Relationships, A Series: Part Three — The Calm Before The Storm

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 9.52.55 AM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part Three of this series was originally published on May 23, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation

*****

Part Three — The Calm Before The Storm

Phil made me feel safe.

There really is no other way to put it, other than that he truly makes me feel safe, protected. As I write this I can only think of how much this miraculous man has kept life in me and has committed himself to loving me with all that he is. He has done nothing but firmly stuck with me through some of the worst parts in my life. He has wiped tears from my eyes when I no longer had strength to do it and he held me close when the outside storms threatened to overturn our little boat.

He’s pretty awesome, people, and that is becoming even more clear and obvious to me as I gain a clearer perspective of our story.

*****

Phil started telling me that if he ever started his own company he wanted me to be his secretary. I asked him why, and he told me that I had some of the most efficient writing skills he had ever seen and that I was at the top of the list (I honestly think I was the list!). He loved my ideas about projects and we were constantly coming up with ideas that we could do together. We were an odd mix of very outgoing and incredibly introverted. We were most happy when brainstorming in the corner at a party than being in the midst of all of the action.

By the time we had known each other for 5 months we were best friends in the sincerest form of the word. Ever since letting go of my tightly held idea of marrying a tall man I had started realizing that Phil was a man that I would be willing to spend the rest of my life with, but I had no idea what he thought of me. So I somehow very easily pushed my feelings of romantic interest in him back and just let myself enjoy the awesome friendship we had.

I am glad we had such a deep friendship before “falling in love.”  In fact, I’d say that it was our deep friendship that actually made loving each other a natural next step.

I am a huge advocate of being best friends with your husband.

For his birthday I planned a surprise birthday party. I wanted it to only be his closest friends and just an opportunity to hang out, eat pizza, and play games. He just about ruined the surprise when a day before his birthday he sent an email to all of the people I had invited, saying that all of them were welcome to stop by for his birthday. His sister and I managed to contact everyone and let them know to play it cool about dropping by. We did actually surprise him and it was a great party!

A few days later, Phil told me that he wanted to send me something. I raced up to the library that day, and opened the email he had sent me, only to discover a song that he had written for me. It even had my name in it! (Cheesy, I know, I know, but it was pretty significant to me! I still work that song into some of the piano compositions I make up these days.) I was floored. Here was a guy who had told me a month ago that he wouldn’t get into a relationship until after college. Here was a guy who seemed to genuinely enjoy my company, going so far as to write a song that was specifically for me.

And yet, as he told me later, he still wouldn’t admit that he “liked” me.

At the same time as our friendship was reaching deep, our church was putting on an original production of Pilgrim’s Progress. I was doing costumes and Phil was in the play. The play provided a convenient location for us to see each other and to spend time together. There was rarely a time when we weren’t talking a mile a minute and discussing all of our marvelous ideas. I also discovered that he thought pretty much the same things as I did on a number of random topics, but he had just enough variance in his thinking that it made for fantastic conversations.

From February to April (we met in October of the year before), our friendship started changing very subtly. Phil wrote several very long letters to me during that period, and I still have those letters tucked away in my memory box. During those months, we hit a strange rough spot.

He sent me an email one day and told me that he wanted to take Spring Break that year to think and pray about our friendship specifically.

I was taken aback but readily agreed to cut back communication. I think even though he still wouldn’t have admitted it at that point, he was falling hard for me and that was freaking him out especially since he was barely through the first half year of college. This meant that his plans for the future were being drastically shaken.

The end of that week landed on the birthday party of the mutual friend who had introduced us. I was very unsure about going, especially because I didn’t want to lose Phil’s friendship. The week of limited communication had been hard. Seeing him at the party was one of those moments where a sweet calm washed over me and I knew instantly that everything was going to be okay, there was no way on earth I was going to lose this guy. We were some of the last people to be dancing on the dance floor that night. We danced for over two hours, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company and having a total blast. Our friendship very much deepened after that week, but there was also that one crucial thing left unsaid, so there was a creeping awkwardness. We started seeing more of each other as opening night for the play started creeping ever nearer. Rehearsals were frequent but were also very busy. I spent a lot of time repairing and managing a huge 20 x 40 (I think that’s how big it was, probably bigger) foot piece of canvas that was part of one of the scenes. I still managed to see a lot of Phil, and as most mothers are, we started getting comments about how often we were hanging out together.

I started having friends come up to me to ask if I was guarding my heart.

No really, I’m serious.

I started getting really annoyed and frustrated with all of these people putting their noses into something that seriously wasn’t any of their business.

That’s what we get for having been in the famous, I Kissed Dating Goodbye Josh Harris’ church.

It all came down to the Thursday night before opening week. I was having to fix a major rip in the canvas, and was seated on the floor of one of the gyms, hand sewing and trying to get the thing patched up. (I hated that canvas by the end of that opening week! I was fixing it after almost every rehearsal) Phil, of course, was a very frequent visitor to my misery and on that particular evening, I had at least 4 people come up to me and question my judgement about hanging out with Phil.

By the time the evening was over, I was furious, at Phil (even though it wasn’t his fault that we both enjoyed hanging out so much), at everyone who had talked with me, and with myself, and most importantly the canvas. Phil came to say goodbye to me, but I was less than cordial as it was now coming up on three hours that I had painstakingly been hand sewing that wretched canvas. I was so uneasy and upset, and as I went home that night I felt like something was about to happen.

Something most definitely happened the next day. The first sign was that Phil wasn’t answering any of my texts, nor was he online. I felt a far reaching sense of foreboding as I made my way to rehearsal that afternoon. I still had a bit of the canvas to finish fixing, but I was mostly anxious to see Phil. I knew something was wrong.  I was among the first crowd of people to show up at rehearsal, and I immediately knew he hadn’t gotten there yet. I knew the moment he arrived and my heart and stomach reached my throat when I caught sight of his face.

Something was definitely wrong and I raced out the door, frantically calling one of my best friends.

Phil and our mutual friend headed in the opposite direction. My friend thankfully picked up after the first two rings and I started breathlessly telling her that something was about to go down and I desperately needed pray. “Pray, and pray hard. I’ll call you in 20 minutes,” I told her. While on the phone with her, the mutual friend called me and wanted to know where I was. She was soon walking towards me as I stood in the middle of the field at the back of church. She told me that Phil needed to talk with me and that he wanted her to be there as well.

My heart barely beat as I felt my limbs turning to molasses. This was it, I thought, this was what I had been waiting for all day. I walked up to where Phil was waiting for me barely breathing, and my heart just about stopped as I saw how pale, teary-eyed, and sick he looked. I still feel the panic in my stomach as I write this out, even though it’s been 4 years since this moment. I waited blindly for him to start talking as I watched him look at me with heavy concern. He rushed through words that I can hardly remember him saying. He said something that my friendship meant the world to him, and that he wanted me to always remember that. Then he dropped the bomb.

“We can’t be friends anymore. We can’t talk, email, chat, or text, nor can we hang out in the same group.” 

He said something about this being his parents’ decision, and then asked if I had anything to say. I don’t remember responding, and in that moment, I was closer to fainting than I have ever been.

For the second time in three years, my heart was completely shattered.

The very person who had been keeping me breathing and moving for the past six months was being ripped from me.

*****

To be continued.

Enough Already with the Modesty and Purity Hype

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 27, 2013.

The other day my 18-yr old daughter posted this picture on my Facebook with the comment, “What I tell you every time”:

modesty

It cracked me up. But what was interesting to me was noticing the large amount of Facebook friends, also former homeschool kids, who were clicking the “like” button. It was as if they were saying, “Yea, what she said!” I loved some of the exchange in the comments.

Our good friend who acts like our adopted son, who opens our front door without knocking, and raids our fridge commented:

Was he a beautiful black man like myself?

His comment got a few likes. I laughed. My 23-yr old son replied:

Yet when guys do that it’s looked down upon…sinful…creeper status…et cetera. Oh the irony.

Ouch! I think he’s right. There does seem to be a distinction that it’s semi-okay for girls to look at guys, but not the other way around.

Several years ago in 2007, there was a modesty survey put out by homeschoolers, Brett and Alex Harris (Brett and Alex’s dad is Gregg Harris’ son, homeschooling pioneer and ther older brother is Pastor Josh Harris, of Covenant Life Church in MD).

Here’s an excerpt from the survey page:

The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007. For more information, click here.

It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author,Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author ofEvery Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).

TheRebelution.com is the home of Alex and Brett Harris and online headquarters for the Rebelution, defined as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”

This survey started out in homeschool circles and quickly spread throughout young teens and adults in Christendom all over the internet, denominations, states, and even the world. I believe the modesty survey was well-intentioned, but the results have not been all positive. Instead, we have discovered a host of other issues that lie beneath the church’s sometimes over-emphasis on modesty and purity.

In the aftermath of the modesty survey, some young men policed the clothing of their female friends and graded the way she dressed by a modesty scale in their head. The way she dressed became a distraction, interfering with relationships. Young ladies were told that they might cause a man to stumble by the way she dressed and this created a lot of pain for young ladies who were burdened with a responsibility they really had no business carrying. And then we had the issue of what to do with young ladies who had curvy figures and no matter what clothes were worn, the curves could not be hidden. Some young ladies resorted to changing eating habits which led to eating disorders to lose weight in order to minimize those curves. Didn’t God create those beautiful curves? Wow, this modesty thing was now crossing the lines into intentionally altering one’s appearance because of not passing a “modesty” scale.

I don’t want to get into all of the problems that came out of this survey because it is very easy to do a Google search and you could spend days reading blog articles and sometimes hundreds of comments on particular popular articles. I really was hoping that after 6 years and hundreds of articles that this subject would die down.

Wouldn’t you know it, the same authors of the infamous modesty survey at the Rebelution blog just last week published a new article: The Other Side of Modesty, this time dealing with guys and how they dress. Really? Do we need to go there? I suppose maybe the young ladies might appreciate a little pushback or balance from their sisters in Christ, but come on. Can we be done with this already?

At our former church, there was almost an obsession on modesty and the topic of sexual immorality came up quite a bit. This was a common verse we heard and probably most of us have it memorized just because we heard it so often:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

I think sometimes we confuse looking with lusting. And that is important to note.

I have a funny story from several years ago. Now, this is “my” version because my young adult kids have a slightly different version. But until they have their own blogs, you get to read my version.

My daughter, Hannah, was probably around 19 yrs old or so and driving with her learner’s permit, so I was in the passenger seat, and my other daughter who was around 12 years old was in the back seat. A police officer pulled us over because of a burned out brake light. Let me be straight up. The police officer was a fine-looking human specimen and while my kids were used to hearing from the pulpit about how evil and lustful our eyes are, after the police officer went back to his patrol car, I said aloud to my daughters that I wouldn’t mind being pulled over again by that officer. If I remember correctly, there was a pause and then some surprised laughter coming from the girls. Their mother, a married woman said that? They were not expecting that comment from me and frankly, I don’t know if I was expecting that comment to slip out, either. Oh well, it came out loud and clear.

Did I cross the line? Some might think so. I don’t agree. You see, there seems to be a fuzzy line that brings confusion and can start to border on legalism, if not into full-fledge legalism. We were created in God’s image. God saw that what He created was good. At that moment, when I noticed that cop, and acknowledged what God had created was good and called it as such, some people have a problem with that because they think of verses like this:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Was I looking at this guy with lust? No! He was just nice looking guy. Don’t you think everyone from teens all the way through adulthood know when we are looking at someone with lust? Everybody knows what that feels like — you know – – those feelings we get in our body, the places our mind goes. It’s a no-brainer. My brain did none of those things when I looked at that fine specimen.

I have read of men being physically attracted to women dressed in full Muslim attire with burqa and head coverings. Isn’t that something? We need to realize that women and men, no matter how they dress, will be eye candy for someone. We’ve got two issues going on and I think if we look at these two issues in a non-legalistic way, we can find some helpful guidelines.

• Looking is not the same as lusting. It’s okay to appreciate God’s creation. The key is to do it without lusting. We all know when we have crossed that line. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us those signs that are happening in our body. If you happened to cross that line, acknowledge it, ask God to forgive you, and move on knowing that His grace is sufficient for you and me.

• Dress modestly. I think most of us can figure out what that means and I also think that as we mature in Christ, the boundary lines may change from time to time. We all know when we are dressing with the intent to attract the opposite sex and we all know what it’s like to dress when we are going to see grandma and grandpa. This is pretty simple. We can figure this out.

As a homeschooling mom of 20+ years, I fell into the modesty/purity hype and created all sorts of rules for my kids. I regret that it had negative consequences in my family. I’ve stopped obsessing about hemlines, etc. When I stopped obsessing about my boys walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall and turning the television channel when we saw a young lady wearing a bikini on television, amazingly, my children stopped obsessing.

So, in conclusion, I hope we can learn to treat one another with love and grace on this topic… and appreciate God’s creation

A Courtship Story

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on November 28, 2012.

*****

Note from Julie Anne:

Over the past couple months, I’ve been sharing bits and pieces of the homeschooling movement as it ties in with abuse in churches.  I’ve connected a number of times with Chryssie Rose who reads here and is also a blogger and asked if she could share her courtship story here and she graciously accepted my request. I encourage you to take some time to read some of Chryssie’s articles on her blog, Beautiful Disarray.  She is one of the bloggers who was raised in the homeschooling movement I have been referring to.  We will be seeing a growing number of bloggers lilke Chryssie Rose, you can be sure.  As these young adults are detaching (escaping might be an apt word, too, it certainly was for my daughter) from their childhood families, they are thinking back through their lives and questioning what they went through.  Most young adults go through this process – it is normal.  But what is not normal is the amount of residual scars from this upbringing.  That is why I want to continue to give these young adults a platform on my blog because this lifestyle of excessive parental control continues in many churches right now.  

It is important in this story that you understand Chryssie’s family background as it is key to her story.  Chryssie lived in a patriarchal home and was the eldest of 9 children.  Her father moved around quite a bit because of his job, but in each place in which the family lived, they attended churches influenced by the homeschooling movement:  full-quiver, patriarchycourtship, and modesty and purity teachings.  Chryssie’s family eventually ended up at a Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) church in Maryland.  SGM churches have a high concentration of homeschool families, so Chyrssie’s family fit comfortably there.  From what I’ve heard, SGM may not preach full-quiver lifestyle from the pulpit, but Chyrssie’s family would surely find other like-minded full-quiver families there.  Courtship, not dating is the expectation at SGM churches.

*****

My family had just started going to a new church, and even though I knew a good number of people already, I hadn’t met any guys that I really liked.  A friend of my mom’s jokingly told me that I would find the guy I married at this new church.  I was adamant I wouldn’t. I honestly had had several different crushes, but I had this expectation, as probably most girls in my situation, that a guy would come to my dad and ask to court me. Then my dad would say yes, and we would walk out a relationship like the ones in all of the courtship books – a sweet, pretty, maybe slightly tear-inducing, love story.

It couldn’t have been further from the reality of what my relationship with my husband ended up looking like.

When I met the guy who became my husband, I really didn’t expect anything to come out of it. It was in October, over 4 years ago, and even though I felt like God told me to keep an eye on this guy, he wasn’t really attractive to me.  I couldn’t marry someone I wasn’t attractive too. I hadn’t expected to be in any sort of relationship right out of high school, nor did I expect to be in any sort of relationship any time soon.  My dad used to joke that he wouldn’t let me get married until I was 30. I knew he was joking, but I also knew he meant it too. I wasn’t going to get married unless it was on his time, and his time alone. I really didn’t know what my parents had in mind when it came to relationships for their children. I never had a conversation with my parents about what it would look like for me when I got into a relationship. Being the oldest, my parents had never had to think about that sort of thing, ever.

A mutual friend introduced this guy to me, and I thought this could be a good friend. I’ll call him Daniel.  A few weeks after first meeting, I started getting to know Daniel. He was funny, very quirky, had very different interests than a lot of other guys I knew, and yet, I liked it. I was having to deal with a lot of stress from my family’s situations (you can read more about that on my blog).  It was really good to just have a friend I could talk to and not have to talk about my family’s stuff. He began guessing, though, about different things, and I soon realized that I could trust Daniel, and yeah, I kind of liked him now.

During the first 6 months of our friendship, things escalated quickly. It became clear to me that this guy was worth keeping around, and I definitely liked him. I was about 99.9% positive that he liked me too. Up to this point, we were just friends, and our parents weren’t involved at all. We were graduating from high school, and he had told me several times that he wasn’t going to be in any sort of relationship until he was done with college. That was what his mom wanted him to do, and it seemed like “wisdom” to do so. I didn’t argue with him, but it made it harder when I finally admitted to a close friend that I really, really liked him.

Conflict with Parents

It was about that 6-month mark when his parents realized that we were talking a lot and becoming very close friends. My mom, I think, was aware of my friendship with him, but I sincerely doubt my dad was aware, especially due to his reaction to the events that transpired next.

Daniel’s parents decided to step in and intervene, and tell him that he needed to cut off all communication with me. He didn’t agree with his parents, but did it anyway. He pulled me aside at church the next day and tearfully told me we couldn’t talk anymore. No emails, texts, chatting, or talking in person and in groups. I was heartbroken, but I knew that this wasn’t the end.

I went home, in tears, and told my mom what happened. She didn’t say anything, but when I told my dad, he gave me an awkward side hug and told me that if my heart was hurting, I did something wrong. I knew right then and there, I wasn’t going to get any support or understanding from my dad in this.  We asked both of our parents multiple times to get everyone together so we could come up with guidelines for a friendship, so we could at least be friends. They refused, but did meet at his parent’s home a few times, but each time, came away from the meeting with a very different view on what was supposed to go on. My dad was determined that we wouldn’t be allowed to talk at all. He even told me that there was no need for us to talk and to stop asking if we could. Throughout the entire separation, our feelings for each grew instead of diminishing. We kept asking for the parents to let us talk and to come up with guidelines for us. And they continued to refuse. I got chewed out by my dad if I was even seen around Daniel at church. I went through those months like a ghost. I felt nothing, and it felt like half of my heart had been torn out of me. Yeah, I know that’s cliche, but I’m serious, I felt nothing.

We finally had had it about 6 months after we had been told to stop talking. I called Daniel up one day and asked him bluntly what he felt for me. He immediately told me that he loved me and was 100% sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. That was a breath of fresh air to my ears. We decided that we were going to take things into our own hands because our parents continued to not believe that they needed to do anything and that everything between us was over. We spent about a week coming up with a list of guidelines that we felt our parents would be quite okay with. We even had a couple, who became mentors for us, look it over and help us put it together. We decided that we would then bring it to the parents that coming Sunday, after Daniel officially asked my dad to court me.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom or dad that mad at me after Daniel left my family’s house that Sunday. Both of my parents were raging mad and wanted to know how I could be so disrespectful and dishonoring of them. I still, to this day, do not understand quite what I did wrong.  Once again, after our parents calm down, there was no agreement made about us getting to talk. We never got to show our parents our relationship guidelines, and we were treated with much condemnation for having “disrespected and dishonored” our parents. My dad felt very disrespected by Daniel and couldn’t believe he had the gall to come and ask my dad to court me.

We seriously thought that our parents at least would be willing to listen to us. I honestly didn’t expect my dad would be so courteous to Daniel’s face, but then stab him in the back when he wasn’t around to defend himself. My dad’s poor opinion of him was shocking to me, and I couldn’t believe that my dad would be so condescending. Over the next few months we suffered through wanting to talk, knowing we really loved each other, and sneaking moments alone at church, or passing each other thumb drives with songs, letters, or just class schedules on them so I knew what he was up to with school.

In total, Daniel asked my dad 4 times to court me. Every time, going above and beyond, to get my dad’s approval, and yet, my dad would twist Daniel’s words, never give him a clear answer to any of Daniel’s questions, and my dad would brush me off anytime I tried to sit down and ask why we couldn’t be in a relationship.  My dad kept telling me that I was making an idol out of this relationship, and I was lusting after Daniel. My mom backed my dad up and neither of my parents seemed to believe that God could speak to me or that I could possibly even love this guy.

A year and a few months after first having met Daniel, we got the pastors involved, and both of us tried to communicate with our pastor the difficulties we were having with our parents not hearing us out. The pastor kept telling us to just keep working on our individual parental relationships and that was all we could do. Being members at a church that strongly supported Joshua Harris’ courtship books, we didn’t have any say in how our relationship was supposed to happen. It was “wisdom” to let our parents rule our lives.

Over the course of that year, we met with pastors, we met with pastors and our parents, individually, and met with each other trying to figure out how to help our parents hear us and listen to our hearts. We spent hours on the phone talking with our mentors.

Year 2

Around the 2nd year of trying to get our relationship off the ground, Daniel decided to take my dad out to a nice restaurant and ask him one last time to court me. One of the recurring concerns my dad had was that we would never be able to get married because we couldn’t support ourselves financially. I actually had a really good job, and Daniel and I had no problem with the fact that I would be providing most of the income. But my dad, even though my mom had paid for him to get through college, didn’t believe that a woman should be the main supporter in the family. I even pointed out that that is exactly what my mom had done, but he told me that I couldn’t take what other people had done and use that as a guideline for myself. So for this last meeting, Daniel and I had come up with a very reasonable budget, and we had had several people look it over for us to make sure we weren’t missing anything substantial. My dad, once again, in a very roundabout way, said no. His reasons were that because Daniel didn’t have a very high paying job, didn’t own a house, wasn’t financially stable, and hadn’t graduated college yet, he would never be allowed to marry me.

See, my dad has this idea that the only kind of man who is going to be allowed to marry any of his daughters, is the kind of man who has everything, and is well into his 30s.   And the fact that this young, college-attending poor guy was willing to bow down to the great and mighty dad was revolting to my dad. How dare he ask when the budget Daniel gave him was so insufficient. I asked my dad why he didn’t believe our budget was good, and the only thing he said was wrong with it was we didn’t have enough money put aside for car repairs. That was it!

We finally had had it, and in July secretly got engaged. I even got a gorgeous ring and everything. We kept it a secret for about a week, telling only our mentors. We then decided to tell our parents together. Meaning, he told his parents at the same time I told mine so that neither sets of parents would hear it from each other, but directly from us. Oh, and the clincher is, we were going to tell them that we were going to be getting married in 30 days.  We finally told them;  I told my parents at home, Daniel called his parents from work.  My dad said, no, you’re not engaged, and I argued with him for a few minutes before just leaving it. I said we were engaged and that was that. Then got up and walked away. Daniel’s parents blew up at him and he had siblings calling him, sobbing to him over the phone, asking why he could be so disrespectful of his parents. I ended up going to meet him at his work because he started losing it.

By this point, we were sick of trying to hide our feelings and actually started going out on actual dates. The first real date we had was about 2 years after we had first met.  After we announced our engagement to the parents, our pastors contacted us and wanted to meet with us. In that meeting they told us that respecting and honoring our parents looked like us calling off the engagement. We told them that we didn’t have any problem calling off the getting married in 30 days thing, but nope, we were putting our foot down with the engagement, and we were still engaged. The pastors let it go, but the parents didn’t. They kept accusing us of not listening to God because the pastors had told us to break the engagement and we said no. We have no regrets about getting engaged or putting our foot down with letting our parents guilt-trip us into doing what they want. We knew that the instance we gave in, everything we were working hard to stand by would crumble, and we would not be allowed to see each other again. We were dubbed, unofficially, the bad kids in the singles ministry at church, and rarely did anyone want to know what was going on because in their minds, we were disobeying God because we were “disobeying” our parents and not listening to the pastors.

Year 3

Another year went by, and we were still not married, but we were together for everything. Because of my job, I wasn’t home much, and then because of Daniel, I was home even less than I would be if he wasn’t around. My mom kept telling me that dad wasn’t happy that I wasn’t helping her out with my 8 siblings, or helping make dinner or clean the house. I told her there was no way possible that I could do all that. I was gone from 8:30 in the morning till 7 at night, and only got two days free a month. I wanted nothing to do with home life, especially since my dad and I weren’t on speaking terms…again, and mom and I weren’t exactly on the best of terms either.  Another half a year went by and we were yet again trying to pick a third wedding date.  We finally managed to get both sets of parents and sit down all together to talk.  After 3 years of dealing with all of the crap, we finally got to sit down with the parents. But, it was honestly too late for us. We were so done with the way they were dealing with us, we wanted out.  Daniel’s dad tried to encourage my dad to rectify his and my relationship, but I knew my dad had no intention of doing so.

Let me say something about my in-laws. They are great parents, and really, if my dad had been open with them about his issues with internet porn addictions and how he deals with my family, I don’t believe that Daniel’s parents would have been so easily manipulated by my dad. They weren’t really involved in the whole relationship process since it was their son asking me out, not a guy asking one of their daughters out. Also, Daniel did not grow up in a legalistic, patriarchal home. His family is surprisingly normal. By the time this group meeting came about, his parents had been filled in completely of my family’s issues and were suddenly 100% for Daniel and I getting married. They finally understand and realized all of the crap we had had to put up with from my dad.  They were very sorry for the part they had unknowingly played in making things more difficult for us. Those are the kind of parents I really hope and pray Daniel and I can be some day.

Less than a week after this meeting, my dad and I got together for a coffee date. He told me that prior month he had been seriously considering kicking me out. When asked why, he told me that he was very frustrated that I wasn’t helping my mom out around the house. I told him that I couldn’t. I had a job and I had an obligation to that job to be prompt with my hours and those hours didn’t allow for me to be at home. He didn’t seem to hear me. Two weeks later, he told me that I had two weeks to move out.  He was tired of dealing with me, and didn’t have time to deal with me anymore.  He also told me that I was a bad influence on my siblings and he wanted me gone.

The Wedding and Conclusion 

Three months after that, we got married, with my mom’s support and Daniel’s parents support. Oh, and guess what –  the pastors supported us too. We have now been married for a year and a half, and life has been amazing, and we have been doing amazingly well financially even with Daniel still being in school.

I look back over our story and see so many things we will never do with our children. The first, and biggest thing would be that we will never force them to obey us at all costs. We want to be there for our children and sincerely listen to them when they are trying to work through tough relationships. We also know that no relationship is the same, and it is our goal to treat our children’s relationships as such. We want to get down to our children’s level, and we both know that because of what we’ve been through, that gives us so much more understanding that we can give to our children. The way my dad treated Daniel and me through our whole pre-marriage relationship is something I never want to see repeated.

I never want to question my child’s faith or that they can hear from God. The fact that my dad tried his ultimate best to make me believe that I was being lustful and idolatrous when I sincerely believed I wasn’t has made a huge impact on my faith. It took a long time for me to get over questioning my salvation because of how my dad treated me. It seemed that everything my dad did and said was for his own glory and his own control over me. I talked with my mom later and asked her if how my dad responded had anything to do with him feeling jilted because I hadn’t asked permission to like this guy. She told me it probably had a lot to do with that. My dad craved control and when I denied him the reigns of my relationship with Daniel, he lost it. To this day, I do not talk with my dad and I don’t anticipate resorting any sort of relationship with him until he changes.

And that, is a summary of my husband’s and my relationship. Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you all!

I Can’t Tell My Story Without A Trigger Warning: Elizabeth’s Story

I Can’t Tell My Story Without A Trigger Warning: Elizabeth’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Elizabeth” is a pseudonym.

*****

Trigger warnings: this story contains graphic and detailed descriptions of rape, physical abuse, the physical results of abuse, and religious apologisms for both physical and sexual abuse of children.

*****

I can’t tell my story without a trigger warning. I try writing it without describing physical and sexual abuse and it just doesn’t work. It could get graphic.

I just spent the last half an hour sitting in the corner, hugging my knees, and bashing my head into my wall because I dared to post a link to the HSLDA petition. I’m nearly 40, but I’m terrified of getting into trouble.

I can’t use my name–call me Elizabeth. This name I write with isn’t mine. I picked a name that I think is the sort of name that a typical white, protestant American would have. I hope that some homeschooled kid with that name and a similar story won’t be tortured or shunned on account of my speaking out. I just hope that anyone who reads this and sees someone they know knows that it wasn’t really them. It’s just an eerie similarity. Please don’t punish them for speaking out, because I’m someone else.

I can’t tell my story exactly. I’m afraid my family will recognize that it’s me writing. I only feel safe writing anything at all, even vagueing up the details, after reading the lawsuit filed by survivors of abuse covered up by sovereign grace ministries. It’s sad when the text of a lawsuit reads like your biography, but there you have it. It made me realize that this culture of abuse is sufficiently widespread that my parents could just read my personal story of our nightmare family and assume it comes from any anyone anywhere.

It at least gives me some plausible deniability. Not that I need plausible deniability–I have no contact with my family or anyone from my childhood. I won’t even be setting foot in a church again. But I’m so terrified of repercussions that I need a crutch. The brainwashing runs deep. I know I’m safe intellectually, but the rest of me doesn’t believe that safety is possible.

What lets me comment on the differences between homeschooling and other kinds of schooling? I’ve done it all. We started in a religious homeschooling coop–we did PACES first, later A Beka. Then my parents homeschooled us by themselves in a Northern European country–the rest of my education was in the United States. When we homeschooled in Europe there was no curriculum: it was closer to unschooling. Then they sent us to a private fundamentalist Christian school. Then they sent us to public school.

My parents’  reason for homeschooling us was ostensibly religious. We never heard that we’d get a better education than in public school. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that public school would corrupt us. There’d be peer pressure. We’d risk getting caught up in a bad crowd and imperiling our immortal souls.

This seemed plausible at the time. After all, our church was very isolationist. You know that Emo Philips joke about the Baptists on a bridge? That was us. Everyone else was wrong. We spent hours learning about other denominations and how they got it wrong. Maybe some other Christians would still get into heaven, if God was extra merciful, but we were the only ones who actually had it right!

Did I mention that I basically had zero friends?

We were taught that children had to obey all adults unconditionally and instantly. We were taught that good Christian children who don’t want to burn in hell submit to their parents. They submit to discipline from their parents, other adults, or older children. They submit to spankings. They do not talk back. And so on. If you are wrongly accused you should still accept your punishment because you are a worthless sinful being and the punishment is probably good for you anyway. If you don’t accept punishment when you’re wrongly accused, that’s a sin, so you need to be punished for that now. Catch 22.

And we were taught that good, Christian children do not ever let anyone find out that they aren’t completely thrilled with their lives. We should never complain to secular authorities (or anyone, for that matter, but especially secular authorities) about anything. It makes us bad witnesses. It makes us bad Christians. And we might also be selfishly risking the destruction of our families because CPS will come and take us away. And there isn’t anything better, so after CPS destroys our families, we’ll still be disciplined so destroying our families and our parents’ good names will have been for nothing. If your bottom is sore from a spanking, you’d better not wince as you sit down. If you’re in pain down there, you’d better not let it keep you from walking normally. Don’t talk about your punishment. Don’t let anyone see you cry.

And we weren’t taught about sex, or wrong touching, or children’s rights. Most kids would get this in public school. At a young age, they’d learn that there are things adults aren’t allowed to do to them. They’d learn that they have the right to say ‘no.’ They’d learn that if something is wrong they can tell their teacher or call the police or something. Later, they’d have sex education and learn what sex is.

Here’s what I thought the word “spanking” meant when I was a kid: if your dad is home, usually it happens right away in your bedroom or his. If your dad isn’t home, you get sent to the guest room, where there’s nothing to do in the meantime, to wait for him to get home. Then the spanking commences. Maybe he’ll go for the big wooden paddle. Maybe he’ll pull off his belt. Sometimes he gets them both out and makes you chose. If he makes you choose, he’s feeling particularly sadistic.

Just the paddle is better. Then he sticks to your unclothed bottom and thighs. The pain is excruciating, but it’s a good sign if he doesn’t take his belt off at all. He’ll probably just finger you a bit when he’s done. Ditto if he bends you over his lap instead of over the edge of the bed. If he just breaks out the belt, he’s lost his temper. You’ll get hit everywhere that can be covered by clothes. The individual strikes aren’t as hard as with a stick, but the beating goes on forever. Sometimes your body just shuts down. Maybe that’s better; if you wet yourself the spanking might stop there because you’re now too gross and dirty to rape. But usually he’s going to finish the “spanking.” The whacks stop coming and then he’s inside you, crushing you with all his weight and ramming into you over and over until he’s done with his business.

I was told that all kids got spanked. I didn’t understand that ‘spank’ meant a bit of a beating for most people and not an extreme beating followed by rape. I didn’t even know what rape was, as I knew nothing about sex. I had no idea what was going on.

Spanking was how my dad got access during the day. If he wanted it and I hadn’t done anything wrong, he would make up something wrong. Notably, he’d wait for me to look at the telephone. Mind you, I was too short to actually reach the telephone up on the wall, but he needed to make sure the message was ingrained. He’d wait for me to look at the phone then punish me for thinking about making a phone call. For thinking about lying to people that I was being abused. It was part of his way to drill into my mind that there was no way out. That this way of life was all there was or ever could be.

I only remember a few instances of explicit training. I remember a gruesome rape when I was too young. I can see my baby fat hands in my memory. I can taste blood. I wonder if that was the first time. I think the ripping might have caused some nerve damage. I can’t actually feel much on the surface, which might have made me the perfect victim in the future. He could do whatever they wanted and I wouldn’t react much. I remember one day when I was older–maybe 3ish–getting taught to relax properly, to stretch out, to be able to take in something larger. Being told that this is what big girls are supposed to do. This is what good girls are supposed to do.

Compared to a spanking, simple molestation didn’t mean much. There was a ‘monster’ that came at night and did his thing. I was told that I had nightmares. And I had to comply instantly with any demand made by an adult. I had to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. So if I was running around at church and an adult said I had to come give him a hug, I had to. And if his hand slipped up under my skirt, I was supposed to relax like a good girl and ignore the uncomfortable pressure filling me up. I guess it got out to anyone who was interested that I was groomed for complete submission and wouldn’t make a scene. I don’t know if he shared me on purpose or if all the perverts attracted to the good cover of a patriarchal church found me independently.

The violence was most extreme when we were at the cooperative homeschool. The school and the church reinforced the message. We only came into contact with other kids in the same situation. The probably weren’t all being seriously abused, but some of them sported regular bruises–new dark blues and purples in a new pattern over the fading browns and yellows from last week. Even the ones who weren’t abused weren’t told that they had rights. None of us was going to compare notes and discover that rapes weren’t a standard part of spanking. It was Orwellian. We didn’t have the words or concepts to address any of it.

No one at church would question my dad’s authority. He was a well respected member of the community. He was all godly and stuff. The benefit of the doubt extended to someone in his position was endless. By homeschooling us through this crucial period, my dad normalized abuse and kept me from finding out that I had rights. I literally had no idea until I was an adult that there was anything else out there, that this was not the natural order of things, that everyone wasn’t raised with this sort of abuse. Insofar as I ever heard about child abuse, I was taught that abuse was something that happened to other people.

When we homeschooled in another country, the abuse stopped almost completely. My dad was away from the comfort and safety of being an established pillar of the community. The monster still came at night, but the daytime abuse was drastically curtailed. I spent huge amounts of time being free and happy. The only punishment I recall was being yelled at.

I was only punished for one thing: speaking the other language. Somehow I’d picked it up, although my parents and other siblings hadn’t. My dad could use English at work and didn’t need to know it. Everyone spoke English in the shops anyway. My mom didn’t have a problem with it, but my use of the other language outraged my dad. If I uttered a word in front of him, his face would turn red and he would explode with anger.

How dare I speak another language. I couldn’t know what I was saying if it wasn’t English. I could be insulting someone and not know it! Because I couldn’t possibly know what I was saying if he didn’t know what I was saying. I couldn’t guarantee to him that I wasn’t saying something inappropriate because he couldn’t speak the language. So the act of speaking the other language was deceptive: I was hiding things from my parents by not speaking English. I never knew that I wouldn’t be spanked after these outbursts; I only connect the dots with the illegality of spanking in the other country now, as an adult. Looking back, I realize that he was afraid of getting caught in a country that cared about its children. He needed to make sure that I didn’t trigger any alarm bells there and get rescued by their child protection agencies.

When we returned to the US, we went to a fundamentalist Christian school. The ‘spanking’ resumed but it was much less frequent. Partly the training had kicked in and I was a good little robot. It was very difficult to find a reason to spank me. Partly we now lived in a bigger house. I had my own room and was far enough away from my parents room that it was unlikely for it to wake anyone up when he came in at night. Partly he couldn’t assume that he’d get a free pass at the new school. Teachers were from other denominations who might be just as distrustful of us as we were of them. Some students were just there because their parents thought they’d get a better education at a private school. Some students were even there because they’d been expelled from every other school and their parents couldn’t find anywhere else to take them. While I was guaranteed to not get any sex education or get told I had rights by the school, it was less clear that I wouldn’t exchange information with peers who knew stuff.

The fundamentalist Christian school went bust over doctrinal differences (surprise, surprise) and I was allowed to finish out high school at the local public school. It was the most supportive and loving environment I’d experienced in my life. No one made fun of me, as they had at the Christian school, for having zero social skills. People, not just teachers but students as well, put up with horrific ideas from my upbringing and gently taught me tolerance. Even people who didn’t like me were still patient and cordial with me. And my dad had to stop the ‘spankings’ altogether.

He still came in at night. He suffocated me so I wouldn’t wake up. I only woke up to absolute terror a few times. Rape is a thousand times more terrified when you fade in and out of consciousness from lack of oxygen. When I asked the youth pastor at church he said it was a demonic attack. I tend to trust my gut; I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box. I think he was just gullible and never got any sex education himself either. He was a relatively young adult who had never dated. I don’t think he had any idea that he was passing on a lie used to conceal abuse.

Unfortunately, I got to public school too late to get sex education. It would have been covered in junior high. I’d learned about periods the day my first one started (I was at the Christian school at the time). A neighborhood girl who went to public school found out how little I knew about it and tried explaining the facts of life to me, but she was several years younger than me and hadn’t learned all the details herself yet. I am grateful that she noticed something was wrong with my complete lack of education and did her best to step in and fill in my educational gaps. But there was so much she couldn’t tell me.

So I didn’t know that periods were supposed to happen regularly, about once a month. I didn’t understand that it wasn’t normal to go months between periods. I didn’t understand that that much pain and that much blood was abnormal. I didn’t understand that something was very wrong if you had to spend several hours bleeding into the toilet and passing chunks. I didn’t put two and two together until I had my first miscarriage as an adult. Then it hit me that my period got regular after I got married. I wasn’t in so much pain. The flow was lighter – a pad was enough instead of having to spend time on the toilet because it was too much. And it hit me that while I’d had a few odd periods in high school, I’d mostly just had a succession of miscarriages. I still can’t have kids. I wonder if it’s from too much violence to my reproductive organs at such a young age. It’s not something I can face having a conversation with my doctor about.

I didn’t understand that I was experiencing rape until we had to read a short story in 12th grade advanced English about a girl being raped. That’s when I learned that that’s what rape was and, by extension, that’s what sex was. But I was too afraid to tell anyone. The programming to pretend everything was fine persisted. Teachers and counselors noticed and asked if something was wrong and I instinctually lied every time. I didn’t know how to do anything else. I didn’t believe anyone could help me, just that it would get back to my parents that I’d told someone. And then I’d be in for another spanking; I’d rather have died than risk another spanking.

I tried reporting my abuse to the authorities once as an adult but the law wasn’t on my side. If I’d been a minor, they could have gotten CPS involved. But as an adult, the law is written for specific instances. You can’t charge someone with years of violence and rape where there are so many memories jumbled together. You need a report of a specific instance. And remembering a specific instance with all its details when it happened all the time is like remembering what you had for dinner on March 12, 1986. What time was dinner? What did you eat? Did you have company? How was the food arranged on your plate? Who sat where at the table? Good luck with that.

Having been rebuffed, I tried getting out but it didn’t take. The economy was in shambles and I couldn’t find steady employment. The U.S. has a patchy safety net. One of the things that we as a society assume is that people’s parents don’t suck. If you’ve very lucky and your abuse is caught and you end up in the system, there are programs for young adults who have aged out of foster care. These programs aren’t perfect, but it beats the hell out of choosing between starvation and going back to an abusive family. After you’re an old enough adult (I think it varies by state), you are eligible for things on your own. But there’s an awkward gap between 18 and 20 something where your eligibility is determined by your parents income. Long story short, I ended up homeless. I had to go crawling back to my parents, tail between my legs, and enduring several more years of abuse before I married my husband and escaped.

I firmly believe that if public school teachers had gotten to me before the brainwashing set in that I might have told them the truth. I think the brainwashing would have been harder if I’d been getting a counterbalancing affirmation from public school that I was a human being with rights of my own. And you know what? Maybe my dad still would have found a way to abuse me, but he either would’ve had to pull me out of public school to keep the abuse hidden or he would’ve had to abuse me a heck of a lot less.

That’s what bugs me the most when homeschool parents bring up the fact that kids in public school get abused too. They act like that’s evidence that regulating homeschool is pointless. From where I’m sitting, that’s hogwash. I’d take rare beatings over frequent beatings. I’d take beatings severe enough to leave obvious marks during just summer vacation over getting those beatings several times a week around the year. I’d take just being raped over having the crap beaten out of me then being raped. I’d take being brutalized for the first 7 years of my life over being brutalized for the first 20 years of my life. I could go on down the line.

It’s clear to me how the abuse I received changed with the amount of control my parents had over the other adults in my life. When it was just them and church, the abuse was horrific. When it was public school teachers who weren’t going to give them a pass just for being Good Christians, the abuse was relatively minimal. I guess it reads as pretty extreme still, but that level of abuse required that they already have the prior controlled environment in which to make sure I never found out about my rights. And it’s way less than the baseline level of abuse they established when they had complete control of my environment.

But the more I think about my upbringing, the more I think the church and homeschooling were just convenient. In the wake of the ohio kidnap victims’ escape, an article in the guardian addressed the issue of girls and women being trapped in long-term situations where they were kept as prisoners and raped repeatedly. It quotes Prof. Sherry Hamby of Sewanee and journal editor of Psychology of Violence as saying “I don’t think there is any question there are other victims in similar situations. We are only catching the dumb ones.” It’s the first time in, well, ever, that I’ve felt like I wasn’t invisible. Usually situations like mine are invisible to mainstream media that is usually so desperate to maintain our societal illusion that abuse is a rare thing that is done to and by people we don’t know.

There are victims in similar situations. And we do only catch the dumb ones. My dad is extremely intelligent. It doesn’t matter what his personal beliefs might be: the perfect place to isolate his prey was in a patriarchal religious sect. The perfect way to avoid letting his kids encounter mandated reporters is through homeschooling. The perfect way to keep me from going to authorities was to lie to me about my rights and to surround me by other kids who didn’t know their rights. I don’t think I’m special. I don’t think I’m unique. I think odds are high that there are plenty of other people who grew up just like me.

We Need Advocates: Philosophical Perspectives’s Story, Part One

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 1

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “PhilosophicalPerspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.

*****

In this series: Part One — We Need Advocates | Part Two — A Tool In Someone Else’s Culture War

***** 

As a kid, I remember seeing national media stories about homeschool families like Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, who beat their daughter to death in 2010, or Banita Jacks, who in 2009 was convicted of murdering her four daughters.

I clearly remember having conversations with my mother about how “those people weren’t really homeschooling” and how our family and friends were getting it right. We talked about how they weren’t really part of any home school community, and their parents were just trying to get away from the responsibility they bore for the abuse they inflicted, by claiming the title “home schoolers.” The home school community distanced itself from these stories, claiming that the abuses of a few “nutjobs” shouldn’t impact the rights of the whole homeschool movement.

It’s been interesting to hear the same lines come up in response to the stories shared on this blog. In comments on other sites, I’ve read many things like, “you could find 30 abused kids in any school system!,” or “these kids’ parents were just crazy. That’s not what home schooling is really like!” It seems like many people invested in the homeschooling movement are reading this blog in the same way my mom read stories like the ones mentioned above — as extreme examples of abuse from people on the far fringes of the homeschool movement.  I’ve read comments that go so far as to dismiss these stories outright. More people, though, lament the suffering they read about, but make comments that distance themselves from the problem. These extreme cases are hard to catch, the sentiment goes, because these families never show up to homeschool groups or 4-H clubs or churches or anywhere we (homeschoolers) might be able to intervene. “These kids were totally isolated! It’s not our fault!” they declare, explicitly or implicitly.

This is misguided.

For many of us who are sharing our stories, our families were not on the fringes of the homeschooling movement — we were at its center. Our parents were the ones running the debate leagues, and founding the AWANA programs. We were the ones winning awards, respect, and acclaim. We are the poster children of the homeschooling movement.

And yet, we suffered serious abuse and neglect, and no one intervened on our behalf.

As a survivor, I started asking why. I was (almost constantly) involved in a myriad of extracurricular activities, and none of the adults in my life intervened in the neglect I experienced. They either didn’t notice, or didn’t care.

This is what isolation looks like in the homeschooling community.

I interacted with many adults outside of the homeschool movement, in many different contexts, and I honestly don’t think any of them had an inkling of what was really going on. Homeschoolers have always been trained to put on our most adult, most mature face to the outside world. This has to with the ways we’ve been socialized and the pressure we face to be walking proof of  the “success” of homeschooling — but that’s another post. Regardless, we’re excellent at being polite and reciting (often eloquently!) the ideas we’ve been taught. We therefore often make a very positive impression on outsiders — I can’t tell you how many times I was told how grown-up, how mature, how insightful I was when I was a tween. Most of the adults outside of the movement were so blown away by my irregularity (and my ability to discuss the classical origins of astronomical nomenclature) that they never asked deeper questions about my education or physical well-being, let alone about the emotional and spiritual abuse that was present in my home.

I also regularly interacted with adults within the homeschool movement, where parents should have been able to notice what was happening — and still, no one spoke up. Many of them didn’t (and still don’t) consider what many of us endured abuse — it’s just part of the process of “training up a child.” Many bought into the same vision of religious indoctrination and corporal punishment. The “us vs. them” mentality was huge, and “them” was often Child Protective Services. I’d still be surprised to hear of one home school parent reporting another. Even when the “moderate” parents didn’t agree with the techniques of the more fundamentalist ones, the “rights of the parent” continuously won out over the rights of the child. This line of reasoning is currently being used by the HSLDA to justify the refusal to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The combination of these factors created a unique culture that fosters and covers up or ignores the abuse and neglect that happens at the center of its community. The case against Sovereign Grace Ministries, an evangelical denomination that promotes homeschooling, is just one example. We’ve experienced it, and we’re hurt. There was a deep sense of community in the homeschool movement, and many of us, as kids, trusted deeply in its people and institutions. Now that I’m an adult reflecting on my experiences, I feel betrayed. The people I trusted perpetuated the systems of indoctrination that harmed me, and facilitated my parents’ neglect.

This is what isolation looks like in the homeschooling community.

The invitation that this blog presents to the homeschooling community is to begin to take abuse, neglect, and indoctrination seriously, and refuse to look the other way. The children of homeschooling need advocates, and our parents aren’t always looking out for our best interest. Neither is the HSLDA.

To be continued.