Forest For The Trees: J’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jens Schott Knudsen.

HA Note: “J” is a pseudonym. The following is reprinted with permission from J’s blog Teapots and Tesseracts. It was originally published as “Lightbulb Moment: Forest for the Trees” on June 30, 2014 and slightly modified for HA.

Crowded into a packed auditorium at the local bastion for Christian education, the “go to” first choice for homeschool graduates and members of my youth group, I considered where I should sit and rapidly selected the seat next to my brother and his wife. Squeezed in between mom, dad, the oldest brother and the littlest brother, I shrank into my seat to avoid my dad’s snide remarks. I had ducked into a stairwell before the ceremony and lit up a cigarette on a tobacco free campus and could suddenly smell the burning garbage scent on my nice lavender shirt.

Turning red and feeling the anxiety grip my chest, I steeled myself for the shaming remarks encased as jokes directed at me by my father.

A golden child who presented with mom at homeschool conferences (a la Josh Harris), enrolled in a local community college at 15, coached debate my first year after graduating high school, and active in ministry at my church, who answered the altar call to missions abroad at 18, my life had taken a very sharp turn shortly after I stood on the dais at another church with ten other graduates of our homeschool association.

“Now, please, bow your heads with me as we ask for His blessing on these proceedings.”

Accepted to a top ten university at 17 halfway across the country, I was on my way to becoming a biomedical engineer, dreaming of my senior research project, graduate school, becoming a doctor. I continued to be lauded for my intelligence, motivation and godliness for seeking to study medicine so I could serve the Lord in a third world country.

“Father God.”

After admitting I had a boyfriend at 18, after being caught in a lie, when I had just stuttered out the truth to my mother’s glaring and wounded face about who exactly “Michael” was, I was summarily lectured about my moral failings, threatened with permanent separation from God, and eventually thrown out of my house two hours later when I defiantly refused to repent.

“Our Father, thank you for shining your light on these young excellent minds, your servants”

The golden child status was gone, overnight. A cold reversal of the invitation to coach debate, ugly stares and plaintive tear-soaked pleads from members of church I ran into at the grocery store, multiple comparisons by haughty homeschool mothers I saw out and about (who just six months before, and even my entire twelve grades of homeschooling, said they wished their children were like me) of my “lifestyle” to sins like alcoholism and pedophilia, all made it clear the penny had dropped.

All rise”.

Taking deep breaths, I stood up and  watched yet another brother and sister ascend the dais as we rose to “Pomp and Circumstance” and clapped and called out their names. With fifty-four graduates, they were the largest class in six counties. The brother next to me was in the very first fifteen years ago, and there were only six graduates then.

The commencement speaker was new…the same one for years was a local conservative Republican sheriff who talked about how integrity was a gift from God. This one was a Republican politician, aiming for Congress.

“God will protect you from this day before and cover you in His blessings if you follow in the way He has set in His Holy Word”.

The anxiety rapidly turned to rage and my stomach churned. Abandoned by family, church and homeschool association, my only networks during eighteen very sheltered years, I wanted to scream and cry simultaneously at the speaker for his lies.

“Observe those who have honored God, their fathers and their mothers by making the journey to receiving their high school diploma.”

Three years later after my summary dismissal from home, a phone call turned my world upside down.

Sniffling, my mother, who I had little to no contact with besides three intrusive appearances at a table in my section at area restaurants I served at, and my father, who had completely pretended I didn’t exist (seeing my face caused him “such pain and grief” explained my mother, that I should feel bad for inflicting him with such Job-like woes), passed the phone back and forth to beg me to come home, and hatch a plan to rescue me from an abusive relationship.

Three years with Stephen, and I was an emotionally and mentally unstable survivor of his abuse. My realization that I was no longer allowed to talk to once-close friends or even to know my neighbors had sunk in just the day before.

“Our graduates have gone on to become homemakers, mothers, fathers, missionaries, military service members, scientists, teachers, and many continue the homeschooling tradition with the next generation.”

“We wish God’s blessings on these students as they go forth into the world, using their God given talents to embark on new careers.”

Mandatory church attendance was required, at 21, after my return and I was once again hailed and praised, this time for becoming saved and healed from drug addiction and the homosexual lifestyle.

I had moved out on my own after two years stuck with no car or license due to a DUI in my patriarch’s house, stuffed the memories of a traumatizing rape and Stephen’s abuse, I could only feel the rage and sorrow and shrieking in my nightmares.

“Ladies in the graduating class, I urge you to remember such qualities as modesty, of headship of your father, the Lord, and your future husband as you embark into the world.”

My sister on my left couldn’t cut her hair or wear pants until age ten. We were all beaten viciously by a mentally ill, narcissist patriarch until our tenth birthday. Graduating today, she wanted to be a flight nurse in the Army. A year later I would find out my parents were seeking to marry her to a much older man so my father, in his words, would be rid of her and have some much needed peace and quiet, and room to focus on his hobbies.

Several of the women graduating weren’t old enough to vote, but ecstatically planned quiet weddings and bought white simple sundresses for early fall weddings, just months after graduating.

“Now let us bow our heads and pray for these graduates”.

“This is a Christian nation….look at those who serve His Holy Name”.

I wanted to shriek, so very loudly, at him, because most of what I heard in the ceremony made no sense, was so erasing of my existence. I did everything right until after graduation, and then I voiced my own opinion and everything fell apart.

Run away, I wanted to say, Run away. Grab that diploma and run as fast as you can. Because everything you remembered today will be shown as nothing but lies years from now. You will one day realize how the real world was sold as a carnal zoo filled with sin-flame breathing monsters.

I had made it a cumulative zero steps in five years, right back where I started.

Someone lied somewhere, and seeing how I got erased from my family and communities for several years, I don’t think it was me. I was truthful once about how I felt and lost everything. The gilded words of the charismatic speaker infuriated me.

Turning to my brother on my right, I whispered: “I don’t remember my graduation ceremony being this creepy. Or yours, for that matter.”

Thrown out of the house six years before me for rebellion, to bounce aimlessly between London and Pittsburgh with his absentee birth father, I could see his jaw set and eyes glare. He felt the same way I did.

Slightly tilting his head towards me he whispered back:

“Perhaps you couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”

Homeschool Organization Refuses to Accommodate Deaf Parents

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Burt Heymans.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

What should have been one of the happiest moments of their lives turned into a nightmare for a young homeschooled girl and her Deaf parents.

The girl, a homeschooled student from New Jersey, was graduating in a ceremony held on June 6 at Fellowship Bible Church in the city of Sewell. The ceremony was organized by Gloucester County Christian Home Schoolers Association (GCCHSA), a non-profit Christian home school support group serving families in Southern New Jersey.

According to the girl’s mother, Melissa Morgan, the Morgan family arranged for an interpreter to be at the ceremony so that Melissa and her husband Robert, who are both Deaf, could enjoy their daughter’s big day. The Morgan family was willing to make all the arrangements. They found an interpreter and had the interpreter meet with Andy Moore, the person in charge of the graduation planning. Andy referred them to his wife, Liz, and she and everyone else involved figured out where Melissa and Robert could sit for best visibility and where the interpreter should stand. The plan was for the interpreter to stand next to the presenter so that the interpreter would be visible to all who needed to see. According to the Morgan family, Liz agreed with and accepted these plans.

Later, according to Melissa, one parent from GCCHSA complained that it would be “distracting for an interpreter to stand next to the speaker and asked if an interpreter can sit on the floor away from the stage and at the bottom of the steps.” Melissa says that she “explained to her that I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter, the speaker, and the entire stage,” and adds that, “She doesn’t really understand my Deafness well.” Melissa states that the complaining parent kept interrupting her attempts to work things out with Andy Moore, the GCCHSA chair Ardra Jarvis, and the interpreter.

Eventually, Melissa and Robert were allegedly forced into a compromise: the interpreter would have to sit, not stand, on the stage, and would have to sit behind the speaker. In an email to Melissa from Andy Moore (obtained by Homeschoolers Anonymous), Moore tells her that, “It will be fine for your interpreter to sit in a chair at floor level in front of you for the remainder of the program.” Without any other options, Robert and Melissa had to accept. However, as Melissa pointed out to me, she would “not be able to view the speaker’s body language, tone, etc. And after we hand out the diplomas to the 8th graders, an interpreter will move her chair off the stage to the end of the steps on the floor in front of me and my family for the rest of the ceremony.” This meant that Robert and Melissa were unable to view the entire stage because they had to be “focused on the interpreter alone sitting on a chair on the floor for most of the time.” This meant they missed “most of the celebration.”

The day prior to the graduation, Melissa issued a public plea on her husband’s Facebook page for friends and family to petition GCCHSA to change their minds. “The more people sent [sic] to that email address and hopefully these people will open their minds and heart,” Melissa wrote. “I’m hoping that God will shed HIS light on those people to change their mind and hearts and be open.” Melissa and Robert were ultimately unsuccessful in these attempts. They were also unable to file a claim for disability discrimination under the American Disabilities Act because GCCHSA is a religious non-profit organization in New Jersey and thus exempt. Furthermore, while the graduation planner Andy Moore sent an email apology to the Morgans’ daughter for the stress the organization caused her, neither the daughter nor Robert nor Melissa received any apology from Ardra Jarvis, the chair of GCCHSA who bore ultimate responsibility. And as Melissa points out, even “after their apologizes, they didn’t change anything… It was 100% unacceptable, but we all stayed for the entire ceremony for the sake of our daughter.”

Even though what should have been a stress-free, wonderful graduation ceremony for her daughter ended up being a nightmare, Melissa is renewed in her eagerness to prevent this from happening to someone else’s child in the future. “I believe that all non-profit organizations should follow the ADA laws,” Melissa states. “What about people with disabilities, such as a person in a wheelchair who don’t have any accessibility?”

“I want to prevent this happening to anyone in the future.”