The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Seventeen

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HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on March 27, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Sixteen

Part Seventeen: A Different God

Though I had experienced my first real encounter with God, my life didn’t just suddenly get better. But it was the first step of a long journey back to God. I had to realize that a relationship with God was something that slowly grew, not something you could bring to instant fulfillment by following the “Rules to Godliness”.

I had to get to know God as a person, not a formula to follow.

But these are really my thoughts in hindsight. In the moment, all I knew was that I had been given enough gas in the tank to keep going a little longer.

The next step on my journey was my discovery of G. K. Chesterton.  I first read his Father Brown mysteries and loved his funny little priest. Then I read some of his other fiction, and then…Orthodoxy. I was simultaneously attracted and perplexed by jolly Mr. Chesterton. Everything he said was simple and straightforward and a genuine expression of his joy in his God.

But how could he find such joy and beauty where I only felt dread?

I decided he must know something I didn’t, and I delved into his books with the hunger of a starving man.

I found a different God there than the one I grew up with. This God was affectionate, happy, ridiculously pleased with the small antics of His earthly children. This God was a laughing God. Even in His solemnity, He still had a secret twinkle in His eye, like someone pretending to be stern but secretly holding a treat behind his back. I LIKED this God! I could conceive of not being afraid of Him. Chesterton taught about the Romance of Christendom, and I drank it in, because in his joyful God, I found just what I needed to combat the poison of my childhood. I found the same joy running through all of his books and his poems, which I fell in love in. This “joy without a cause”, as he once described it, fascinated and pulled me despite my misgivings. I desperately wanted to believe in this God who prompted such a joy.

In reading Chesterton, I found permission to start to enjoy the little things in life again. To experience the pleasure of a good book, a bowl of dessert, a solitary walk under the stars, without feeling God’s disapproval.

Each moment of enjoyment was still couched in the context of my parents’ displeasure.

But somehow, despite their rejection of everything I found joy in, despite their calling it “foolishness” and labeling me “irresponsible and immature” for pursuing such things, I continued to allow myself small pleasures. And in a way, they gave me back both my hope, and God.

Outwardly, over the next year or so, there were also some changes. I was happier. I made a few friends, including a best friend whose friendship I enjoyed for the next 5 years or so. I started college at a state university. I probably argued and debated with my parents even more than before. I no longer accepted their worldview, and the inevitable clash was often intense. I would have 6-hour arguments with my dad till the small hours of the morning, only ending when we were both so tired that our sleep-addled brains could no longer form meaningful sentences.

Inwardly, I came to a new crossroads. I was forced to the conclusion that there was one major thing holding me back from a relationship with God: I didn’t trust Him. At some point I heard or read somewhere a simple explanation of what Trust was. It was compared to a chair. You can SAY you trust a chair to hold your weight…you can look at it, and make all sorts of calculations to decide its load-bearing capacity…but ultimately none of it counts until you sit down in that chair. If you trust the chair, you’ll sit down in it. If you don’t trust the chair, you’ll stay standing.

I was definitely standing. All of my combined life experiences fought with desperate strength against even the idea of sitting down.

I had more than enough proof that it wasn’t safe to trust anyone, especially not God.

Not only had all the authority figures in my life either failed to protect me, or taken part in my abuse — but they told me they did so at the bidding of God. Even the thought of trusting God enough to let any control slip from my fingers was enough to produce gut-wrenching, nausea-inducing panic.

My mind rebelled and fought against it on one side, and God gently pulled me from the other.

It took me weeks of wrestling with myself. But I did it. I took a mental catalogue of my fears – of everything God might ask me to do, or take away from me, and I went down the list, fear after fear, and chose to accept the possibility of every one. That was really the scariest thing. Once I won the battle in my mind, the rest was just a formality. I sat down in that figurative chair.

And for the first time in my life, I chose to trust God.

Joel Dinda via photopin cc

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Fifteen

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

<Part Fourteen

Part Fifteen: Black Days Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Sixteen>

Joel Dinda via photopin cc