Fighting for Hope: Elliott Grace Harvey’s Story – Conclusion

In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Conclusion


Mars Hill Church – 3 years
Mars Hill Church, though a cult, was my gateway drug to separating myself from IBLP and OPC. The act of attending a church with different beliefs was radical in and of itself.
Though not openly stated in so many words, the foundation of Mark Driscoll’s leadership in MHC was based on misogyny, over-emphasized masculinity, and a severe need for control. Because of the size of the church, there was some buffer between Driscoll and his church members in the form of hundreds of pastors, elders, deacons, small group leaders, and volunteers.
The following is a direct quote from Driscoll, part of his rant that set off a cascade of criticism that was the ultimate demise of MHC.

“Scrap all you want. Hurl insults. Throw your petty theological darts. Have a good cry. Whatever. But do not lose sight of the issue. At some point you will all learn that I don’t give a crap about how you “feel.” Why, because I am not talking about your right to your feelings. That is the result of feminism, psychology, and atheism which says we are all good and need to have freedom to express our goodness and receive goodness in kind. If you are a man I want to teach you a new word. Duty….My feelings and rights turn me into an idol of self-worship that mitigates against Him. I am screaming at you to do likewise. And yes I am screaming, why, because listen to all the noise we’ve got to cut through. Even from “Christian” men who are basically practical queers that freak out when a man shows up because it becomes obvious that they are completely pussified.” – Mark Driscoll, on men

During the time I was involved, I was fairly unscathed by the church, in contrast to the experiences of thousands of other MHC members. I joined a study group led by an elder that worked with Driscoll from the church’s infancy, and openly disagreed with some of his teaching. This study group had the most genuine and loving people I had encountered up to this point, many of whom I’m still in touch with. I embarked on another stage of my healing, simply by learning that there were good souls in the world.

The last two weeks I’ve mostly been very emotional, crying through a lot of stuff. But the moment I arrived and the service started, I relaxed and it all faded away. As much of a hassle it is to get to church I’m always glad I came. – Journal entry

While a member at MHC, I became deeply involved in their individual and group counseling. It was helpful to a point, learning to speak honestly about myself, especially since I couldn’t afford the financial and emotional toll of seeing a professional counselor.

Everything just hurts. I feel like I’m lying to everyone when I talk about dad being abusive. It’s such a heavy word. Was he really? What about all the good things? Does it matter how often one of us got hurt? I hate remembering everything. I hate rewriting my perspective constantly. – Journal entry

Unfortunately, I found myself entrenched in a bad relationship with my counselor.

There was a good deal of control that, thankfully, I was eventually able to identify and cut myself off from.

My small group leader was, and still is, supportive of me and my decision to leave the church.

After moving out of my parent’s house, I intentionally kept contact on good terms with my family for the sake of my siblings. I feared if I told anyone about what went on in that house, things could go horribly wrong. So I waited, careful not to talk to mandatory reporters, and made sure my siblings could contact me if there was an emergency.

Several years passed, and I ran across an article about a homeschooling fundamentalist leader being involved in a sex scandal. From this story I found and connected with Homeschoolers Anonymous, Recovering Grace, Mars Hill Refuge, and other groups. Even at the time I knew this would be a turning point in my life.

One month before finding this community, I penned the following:

I say my past doesn’t matter that much, that I love my family and that’s all that matters. I want it to be true, but it has directed my whole life. I never want to feel like that again. I suppose that leaves me here, believing that no one on this earth will love me more than my daddy does. Desperately holding onto it. And so so lost in the reality of the life that we had.
But. As long as nothing else is better. As long every other relationship I have is worse, as long as no one measures up, I can keep believing it. I don’t have to let go. I don’t have to acknowledge, truly to myself, that it’s not all in my head. That I’m not just misinformed, that it’s not my skewed perspective. This is where the lines become so clouded that I have no idea what’s even close to true. One is so ingrained that I think (I know) I’m lying to myself to say anything else.

On the Homeschoolers Anonymous website, I poured over dozens of stories from other homeschooled kids that were carbon copies of my family, I could have written them myself. Recovering Grace detailed the dangers of IBLP, and shared stories from others that were involved in the cult. I consumed everything I could find.

“I’m not the only one. I’m not crazy.”

Over and over those words played in my mind. I started realizing the truth of what my family and these groups were, and calling it for what it was.

“When you detached yourself from all the negativity in your life that’s when your spirit started to shine. You were more comfortable in your own skin; it was a beautiful transformation and I’m glad I got to be a witness to it.” – B

I was at a new job by this time, and my colleagues were my family. Every day I came to work with a new story, a new scandal that broke, something I had remembered. They walked me through the process of coming to terms with my history one day at a time.

This is from one of my coworkers at the time, remembering:

“When I met Grace, she wasn’t the Grace people know today. She was quiet, insecure, awkward, and uncertain. I have watched her transition from meek and scared to strong, independent, and free thinking. It seems surreal to see a transformation like this, the environment she was raised in suppressed her into being kind of a wounded animal. I personally watched her heal those wounds through knowledge of what was out there, that there was more out there. Once she was strong enough to leave she did, it wasn’t without pain or abandonment but now meeting her, you can see the strength and confidence; two words I would have never used to describe her a few years ago. Those wounds have since scarred over like armor, leaving her guarded and a little cold, but strong, stronger than I ever would have thought she could be.” – S

I called CPS and reported abuse of minors. I pled with my parents’ church for help. I talked to a lawyer. I made every effort to establish a point for my siblings to look back on. A time when I said that my parent’s behavior and ideology was wrong, and when I did everything I could help.

My father threatened to sue me if I talked to anyone.

My brother was scared for me, asked that I please not say anything. It was too late for me to shut up, and I certainly wasn’t about to.

I confronted my mother about what she could be doing now to get help, and to help us. To stop taking money and fighting to keep us out of school. She openly blamed us for the way they were sabotaging our lives. I cut off contact with my parents. Changed my name, job, moved away. I had taken a risk speaking up and wasn’t going to wait around to see how my father would react.

Ultimately everything I did hasn’t yet made any visible difference that I know of, beyond my own peace of mind. Life for me after getting out of it all is still hard in many ways, but it’s happy. I still deal with people I knew saying things like this:

“I want to tell you that I hope you will be happy, but I really don’t. …If you ever want to talk more about returning to the faith, please don’t hesitate to call or come over. Our home is open. May the Holy Spirit draw you to himself my dear. We love you.” – C

But I have dear friends that encourage me to fight for myself, and for kids that need someone to believe for them it’s possible to get out. To heal. To live free:

“You didn’t let your upbringing define you, or let it hold you back. You broke free, and are more yourself than 99% of the people in this world. You’re continuing to grow, and evolve and change. You’re still finding yourself, but the you that we all get to see is amazing. I wouldn’t change one thing about you. …You’re proving that you are who YOU decide to be. Not who your parents raised you to be. Spread your story girl. Hopefully some other repressed and sheltered girl (or boy) will somehow see it and get inspired to finally break out and live their life for themselves.” – J

Today I’m living more transparently, continuing to heal. Happily settled down with my partner, making good friends, writing, growing my career, involved in my community. Life is better than I could have hoped for.
_ _ _

Combing through years of my history to tell this story has been exhausting, but well worth it.
Throughout the process I felt a surreal sense of my past, the pain of my former self was so real and intense and hopeless – but I had forgotten. Life as I know it now is so far removed from that world.

“Even though my memory is messed up, the image of those big green eyes, so haunted, so sad; blossoming into a shining hope of, ‘really?’ That will never leave me.
Her name is Grace.
She is very much loved.” – A

It gets better. It gets so so much better.

Fight for it, reach for it, claw your way out to a new and better hope.

There was one phrase I repeated to myself over and over through the years of anguish, and it’s as true today as it was then:

– It can’t get better tomorrow, if you’re not here for it. –

What Happened When I Called the Cops on Dad

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 26, 2013.

I’ve been reading these stories of homeschool kids who were so scared of CPS. They were told that CPS were evil, would find any excuse to take them away, and that they would wind up in foster care situations where they would be horribly abused, physically and sexually, and where people hated them because they believed in God. They were told that the worst thing the foster care people would try to do was force you to reject Jesus and if you did, you would go to hell with them when you died.

Sadly, that fearmongering anti-CPS indoctrination was my story too. I was told the same thing. I was also not allowed to go outside in the yard on weekdays until we saw the Catholic schoolgirls through the window, walking down the sidewalk in their matching skirts, signifying that “school hours” were over. My parents were careful to keep us hidden from truancy police even if they weren’t careful to have us do any actual schoolwork.

Given all these years of instilled fear and propaganda, and how much I honestly believed a lot of it back then, I ended up doing something surprising as a teen, something that is still to this day the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and I figured I’d share it here.

Just to give you the background, I was 14 years old, my grandparents had recently forced my parents to put all of us in public school (I went into 9th grade), and my Dad still regularly did things like hit us with belts; slap, kick, and body slam us; yank our hair; drag us out of bed or out of the shower; and repeatedly slap us in the face. Often it looked and sounded a lot like this. As we got older and he increasingly lost control of us, as we started to question and oppose things more, the abuse just seemed to escalate. It was bad enough that today I have a “bum knee” and a pinched nerve in my upper back, both developed in my mid teens and neither attributable to any other cause than getting physically abused by my Dad, as I did not play sports.

The worst part of it all was seeing my siblings get hit (I either “tuned out” or fought back when I got hit) and I was concerned that one of them might get maimed or killed, particularly my younger brother, the eldest son, who always got it the worst. At public school I had recently learned that most people figured you were supposed to call 911 if something real bad was happening. I decided to give it a shot.

“I’m gonna call the police!” I said, but nobody seemed to notice. Dad was too busy hitting and shoving my brother and calling him names, and my brother was too busy curled up on the livingroom floor, trying to make himself as small and unhittable as is possible for a nine year old to do. I don’t know where anyone else was. It was a small old house with all the rooms pretty much connected to all the other rooms, but people still seemed to find ways to quickly disappear at times like this, except for me. I never seemed able to pull off the escaping thing very well, and by now I was thoroughly sick of it. I had also been told I was responsible for my siblings often enough that I believed it. I had decided I was going to do something radical and crazy. Even if foster care got us it couldn’t be worse than this, right?

I shouted about calling the cops again and again no one paid me any attention. I went into my parents’ bedroom and picked up the phone. I pushed the 911 buttons quickly so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. I could barely hear the sound of the operator’s voice over my own heartbeat. I told her “my Dad’s hitting my brother and won’t stop.” She calmly asked for the address and said “ok, we’re sending someone out there right away.” She asked me if I wanted to stay on the phone until they got there and I said no and then thanked her. It seemed I only had a moment to wait and then suddenly there were sirens. The police arrived and then two young men in blue were standing in the living room. I came out and sat on the old gold-colored couch in the living room in my ratty nightgown, stifling sobs. I suddenly felt embarrassed as I hadn’t brushed my teeth or washed my hair since waking up, and my face was red and stained with tears. I felt ugly and by the looks on their faces they seemed to think I was ugly too. They looked at my brother, standing there, bug-eyed, and then let him go in the other room, which he was in a hurry to do. Dad turned on the charm and told them a story of how he was disciplining his son, who had misbehaved and that I had just lost it and interfered. He told them I was wayward, and willful, and disrespectful and had cursed at him.

One cop took my Dad outside to hear more of this yarn, and the other one stayed to look at me sternly and lecture me on how I needed to be respectful to my father, accept punishment for bad behavior, and not curse at adults. I sat there, seething, saying nothing. You just don’t talk back to a cop, especially when you’re a 14 year old girl and he’s obviously taken sides and ignored all evidence that didn’t fit with what he wanted the situation to be. They didn’t even check my brother for bruises or marks (which he had). The cop looked only a few years older than me, not much taller. He apparently knew nothing about this type of situation and obviously didn’t want to learn more.

Mom was standing there in her nightgown, nervous and sinewy, arms folded tightly, with purple lips and a crazy, almost baffled expression. Her usual look when fights happened. The policeman tried to include her in the conversation about what I should and shouldn’t do. I glared at her and said “you know what was going on, and you never do anything.” Now it was time for her to play the victim. She looked at the cop with big child eyes and said that she believed children should be disciplined in a Godly manner and her husband was the head of the household, blah blah blah, but that she didn’t like it when he slapped the kids in the face and when he would get mad she just didn’t know what to do.

The cop then directed all of his attention at Mom, trying to ask her questions, probe deeper into this. He quickly discovered what everybody else already knew, that asking Mom any kind of yes or no question and expecting any kind of direct or conclusive answer was an exercise in futility. She gave him a few long, indirect run-on sentences about nothing. He became bored and joined the other cop outside with Dad. I looked out the window and saw them talking on the gravel driveway, just along the fence line. Dad was standing inside the gate and they were standing outside. His body language showed that he probably wanted to kick them off the property altogether but instead was being submissive and deferential and thinking he might be in trouble. I looked at my brother, who’d come back in the living room, still bug-eyed, to look out the window with me. He said “you shouldn’t have done that, Heather.” I turned away from him as my heart sank and I sobbed. I’d done this for him. I didn’t want him to get killed. I looked back out the window.

The two policemen looked comfortable, chatting with Dad easily. One of them came back up to the door to tell Mom that they’d spoken to him and told him that corporal punishment was ok, but that slapping your kids in the face is not included or allowed. They said they’d also told him that if they had to be called back out here, he’d be arrested. They were leaving now. That cop didn’t even look at me again, still sitting on the couch. I didn’t matter. I felt so alone, terrified. I figured I was probably going to end up dead. Dad would kill me and I would be buried in the ground somewhere and no one would ever find me! They were leaving and he was coming back inside and I knew he was furious, and…suddenly I wasn’t scared anymore. I was a ghost, floating up above my left side, looking down at the ugly gold couch with the ugly teen girl on it, saying “hmmm, I wonder what’s gonna happen to that girl, Heather?”

Dad walked into the house and I stopped dissociating. I wasn’t a ghost anymore. I was me and all I could hear was my heartbeat. I wasn’t afraid. I would meet death straight on and show no emotion. I would look expressionless. He would not get any begging for anything from me. He stepped into the kitchen and instead of showing anger, he looked over at me with the saddest betrayed eyes I had ever seen him look at me with. He seemed like a little child that someone had punched. He slowly looked at me again and then averted his eyes, seeming to not bear to even see me anymore. He spoke to Mom in a sad voice and said “I can’t believe you didn’t support me. I don’t even have a good Christian wife that supports me.” He brushed off her attempts at conversation and sadly shuffled into the bedroom to lay down. Mom tried to go in and talk to him but he said “just leave me alone,” in the same sad resentful voice, and she ended up coming out and cleaning the kitchen table instead. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t smacked or yelled at or killed! I was still on the couch and nothing had happened to me.

The next day at school I felt exhausted and mentioned to the boy I liked in computer science class that I’d called the cops on my Dad. He looked at me, shocked, and said “Wow, that’s terrible!” He didn’t ask any questions and kept playing Doom, so I kept playing Oregon Trail, feeling worse than usual every time my pioneer family drowned in a creek or starved to death. I felt guilty. Maybe it was terribly wrong to call the police on a parent. It sure felt wrong, but so did a lot of things. Was it more wrong to treat your own kids like that? Was it wrong to be a cop that’s stupid and doesn’t pay attention when it’s your job? What was I supposed to do? Accept that it was corporal punishment and it was ok, we deserved it? I just couldn’t. Getting hit had just always felt wrong, disrespectful. I decided I wouldn’t say anything else to people at school though. Apparently that just wasn’t a good idea. Still, the more I thought about what happened when I called the cops, the more I felt angry. I was still afraid and on guard the next few days, thinking there was a chance I might still have it coming from Dad.

All that week he didn’t speak to me or interact with me, except once to tell me “Grammy wants to talk to you,” and hand me the phone. I picked it up and she started yelling on the other end. She was attempting to tell me what a terrible child I was for calling the police on Dad. I tried to explain to her what was going on, because she’d listened and tried to help when I’d told her stuff before, but she just couldn’t hear me over all of her own yelling. I finally told her I knew I did the right thing and she just didn’t know. She got me to promise her that next time there was a problem, I’d call her, not the police. It was an easy promise to make because after what had happened and how those cops were, I didn’t plan on ever calling them again anyway.

After that everybody stopped mentioning that I’d called the cops on Dad. The only reminder was that he seemed to try and show more self control. He stopped getting the belt or the red stick, even if he still threatened to use them. If we did something he didn’t like, he would put us “on restriction,” his term for grounded, in back-to-back two week increments (which would usually end up being extended for months on end), and when he did lose it, he was more likely to only corner or intimidate us, and if he did hit us, only leave bruises where clothes or hair would cover them up. Also, now he had to be careful because every time he lost it on somebody, Mom would scream “I’m gonna call the police! I’m gonna call the police!” She never did call on him though.

The abuse ended for me when I moved out at age 17 after Dad knocked me over in a chair, chipping my front tooth. The abuse ended for my siblings two years later when Dad moved out and my parents divorced.

Two years ago my brother, now 25, and I finally talked about the time I called the police, our first time ever discussing it since it had happened. He said he was sorry for telling me I shouldn’t have called back then, that he had thought what was happening to him was just routine, normal, and that what I did was what was out of line, extreme. He said looking back he was glad that I called, that he felt it was a “wake up call” to Dad and while things still weren’t ok after that, they got better. I cried when he said that.

There was certainly no need for him to say sorry for anything he’d said as a little boy, but his words now, as a grown man affirming that I’d done the right thing, meant so much to me. Nobody had ever told me that. Back then everyone had acted like I was very much in the wrong, a person who betrayed my family.

I look back and feel so very thankful that I somehow had the guts to fight that fight, that my siblings and I all survived it, and that the younger ones can just be kids and don’t have to go through any such stuff.