friends. I moved out almost exactly two weeks after my dad told me to leave.
I removed myself from my family. I cut them off. I stopped talking to my mom unless I absolutely couldn’t help it. I didn’t tell her where I was moving to. She hadn’t stood up for me, I wasn’t going to go to her for help. My parents kicking me out went against everything they had said to keep me from moving out the year before. Everything was in direct contradiction. I couldn’t believe it, but at the same time, I was done, and I knew I had done everything I could to restore any sort of relationship with my parents. I was free, and because my dad had kicked me out, there was no viable ammo on me that could be used against me.
I found out later that rumors were being spread that I had moved out because I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I expected that, and was totally not thrown off by it.
I expected such underhandedness from my dad.
The day I found a place to stay, we were able to settle on a wedding date with the church. Everything started falling into place. The date was three months away.
The month I lived on my own was the worst of my life. I felt bad for the family’s whose basement I lived in. We didn’t tell them about my family because we didn’t want to put any burden on them.
I began planning our wedding. We knew we weren’t going to get any support from either family, so we budgeted it out and found ways around the major expenses. I made my wedding dress, and was very happy with it. My dad’s parents sent us two very generous donations for our wedding. My grandmother called me one day and told me that she wanted to pay for my wedding dress.
We were lifted up on so many hands as people started coming out of the woodwork to help us.
My mom’s oldest sister was a lifesaver. She made my veil, she was the one who gave me my ring and found my wedding band for a very good price, and she made the brownie cupcakes for our wedding, along with numerous other things.
Things were looking up, we were getting married, but it was with sad and heavy hearts that we marched towards that day. There was no giddiness, there was no overwhelming joy.
There was simply this feeling of it’s time, we made it.
There was a sense of heavy relief as that day came closer.
We decided to save money and have a potluck reception. We only sent printed invitations to close friends and family, everyone else was invited via an online invite. The potluck reception was one of the best decisions we made with regards to our wedding. We were hearing praises about our reception for months after we got married. We wanted the people who had been our family throughout our relationship to have a part in our wedding and having a potluck was one of the ways to include people.
Honestly, I was planning on walking down the aisle myself, or Phil and I would walk down together. I did not want my dad to walk my down the aisle. When he kicked me out, he stopped being a father figure, not that he ever really was. My mom told me one day a few weeks before the wedding that dad was really depressed because he thought I wasn’t going to ask him. Frankly, I wasn’t going to, but I decided that I would simply because I didn’t want anymore drama. My family was not involved very much in the wedding, and I purposefully kept it that way. My friends are my family, and I had more than enough people helping.
The day finally came.
May 14th, 2011; the day we were getting married.
My dad almost didn’t make it to the ceremony because he had spent the night before our wedding in the ER with one of my brothers. By the time I got to church at 9 that morning, I was done with planning, I wanted to enjoy myself, and try to forget about the nagging feeling I had that something would go wrong. My biggest fear was that my dad would try to do something to stop the wedding from happening. I was completely calm all the way up till 15 minutes before I walked down the aisle. Then I almost started crying as I realized that we had actually made it.
We made it to the end. We were getting married.
Despite the people who didn’t believe us, despite the heartache, the tears, the hurt, we had made it. Three words that are such a relief to write:
We made it.
We wanted a short ceremony, it was only maybe 20 minutes. We were pronounced man and wife, and we marched back up the aisle to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, part 4. A grand and triumphant march.
We made it.
We spent the reception wandering around greeting everyone we could. We both felt a great relief that we were done with the drama.
We made it.
We left the reception after about two hours, drove to our new apartment, changed, packed up the car, and took off to Williamsburg for a week.
Something started happening to me as our story crept on.
I think I started at the beginning with meeting Phil as a naive and happily innocent girl. Even though I was surrounded by abuse at home and I was clearly unhappy at home, I think there was still a part of me that thought that was normal. I still believed that my parents cared for me and loved me and would do what was best for me. At some point throughout all of this, and I’m not sure if it is when I said yes, or not, but I began to claim my life as my own.
Once a person begins to realize and claim what is theirs, I don’t believe you can really go back from that.
June started slowly going by with typical muggy days, and I carried around a secret in my purse no matter where I went. I carried around the ring that my aunt gave me and would often pull it out to look at it. I had asked Phil the day I got it about whether or not he wanted to have it so he could surprise me, but he begged me to keep it. “I will most definitely lose it, if you give it to me,” he said. So, I kept it. A beautiful, one of a kind, sapphire ring. I have never wanted a diamond, and I loved the rich glorious blue of sapphires the best.
I want to back up a little bit in this story and go back to March of 2010. I just stumbled upon some really sweet parts of our story that I wanted to share, especially with all of the crap that is about to explode in the end of this part and the next part.
In March, something happened with my family and my dad’s job. The same day everything went down with his job, my dad was also in a bike crash and broke his collar bone. Yeah, that wasn’t a fun day. I happened to be at church later that day and got to see Phil for quite some time. By this point in our relationship, we were shrugging off the guilt of talking to each other and were talking again quite regularly. In person was really the only thing that cut it now, although, I just remembered that we used to talk almost every night for a few hours if we hadn’t seen each other that day. We had to see each other, we had to see each other’s faces and read each other’s reactions as we talked.
Once again, it was that time of year when the high school group at our old church was doing their annual play, and guess who was in charge of half the costumes? Yeah, me, so I got to see Phil multiple times a week, plus almost every Saturday evening because I had to be at church working on all of the costumes. Those were some of the sweetest times in our relationship, and I could definitely say that that is when our friendship blossomed and turned the corner to being something so much deeper. Phil knew when I was down, when it had been an incredibly rough day at home, and he knew just what to say. He would often put his arms around me and tell me that I was beautiful. He would lean in close and ask me if I was going to be okay and then would tell me that he was proud of me.
Those whispered words were what kept me going, and I grew more in love with this man as each day passed. I knew, without a flutter of a doubt, that this was the man I was going to marry, and this was the man who was going to take care of me and help me heal.
Now moving forward again to our current part of the story…
July 6th, 2010, The big day
It was a Tuesday, and we both had care group that night. We started making it a habit to meet before care group at the farm park just down the road from both of us. We would meet, eat dinner together, talk for awhile and then head our separate ways. Those meetings were, in a way, our version of dates because we weren’t “allowed” go on dates. Besides, we were away from the eyes of those who looked on us with disdain and there was almost no chance of running into anyone we knew at the farm, so we were free to talk, laugh, and share stories without feeling like we had to hide our emotions.
I met Phil as usual and it was really a gorgeous day. Not too hot, and the sun was getting ready to set. The sky was a brilliant blue with a splash of golden clouds reflecting the sun. I don’t remember what we had been talking about that day, but we had reached a peaceful lull in the conversation and were just sitting there, holding hands, and looking out at the corn fields and the trees before us. Phil suddenly turned to me and asked if I had the ring with me. I said yes very slowly and asked why. He just smiled and asked me to go get it. I went running to my car and on the way back suddenly realized something. Exactly 9 months ago to the day, Phil had told me for the first time that he loved me, and wanted to marry me. My heart gave a great leap of joy as I knew what was coming next.
I handed him the ring box, he stood up and grabbed my hand and led me off down one of the paths. During the walk he told me about how much he loved, why loved me, why I was his best friend. He told me about how excited he was to spend the rest of his life with me and how much he was looking forward to those days. By this point we had reached an enormous and beautiful oak tree, the sun was setting off to my left, and as I looked at him, Phil got down on one knee, held out the ring, and asked if I would be his wife.
Of course, I said yes. Immediately.
We both left that night having decided to keep our engagement a secret for a week. We didn’t want either sets of parents finding out until we could tell them simultaneously. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, they both refused to see any point to meeting with us…again. We asked if we could sit down and talk with both sets of parents at the same time, we really did try, so we resorted to other methods. The following Saturday, we decided that I would sit down with my parents while Phil called his from work. That was the only way we could figure out to tell them without one side knowing before the other and causing even more mayhem.
It really bothers me, seriously, about how paranoid we were about our parents throughout all of this. We were in love, we wanted to get married, we weren’t doing drugs, we weren’t sleeping around, we weren’t cursing our parents and going off to live with each other and saying forget marriage. We wanted to do things right, we wanted to get married, spend our lives together, and yet, I was treated like I was doing everything but that. Our reactions really goes to show you just how bad things were getting.
I remember the day we told our parents. Ironically, my side of telling my parents actually went quite well compared to Phil’s side of things. I sat down with my parents, looked them in the eyes, and said that Phil and I were engaged and we were getting married in 30 days.
Oh yeah, forgot about that part.
We had this brilliant scheme that we were going to run away down to Williamsburg to get married.
This part of things was definitely a big mistake on our part, and I am sorry we tried to do this. I don’t remember if we had any plans for after we were married… kind of drawing a blank on that. I think the whole “Getting married in 30 days” thing was more of a desperate attempt to show our parents that we were really serious even though they continued to not take us seriously. We wanted to show them that we weren’t playing around here, but were taking things very seriously and we had already made our decision.
My dad told me that no, we weren’t engaged, and I shot right back that we were.
All the way up to our wedding, my dad still would not acknowledge that we were engaged.
The days after that fatal Saturday were quite fraught with chaotic pressure from pastors, parents, and even some friends to break off our engagement. But somehow, we made it, and continued to say that we wouldn’t break off the engagement because that was something that was strictly between us and only we could decide whether or not we were going to get married.
I tell you what, the weeks began stretching into a monotonous never ending round of one week of drama and then two weeks of semi peace, to another week of drama, to another two weeks…well, you get the picture. Between our engagement and rudely announced getting married in 30 days scheme and our wedding, we met with the pastors separately with our parents, we met together with the pastors without our parents, and we met individually with pastors, and Phil met with the pastors, and his dad and my dad. Oh, but guess what, we never got to meet all together with the two of us and our parents. That is still something that has continued to frustrate me to this day. It never made any sense as to why we all couldn’t have met together.
November came, and I actually got to celebrate thanksgiving with Phil’s family and extended family. I was treated with much caution. I’m going to be honest here and say that I felt incredibly out of place. I was the interloper, I was the girl who had stolen the nephew, son away, and I was the girl who was most definitely not engaged to Phil.
Yes, four months after our engagement, it still wasn’t being acknowledged.
It wasn’t until about 4 months before we got married that we were actually allowed to put on Facebook that we were engaged. Before that we had to simply say that we were in a relationship, but even that was a fight to get to say that.
And yes, as you can probably tell, this is still a very sensitive topic for me. It is one thing to have a piano recital ignored or to not receive congratulations for completing a huge masterpiece that took a long time, but it is another thing entirely to have one’s engagement rudely ignored and treated like it never existed. It’s one of those life events that deserves acknowledgement. This is part of why I struggle with shame and guilt when it comes to our story. Engagement is something to be celebrated and ours wasn’t; not by the people who would have counted the most.
December rolled around, we had been engaged for 5 months and had made the difficult decision to call off our third wedding date (the only reason we called this date off was because the pastors told us they wouldn’t marry us…not yet, anyway) which was for the middle of January. New Year’s Eve was upon us and this year, I was not leaving Phil’s side. Things went down hard and fast that New Year’s Eve. That was the day that Phil’s parents found out all about my dad’s past and history, and that was the day that they found out what we had been facing throughout our entire relationship when it came to my dad.
The very next day, January 1st of 2011, was the day that for the first time in over 3 years, and after many requests for this very thing, all six of us sat in the same room and talked. By this point, Phil and I were done. I was done with my dad’s crap, with being picked on by both my parents at home, and not feeling welcomed anywhere else because I was with Phil. Phil was done with meeting with my dad to ask for his blessing on our relationship (he asked, point blank, four separate times), he was done with how I was being treated.
We were done.
I remember Phil’s dad entreating my dad to work on his and my relationship. I remember my dad’s disgusted face about being told to do something he didn’t want to do. I remember my inward scoff that he wouldn’t do anything. And I was right. I ended up initiating, yet again, a coffee date with him a week after the meeting, and a week of waiting for him to do something. We went out to Starbucks, and I told him that I was done initiating anything with our relationship. I didn’t even want to talk to him, I didn’t trust him, and I didn’t know if I ever would again unless I saw him do something.
He told me that he had wanted to kick me out (never really told me why he had changed his mind at that point) and that he just didn’t know what to say to me.
I shrugged and really had no interest in continuing the failing conversation.
Two weeks later, my life changed drastically.
One of my best friends had been in a coma since the middle of December. She was one of the only people I felt I could trust was genuinely and extremely happy for us. She died shortly after my coffee date with my dad. Phil’s first major guitar teacher died of ALS the day before she died as well.
The following weekend held both of their funerals.
The following weekend was also when I found out just how much I meant to my parents.
I have to keep moving with these posts or else I will lose momentum and it will become even more difficult to continue the story.
I want to explain a little bit about why this is so difficult for me to write, but also why I need to write our story. From that first devastating break in Phil’s and my friendship, I began losing a lot of friends, I faced opposition at home and from other parents, people I barely knew, and those who I thought were friends. I have always been sensitive to my heart, to my conscience, and it killed me when I couldn’t seem to get it across that my conscience was clear in my loving Phil and continuing to be in a relationship with him.
I was being accused of lust, idolatry, bitterness by my parents, I was called rebellious, disobedient, dishonoring of my parents by others around me. I was having friends question my heart, and asking whether or not I was being blind to wisdom just because I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I felt almost nothing but shame, false guilt, and pain from those moments on. Shame because I wasn’t doing what others wanted me to do and feeling guilt because my conscience was being used against me. I was also feeling pain because what I felt was right and felt at peace with wasn’t even close to what everyone else around me said was “right.”
I felt manipulated, like I was being used against myself.
I felt alone, I felt the few friends I could trust were my lifelines, and without them Phil and I probably wouldn’t have made it. I watched the people who used to “look up to me” look down at me in disgust as my parents told stories of my dishonorable actions.
Here are the reasons why I need to write our story. By writing our story, I am owning the story. I am spreading it out and accepting that it is our story; the good, the painful, the ugly, and the bad.
I am acknowledging that our story is amazing; amazing because we made it.
Amazing because Phil and I are married, very amazingly happily married. It’s amazing because we came out stronger and more in love with each other than before. It’s amazing because we stayed true to our hearts no matter how many people tried to break us apart.
That’s why I need to write this story.
That’s why it’s important for me to accept it.
The next year and a half that I will be covering in the next few parts are the ones that make the past few posts seem like a walk through the park.
That week of talking after 6 months of silence was pure bliss.
We decided that we were going to write up relationship guidelines that at the end of the week we would try to present to our parents. We spent hours on the phone and online trying to work through what we thoughts our parents would approve of (incredibly strict talking guidelines, timelines, and so forth). We talked with the couple who were becoming mentors to me about what would be best to put into this five year plan that we were writing up.
We even started working on what would become roughly a year later our budget that is still in play to this day.
We talked about where we would want to live when we got married, we talked about how many kids we wanted, we talked about their names, we talked about the kind of house we’d want to live in.
We talked about everything.
I vaguely remember my grandfather being in town that week, but I wasn’t around very much. Phil was taking my time and I sure as heck wasn’t going to stop that. The week began winding down and we started figuring out what the game plan was going to be presenting this five year relationship plan to our parents.
We came to the conclusion that approaching my dad and asking for his blessing on our relationship was the first step.
And we decided that it was going to be on Sunday. Phil approached my dad at church, nervous as heck, and actually came across a little abrupt to my dad, asking if my dad could talk with him later that afternoon. Oh, the day started out bad from the start, and that should have been a sign for us to stop because we both got burned. The first sign was Phil’s car battery dying. He almost didn’t make it in time to meet with my dad. The second was getting questioned on the way home from church by my dad about this meeting with Phil.
The third sign that the day was going ridiculously wrong was when I watched my dad talking with Phil and saw the typical signs of my dad BSing Phil. The typical long drawn out speech that my dad gives when he doesn’t want to deal with something and is annoyed, but is going to keep the polite man face up. Sure enough, Phil left, I waited a few moments and then went inside, only to be met by two furious parents, one of them a mom I had never seen that angry with me. My parents talked and yelled at me about how disrespectful I had been to them, how I had dishonored my dad, how Phil was disgustingly disrespectful to my dad by asking him for his blessing on our relationship.
I have never been able to understand how a man asking to be in a relationship with me was a dishonoring thing.
Or how Phil asking in a very polite manner was disrespectful to my dad.
I felt ashamed of my “sin” of dishonoring my parents for wanting to talk with the man I loved. Both Phil and I were talked down about how sinful we had been to talk. I still feel anger and confusion over just why what we did was considered sinful.
The weeks that followed brought confusion, pain for both of us, and a tentative continuing of our under the radar relationship. We both decided that it was more important to stay true to our hearts than to continue a forced separation. Phil gave me thumb drives with letters to me, his favorite music, and class schedules, and I wrote him letters and we continued to talk about our future. Thanksgiving passed, Christmas was fast approaching. I gave Phil a little figurine made out of nuts and bolts who was a little man at a desk on a metal laptop. And I also made him a pair of half fingered mitts and a scarf. I think he gave me a chain mail medallion. New Year’s crept up on us and I was greatly looking forward to seeing Phil at a mutual friend’s party.
At this point, Phil knew almost everything that had to do with my family.
I told him about the nightmares I had of my dad beating me. I told him about how scared I was when my dad got angry, I told him about the depression I felt when I was home. Phil became more and more my rock as things continued to get worse between my dad and I. Ever since the year I had found out about my dad’s issues, I haven’t been able to talk with him without feeling some sense of uneasiness, discomfort, and distrust.
By the time the new year’s party rolled around, my dad and I weren’t really on speaking terms again. I have no idea why we weren’t this time, probably something I didn’t say that made him pissed with me. That happened way too often for me to keep track of anymore. I was planning on going to to the party, but mom told me I still had to ask dad. So I went and asked him. I already knew Phil was going to be there, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to volunteer the information. My dad told me I could go, but as I turned to walk away, he told me that if Phil was there, that I had to come home right away.
My heart sank.
I needed this party.
Outside of my job, I didn’t see anyone, like at all. I was incredibly isolated.
Besides seeing Phil sometimes after work, at single’s meetings at church, I rarely saw friends. I frantically emailed Phil and asked him not to come. I told him that I couldn’t ignore my dad’s command if he showed up. My conscience wouldn’t allow it.
Frankly, I have no idea what I thought, or was afraid, my dad would do if I didn’t do this stupid thing. I was being scared into doing what he said because he knew that he still had quite a few pulls over me. I was taken advantage of because of my sensitivity to what was put to me as the right thing to do. My mom told me that one day. I don’t know why she told me that dad could get me to do what he wanted because of my sensitive spirit. After finding that out I was even more wary of my dad. Rightly so, I believe.
Phil told me to enjoy the party for him and that he would spend the evening thinking about me and working on some projects. Throughout our relationship, up till a big thing happened in January of 2011, Phil tried his hardest to pull the fire off of me when it came to my dad. He was too much of a good guy.
I am angry about how many times my dad took advantage of Phil’s genuine care for me and his desire to do what was right.
After the beginning of 2010 had passed, life at home and around my parents began to reach new heights of buttons being pushed and nasty responses to almost anything I did. Sometime around February, I met a new friend, and shortly afterward got an email from her saying that her and her husband would like to offer me a place in their new house. She knew that life was hard at home, knew about Phil and I, and her and her husband wanted to give me an escape.
I quietly, secretly, began planning to move out. I was freaked out half to death that my parents would kill me and forcefully keep me at home once I told them that I was going to move out. I was pretty set on doing it, and even went and separated my bank account from them because the last thing I wanted happening was my money being taken.
I didn’t put anything past them.
May came around and I found out that major building delays were happening with the house that I was supposed to have a room in. That was seriously pushing back my projected move out date. The end of May came, and I decided to tell my parents anyway that I was going to move out. I wanted to tell them I was moving out, not that I wanted to move out. I didn’t want to give them any room to shut me down.
Little did I know that that was futile. I sat down with both my parents and told them I was moving out in a few weeks.
They immediately used their biggest weapon against me: my siblings.
They told me how devastated my siblings would be if I moved out. They told me how much of a good influence I was on them, and how they would need a big sister. They, once again, took advantage of my sensitive heart and manipulated me into staying. And yes, I stayed. I could feel the despair settle in even deeper in my heart. Twice in the months that followed I had a bad breakdown and asked two different friends to come get me. I was gone for hours both times, and I wish I had had the courage to leave when I had originally wanted to.
But, I suppose there is a reason for everything.
I also got something really special at the end of May.
My aunt had been saving a gorgeous sapphire ring for me, and I called her when I knew she was going to be in the area to ask for the ring. She brought it out from CA that May.
The ring fit perfectly.
Now if I could only wear it as an outward sign of my commitment to Phil.