The Joseph Story, Like You’ve Never Heard It Before

CC image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog. It was originally published on January 9, 2014.

Once upon a time, the story of Joseph nearly ruled my life. You know, the biblical story of the dude who had 11 brothers who betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.

I was Joseph. Sold into slavery in Egypt.

Joseph got to Egypt and was bought buy a guy named Potiphar (sweet ancient Egyptian name right there). This Joseph guy was super wily and rose in the ranks of slaves in Potiphar’s house until he was put in charge of all of them. That is, until Potiphar’s wife tried to sleep with him. She even grabbed his robe and stripped it off trying to make him stay (he must have been pretty fine, I’m just saying). But Joseph was also a goody-goody and so he ran away naked. Of course Potiphar believed his wife when she told him that Joseph had tried to seduce her (It was the best soap opera of the day, ya’ll). So Joseph was thrown in the can.

I was Joseph, thrown in the can for something I didn’t do. Trapped away in prison.

Except Joseph was one crafty sonuvabitch. He kept being his goody-goody self and got put in charge of the prison. If he didn’t get freed, he might as well be top dog, right? One day, two dudes from Pharaoh’s staff show up – the guy who tastes Pharaoh’s wine to test for poisons, and the guy who bakes his bread. Both of them had been thrown in prison for offending the Pharaoh. Obvi. Well, they both have dreams that trouble them, and Joseph being the awesome cunning man that he was, interprets their dreams. He says that the baker was gonna die and the cupbearer was going to be given back his position. With that in mind, Joseph goes “Hey cupbearer dude. Don’t forget the awesome dream interpreter who saved your life in prison, K? Tell the Pharaoh about me.”

Of course, the cupbearer forgets Joseph while reeling in his good fortune. Until the Pharaoh wakes up from a dream all pissed off. Probably afraid for his position (again), the cupbearer is like “WAIT!!! I know a guy!” Thus… Joseph magically interprets the Pharaoh’s dream, and like all his positions before… becomes second in the land only to Pharaoh. BOOM, son.

I was gonna be Joseph someday… elevated to second in the land, with lots of barns and “storehouses” that I was in charge of…

AKA LOTS OF MONEY.

This was according to my dad, one of the best storytellers and imaginative minds of our time. Yes, you detect a bit of sarcasm… but to be honest that is probably pretty true. He is the most imaginative person I know.

Joseph was a metaphor for our “imminent” riches. (Imminent was a code word in our house, one of many which also included “it’s time to see IT“, the “magi“, “man from the east“… I could go on) Joseph had been wasting away, utterly invisible from the world, just like us in our 900ft², 3 bedroom apartment crammed with 6 people. Just like us wearing our thrift store clothing. Until one day… dun dun dun. He was REMEMBERED by the cupbearer.

Except we would be remembered by the magi man (magic man???) from the East…aka from Persia. He would suddenly remember that he had stuck my dad’s business card in a back drawer.  (The way he got my dad’s business card was through an Iranian coworker of my father’s, who took it with him to Iran around Christmas of 2003 -2004, after my dad had asked him to give it to “whomever he felt he should.”) The magi man would pull it out, look my dad up, and call with an offer to bequeath us with $1.7 billion dollars.

Suddenly like Joseph, we would be elevated to a higher echelon of society.

One of my dad’s “mentors” and favorite preachers frequently used Joseph as an example in his sermons. He referred to Joseph as something like “the dream bearer” and used Joseph to describe how God would fulfill your dreams if you only waited. In looking this preacher up again for this post, I also came across a sermon titled “If the dream is big enough, the facts don’t count.” (This is so hilariously ironic to me that it made me laugh) My dad listened to this man’s sermons consistently, at least once a week, for years. We were often required to listen along. I remember being a teenager, 16 years old or so, laying on my parent’s bed listening to the sermons being streamed over the internet. In our 3 bedroom apartment, the computer was located in my parents’ bedroom, because that was the only place we had room for it. So, on some Sunday mornings and many Wednesday nights, we listened to these sermons on the internet. I was required to do this and if I didn’t or tried to avoid it (by sleeping in or staying in my room) my dad would get angry and controlling.

At one point, my parents each bought an amethyst ring for themselves, because this preacher said that amethysts were “the Joseph stone” and instructed people to go out and buy one to demonstrate their commitment to their dreams. My dad bought a huge rock of an amethyst ring that he still wears fairly often.

My twin sister, myself, and my sister Rachel all had birthdays within 2 days of each other. My 16th birthday (Rachel’s 14th) was spent in Florida at a fancy anniversary dinner for this man’s 20th (25th? I’m not sure) year in ministry. We got to wear fancy prom dresses for the occasion, which made it seem like a birthday to us. At the time it was all very exciting.

This man’s sermons were also a huge subject of our nightly “family chitty-chats”. These were really made of my dad pontificating for a couple of hours before we went to bed. Rachel fell asleep most of the time. I was too terrified of my dad’s wrath, and too invested in gaining his approval, to try and do such a thing.

This was a lot of my life for 10 years or more, incidents such as these. My sponsor likes to say that my family sounded like a cult. I remember quite a bit of it if I think about it, but ever since my first 5th step almost a year ago, I’ve been remembering things spontaneously. I’ll be washing dishes, or walking through the grocery store, or on the phone at work, and all of a sudden I’m assaulted with another crazy memory of my old life. Honestly, I’m still wading through anger and resentment. My therapist said this past week that it’s probably a part of the healing process, to be angry. And when I think back to a couple of years ago when I first started trying to deal with anger at my dad – I didn’t feel ANY. Not a speck. So this is improvement. It’s like when your foot wakes up and you have pins and needles. At some point, the pins and needles will go away and I’ll be at acceptance.

It helps though to let people witness my memories.  Because I’ll never stop hearing my dad’s voice in my head, spinning delusional worlds. But at least this way I won’t be alone with the voices. They’re easier to bear when I’m not lost in them, like someone wandering through fog at night.

I plan to tell more stories from my childhood in this coming year, both here, and in the memoir I’m attempting to write. So stay tuned.

Here’s to taking a deep breath and jumping off the cliff…

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Daveynin.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog. It was originally published on July 23, 2013.

I was talking to a friend the other day and describing some of my childhood, and I realized that I haven’t written much about it here. I’ve written about it in vague, hidden descriptions only. Like a warning sign over my heart. Maybe because that part of my life feels like a minefield. I’ve dealt with a lot of those issues, but I never know when one will explode and hit me in the face.

There’s one I’d like to describe right now though, a behavior I described to my friend earlier. I’m going to call it Learned Pretentiousness. My dad, who completely believed that we would be the recipients of billions of dollars gifted us by God, taught us this interesting behavior. The first time I can recall using it was when we did a walk-through of a 5 million dollar house that we were going to buy when “The Money” arrived (which was an imminent event, of course). I remember assuming the behavior of a rich little girl, trying to pretend like my family wasn’t living in a tiny 3-bedroom apartment where I shared a room with my twin sister. Instead, I discussed what kinds of things we would buy to put in the living room, or how we would arrange the basements, or what the room above the stable would be used for.

I was 10 years old at the time of our little walk-through (and no, The Money has still not arrived 14 years later). There were so many times I put on the “little rich girl” throughout the years that I don’t even remember all of them. My family would often frequent 5 star hotels just to sit in the lobby and pretend like we were one of them. Or, more often than not, we would visit the local corporate airport to look at the planes, and MAYBE WE WOULD BE LUCKY AND SOMEONE WOULD MEET US THERE WITH THE MONEY! You could never be sure.

One time my dad actually talked a jet chartering company into flying a large corporate jet into Denver for us to see. My dad had great powers of persuasion and is probably the most charismatic man I’ve ever met. I remember sitting on that jet feeling like I was living a complete lie but struggling, trying desperately, to pull it off like I knew what richness felt like. I was crawling with anxiety and trying to hide the fact that I so obviously didn’t belong.

The behavior actually became so ingrained that if I walk into any luxurious atmosphere now, I have to be on guard so I don’t assume it and therefore assume a personality that is not myself.

Looking back on the strangeness of my life, I can easily see why alcohol and love addiction became such a big issue for me. First of all, I had no idea what living in reality was like, since my dad and therefore my family avoided it at all costs. And second, besides my dad creating this strange, cult-like family (me, my mom, and my sisters) and convincing us to buy into this delusional idea, he was also abusive and angry if we ever crossed him. None of us dared speak up and say that he was wrong about this money idea. The closest any of us got was my twin sister repeatedly speaking her doubts about God really saying it, and my dad spending hours trying to convince her that she just had to take it on faith. She eventually bought into it more than any of the rest of us. Yet the one time I remember my mom slightly disagreeing with him about his ideas, he forbid her from taking part in family conversations until she apologized. (About a month later)

By the time I was 15, I was at least slightly aware that I wanted to escape, and that was when most of my acting out started. It was like I was a snake itching to get rid of my skin, my isolated and bizarre little life. The anxiety exploded and I grabbed men, alcohol, a knife – anything that could get me out of the feelings I had of my life imploding on top of me. Outside, I was walking into 5 star restaurants and pretending my life was grand.

I am scared to post this. Scared to open up this part of my life. I’ve talked about it with my therapist and my close friends. But I think only to my therapist with as much detail, with the dots and lines that include every detail of how I was trained to act. And most recently, of the shame I have carried for buying into this delusional world. Because I did. I never thought I’d have to cook my own meals. I expected to marry a rich man, even a prince. I expected to wear Chanel and have my own horse or several. I expected to be able to travel to Dubai and stay in my favorite suite in the world. I have been ashamed for the time I spent buying into it all when I was a teenager. I’ve long since stopped believing the lies, but the shame remains.

I guess one of the biggest reasons I want to post this is to give back that shame by opening up my story to the world. It’s my way of doing what my therapist described yesterday about the day I went into Cartier when I was 16. I put on a $50,000 diamond ring (or maybe it was $25,000… I can’t quite remember), fell in love with it, and my dad embarrassingly slipped in a mention to the sales person that we would be back when his “investment paid out.” (Investment meaning God would give us The Money we had been waiting for) Instead of standing there in my embarrassment, pretending that I was a spoiled little teenager, here’s what I would want to say now:

“Sorry ma’am. My dad thinks God is going to give him 1.7 billion dollars, you see. Just out of thin air. He has it all planned out and is just waiting for God to give it to him. He has a company formed in the state of Colorado so that there is a place for the money to go. I have a trustee for a trust account that has no money in it. He even thinks a man in Iran is going to gift it to him, which is illegal in fact. So as you can see the whole idea is pretty laughable. This ring is gorgeous but I will probably never buy it. Thanks for the chance to put it on.”

For Matthew

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Sally Crossthwaite.

Content Warning: gun violence, mass shooting

Laurie Works is a homeschool alum, community organizer, and spoken word poet. She is also a mass shooting survivor. In December 2007, two of her sisters, Rachel and Stephanie Works, died during the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs. This poem is her reply to the shooter, Matthew Murray, who was also homeschooled. 

Sometimes I feel like we are two sides of the same coin
some people call you the bad penny
just because it landed tails up
they say it’s bad luck.
We could have had the same parents
we were homeschooled, using the same books
from the same publishers
we both learned that evolution was a lie
that the earth was created 6,000 years ago
maybe that’s why we both had such a hard time progressing
100 miles apart, we did the same training
they told us God loved us
I heard voices and gave prophecies
they said you heard voices too
but those voices were the different ones
same coin other side
we both had demons haunting us
mine just were clothed in angel’s skin
at least you knew yours clearly
it took our lives colliding for me to fully see mine.
We collided in one moment
somehow that moment always felt like it would happen
I wonder if you must have felt that too
I wonder if you were pulled by the same invisible thread
the world knows you as the man who murdered my sisters
I know you as someone across the gulf of the same canyon
both of us were just trying to figure out how to get across
you sprayed bullets trying to build a bridge of mettle
and when the bridge wouldn’t hold
you built it instead to the other side.
I have been trying to build a bridge of mettle ever since
trying to finish the job you started without using violence as tool
but it’s hard when I’ve always been shooting myself in the foot
what good is a bridge when you can’t walk across it
what good is a bridge that you constantly tear down.
Matthew.
Your name means gift of God
sometimes I think that’s true while other days I want to run
from the darkness I see behind your imagined eyes
on the day the voices we heard collided
I want you to know I saw them too
the demons you were so acquainted with
i’ve been living with them for almost 8 years now
maybe they don’t erupt the same
I never turned my violence outward
always loaded my gun and turned it on myself
This year, I’m learning
that just because a coin isn’t lucky doesn’t mean it’s a bad penny
that some bridges aren’t built out of mettle
what bridges heaven and earth
is made of our most vital organ
my sister’s hearts that your metal bullets ripped through
is the bridge I now cross over
it’s not so much a bridge but a surrender
to the air between the chasm
If I’m the side of the coin that’s heads up
it’s because you were my heads up
it’s because you showed me
that strength isn’t built from violence
and the ways in which I’ve assaulted myself
Strength is made of heart melting into void
coming out the other side
like a black hole makes new stars
I’m coming out the other side
I’ll take you with me.
Maybe these new voices will sing back
and tell you what you were made of
even pennies were made strong by copper melting in a fire.

Story of a Homeschooler

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tori Wright.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog Laurie Works. It was originally published on May 25, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

I grew up a homeschooler.

The news this week has made it more salient than ever, even though it’s something I’ve been slowly processing the past couple of months. I’ve been reading a ton of posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous, as well as chatting with a blogger and real life friend who was homeschooled. The resources I’ve found have resonated so deeply with me. I’ve wanted to share now for a while, but writing out what it’s like to be a homeschooler is really not easy. Especially when you have 12 school years full of it.

That’s right. I wasn’t just –a– homeschooler. I was one of –those– homeschoolers. Schooled at home the whole way through.

People ask me all the time if I like it, and I’m close to honest. I say I liked it until high school, and then I was miserable. But the truth is I had moments of misery the whole time.

Being homeschooled especially sucks when you hate being at home.

There’s no way out.

I hated being in 2nd grade for 3 years after my youngest sister was born because my mom was “too tired” to keep us going on our schoolwork. I hated how the neighborhood kids made fun of us for it.

I hated in high school how I had no friends but my sisters. See, along with being homeschooled, our home church was 2 hours away in the small mountain town of Granby, CO. So we really had little access to friends. And then when we did, the church kids thought we were weird and tended to avoid us.

I tried my damndest to not be one of the socially awkward homeschool kids, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re restricted to an apartment all day long.

Oh yeah. We lived in a 900 sq. ft. apartment in Denver, CO. With a family of 6. 3 bedrooms. I shared a room until I was 19.

I got sick of my sisters. I got sick of us getting lumped into the same group all the time at church events. I didn’t hate them, but when you’re with someone so much, it’s hard to want to be with them more. That in itself was annoying, but I dealt. What really sucked about being at home was my dad.

What I saw growing up was not the even more extreme dysfunction I see now. I didn’t realize that his obsession with God giving us 1.7 billion dollars was actually a problem. Nope, what I was focused on in my teen years was his abuse.

My dad was verbally abusive to us from the time I was 5 years old.

I remember little of when it started, but I know it was bad enough my mom wanted to take us to her mom’s house in Nebraska. I’m not sure why she decided to stay. The abuse continued, though, and some of it echoes in my ears. My dad threatening to leave. My dad screaming “I’M THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE!” My mom reading books on submission and slowly fading into silence.

Or the subtle abuse of his anger when we didn’t speak up during our nightly “discussions.” Though these are a typical facet of fundamentalist homeschooling (nightly “devotions”), ours were different. These discussions were reiterations of my dad’s belief that God would give us this astronomical amount of money. He would talk about the “coincidences” of the day and how they were signs pointing to God’s will for us. If we didn’t have any input or anything to share, my dad would get angry. However, if we tried to talk too much, my dad would get angry. And when I say angry, I mean yelling. Sharp remarks. Heavy sighs. Looks of annoyance. Sometimes stomping out of the room.

If we spoke, he was angry. If we were quiet, he was angry.

We couldn’t win.

It was a radically strange combination of fundamentalist teachings such as submission (my dad LOVED John Bevere and his teachings on spiritual authority) and my dad’s delusional beliefs. I have friends who say that my dad created a cult with us, his family. We were forced to buy into his belief about this money: I clearly remember my dad working very hard to convince my twin sister to “just have faith” that this money would appear. He eventually cowed her into “believing” it. If we didn’t buy in, he pleaded with us in this fashion, or got extremely angry and verbally abusive, even threatening to leave us. On top of that, we were isolated from the outside world due to the fact that we were homeschooled with a church so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go out for sports as a teenager or to get a job.

There was only 1 person that I know of outside the family that knew about this money business, and that was our trustee.

Yep, we had a trustee. And 4 empty trusts (one for each of us girls) connected to an umbrella company that my dad formed to be a funnel for “the money” when it came. You can still look it up as a Colorado business: Oversyte Investment Company, LLC. Because of the trusts my dad found us a trustee. He was the only one that heard about my dad’s ideas. I have to wonder now what he thought of the whole thing. But the trustee was young at the time, only 22-23 years old. A kid. He was probably enamored of the whole thing. My dad was good at casting a spell (read: charismatic).

What was honestly weird though was that my dad spent more time asking our trustee about his life than he ever spent asking us about ours.

My dad talked incessantly about “the family” and how important “the family” was. Yet he never really knew any of us. And “the family” really just meant that we fell into line behind him and became part of his missionary force to the rich people of the world.

I never told anyone the dollar amount of my dad’s delusions until I told my ex-husband. I was probably 19-20. After that I didn’t mention it to anyone else until I was 22, and I told my therapist. She was shocked. Her reaction woke me up. Maybe this whole thing really wasn’t normal.

The amount of secrecy I felt I had to hold really rings true to me with this crazy Josh Duggar situation.

I understand family secrets, far far too well.

I clearly remember my dad telling us, “Don’t tell anyone about this money stuff. They’ll think we are crazy.” I kept that pact for somewhere around 10-12 years. A decade.

All this amounts to one thing. I grew up in a fishbowl. A small, small fishbowl nowhere close to the ocean.

I was trapped in an environment where I was abused and ridiculed if I stepped out of line or had my own opinions.

Or, I was ignored. Either/or. I was literally stuck in a small apartment from 1997-2007 – 900 square feet for 3 teenagers and a girl under 10 years old. Mentally and emotionally stuck in a dream world of my dad’s which included weekly trips to the corporate airport, trips so frequent I can still name off dozens of types of corporate jets.

Family secrets have an incredible hold. My dad’s own sister didn’t know any of this until last year (!!) when I finally broke the silence. I’d been terrified to disclose anything to his family before; I don’t know what I was afraid of, other than finally disclosing a “secret.” But when I told her she was remorseful and regretful, saying she would have done something if she’d only known.
I’m telling this story to add it to the other voices now speaking up about homeschooling. I’m telling this story because I think it’s important.

I’m telling this story so maybe someday soon the government or SOMEONE can hold homeschool parents accountable.

Why? Because in a fishbowl, isolated from the ocean, it’s far too easy to keep things secret. Things like 1.7 billion dollar delusions. Or, in the Duggar family, molesting 5 young girls. Accountability is needed.

I’m telling this, too, because it’s time. Because holding this in for so long has hurt, and I’m ready for all of you to know. And honestly, this is just the beginning.