Yes, I’m hurt and angry…and it’s ok

iRead11“You only left because you’re angry.  Someone hurt you, and now you’re bitter about it.  Don’t you know that there are people who will hurt you in every church?  Never leave because of the people!”

“No, no!” we protest.  “I didn’t leave because someone hurt me or because I’m angry, I left for the Gospel!  I didn’t leave because of people, I left because Adventism has messed up theology!”

One of the biggest myths that is perpetuated by the Adventist church, and one that we formers have thrown in our faces over and over again, is that people leave Adventism because someone hurt them.  And that may be true in some cases.  But, for many of us, we spent so many dedicated hours studying the scripture, wrestling with the truth of the Gospel and the cognitive dissonance it created with Adventism, and untangling ourselves from the tentacles of Ellen White that this assumption feels like a slap in the face.  It feels invalidating of what we now know to be true.  Indeed, we left because of theology, not because of personal pain.  The teachings of Adventism are so counter-Gospel that once we tasted the sweet peace of grace, there was no going back.  And it is a struggle to leave behind all we knew, all we had always been taught was the “truth.”  It’s not easy leaving the “remnant” church and constantly battling the old tapes that tell us that we are doomed if we reject the Sabbath or that we have joined ranks with the occult for believing that we will be with the Lord upon death.  Breaking free of Adventist theology is a war against deep spiritual darkness.  So it seems that our struggle is trivialized when Adventists say we left because someone hurt us.  And what Adventists really mean when they say this is “You couldn’t have actually left because Adventism goes against the Bible, because Adventism CAN’T go against the Bible.  It’s the truth and Ellen White is the Spirit of Prophecy, so there is no way you can be right when you say it isn’t biblical.  You are wrong and you are siding with Babylon.”  We hear that message loud and clear when our study of scripture is made null by an assignment of feelings.

Because of this, we get defensive.  We feel the need to deny ANY anger or hurt.  Even if the Adventist church really did hurt us, we won’t tell you that.  We have an urge to make sure these Adventists know that we left to follow the real Jesus and not because someone in the church shoved Ellen down our throats or because we were part of one of those “legalistic” Adventist churches (which no Adventist believes is them).  I understand this need.  I was there.  It’s a knee-jerk response to the patronizing, well-disguised accusation that is couched in caring terms.  I get it.  I do.

But here’s the thing.  I think those of us who left for theological reasons ARE hurt and angry. Don’t write me off, hear me out for a minute, formers.  No, we didn’t leave initially because of pain.  But there is a sort of righteous indignation that comes with realizing that we have been deceived and that the Gospel has been so warped.  This is a natural, right response to evil.  We SHOULD be angry.  Anger is not a sin, it is merely a God-given emotion that alerts us that something isn’t right.  God gets angry at evil.  I mean, look at what Jesus did in the temple when the religious leaders were spiritually abusing people and desecrating the house of God with shady business practices!  That was a tantrum of literally biblical proportions, and it was just.  It was right.  Those were big emotions that matched a big violation.  And Jesus wasn’t afraid to let them show.  And Paul in Galatians…he had some colorful things to say to those who were leading people into the bondage of legalism.  God doesn’t take abuse lightly.  He is angry at injustice, and it’s good for us to be, too.  So, a natural response to the violence that Adventism does to God’s character and to scripture is anger.  We need to feel that anger.  It is part of seeing Adventism for what it really is.  It is part of acknowledging that it’s not ok.  It is part of healing.

Healing.  Yes, we formers are hurt.  Adventism is spiritual abuse, so OF COURSE we are wounded, and it is at a soul level.  This is why it is so difficult to wrench free from Adventism.  It is dark.  And let’s not forget the abuse that many of us suffer upon leaving.  My own exit story includes a lot of abuse.  My family was abusive before, but a whole new level of nasty came out when I no longer was complying with them and their Adventist idol.  I was mocked.  I was screamed at.  I was manipulated and shamed.  It wasn’t pretty.  I had an uncle who is a retired Adventist pastor lecture me for several hours about why I was wrong.  He told me I was hopeless and that I would come after him when the Sunday Law was passed.  My mother told me this, too, and other family members.  They think that I will try to kill them someday.  My parents cut me off financially when I left in an effort to try and manipulate me to move back home so they could set me straight.  My mother even said “If you don’t come home, I guess that’s your choice, but know that if you don’t come home you’ll be disobeying us and not honoring your father and your mother, so you’ll be disobeying God.  My mother also told me that I looked like a cheap hooker when I wore jewelry to my brother’s graduation.  My Grandma sent me angry, all-caps text messages on several occasions, saying all sorts of mean things.  When I held out my arms to hug my 2-year-old cousin, my uncle said to the little boy “Don’t go to her, she’s a pagan Sunday worshiper now.”  He also accused me of hating my mother simply because I wore jewelry.  And I could go on.  My family was brutal when I left.  And yes, that hurt.  And yes, I’m mad about it.

Many formers, like me, suffered domestic abuse as well as spiritual abuse.  A lifetime of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse has definitely left me wounded.  I have Adventism to thank for a lot of this.

But guess what?  The anger, the hurt…feeling those things…it’s evidence that I am healing.  I didn’t always feel those things.  The further away I got from Adventism and from my unsafe family, the more those feelings were allowed to emerge.  I never got angry as a child (that I can recall), even though I had reason to be angry, because anger wasn’t safe.  My overwhelming emotion was fear/terror.  I could only concentrate on being as good and compliant as possible in order to ward off more pain.  Showing anger would have meant more abuse for me.  I had to be good and do as I was told at all costs.  This didn’t stop when I became an adult.  This is still a struggle, but my anger is beginning to thaw.  I am incredibly angry at my mother and the abusive family system that raised me, and I am incredibly angry at Adventism.  And this is as it should be.  There is reason to be angry.  It’s good that I am starting to feel the natural spectrum of emotions that God gave humans the ability to feel.

Of course we are not to sin in our anger.  I don’t wish revenge upon my family or upon those in the SDA church.  I wish for them to be saved.  But that does not mean that I am not angry or that I am not hurt.  I cannot deny the damage done to me by the Adventist church, and acknowledging it is strangely soothing.

No, Adventists, I am not saying that I left because I’m bitter and angry and hurt.  I left because of theology, because of Jesus, because of grace.  It was only AFTER I realized that I was eternally safe in Jesus that I could even begin to process all the rest.  When I left Adventism, I had no idea what the damage was.  I still don’t know the extent of it.  But the damage does not negate the huge theological problems with Adventism, nor does it minimize them.  We formers are telling the truth when we say we left over theology.

But formers…don’t get so wrapped up in defending against the nay-sayers that you deny your own wounding.  You have to acknowledge the hurt in order to heal it.  You have to see the damage in order to fully realize how bad Adventism really is.  And yes, anger is acceptable after leaving Adventism!  Don’t be afraid to admit those feelings, because there is nothing shameful about them.  Those who patronize us for them are assigning shame to them, and it is not our own shame.  It is not ours to carry.  So, when someone tries to do that, give them back the shame by not being afraid to admit the full range of evil inside of Adventism.  We have to face it in all its ugly glory, because that part of this spiritual battle that is not against flesh and blood, but against the clever wiles of the devil.

Jesus came to set the captives free and to bind up their wounds, for it is by his wounds that we are healed.  Take the hurt of Adventism to him.  It won’t feel good, but it will be worth it.  Jesus is good, he is gentle, and he is trustworthy.  He can handle our pain, and he will give us the strength so that we can handle it, too.  We survived Adventism.  By the grace of God, we will survive the aftermath.

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Some thoughts on homeschooling

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I know that not all homeschoolers have had a negative experience with the practice. I know that there are gentle parents who homeschool, and that everyone’s motivations for homeschooling are different. I get that. Fine. BUT. This does not discount my story and the many like it. For me and many others, homeschooling was a personal hell. Just visit a blog site like Homeschoolers Anonymous, and you will see heartbreaking story after story about those who were deeply hurt by homeschooling. I am not hard-lined against homeschooling, HOWEVER, our stories are the reason why homeschooling does need to be monitored and there must be accountability. The government creating accountability for homeschooling families isn’t some plot or conspiracy to take away your freedom. Let’s get that one thing straight. Homeschooling can be abused, and it happens a lot. Sadly, I don’t think we are a minority. So this opening paragraph is my disclaimer.

Kids in abusive homes often have at least one escape: school. They might make some really great friends, or have a teacher who believes in them and supports them. I am not discounting negative school experiences. Bullying exists, both from students and teachers, and many schools are punitive in their approach which is damaging. I mean, it’s still legal in 19 states to use corporal punishment in schools! That is a BIG problem. We need to change that. School can be an abusive environment, too, but…there are many great schools out there that can provide a safe haven for lots of kids. I didn’t have the advantage of that safe haven.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through 6th grade. After that, I went to the small Adventist grade school in town, and after that was sent to academy. None of these things were the greatest for me, but the school environment, even though it was Adventist, was by far better than the home environment.

Imagine being afraid to be alone in the house with your mother, but having no way of every escaping that predicament. Imagine being alone with the person you most fear basically all day, every day. No breaks during the school hours, just that many more hours of hyper vigilance and getting to experience her rages. And many hours of isolation.
The fact that I was homeschooled hid much of the abuse, I think. I don’t have very many clear memories of those years, but I wonder, had I been sent to school, if a kind teacher would have noticed anything and could have helped me. I mean, maybe that is wishful thinking, because I was pretty good at making everyone think that I was the happiest child in the world, but who knows.

The isolation was difficult. I am a very social, extroverted person, so the fact that my mother made no effort to make sure I got healthy social interaction with peers harmed me. I was lonely so much of the time. It was worse when we moved to Colorado and my family started their own Adventist church plant. I was 10. At least before the church plant, I was able to make friends at church. But when my family started that church, my brother and I were the only kids. The small group of Adventists comprised mostly of seniors. I would get up front every week and tell “children’s story” to my brother and the 12 or so mostly older adults. I longed for friends. Being home alone with my scary mom all day and not even getting to enjoy friends on Sabbath was difficult for me. I wasn’t involved in any sort of social activity because my mother just didn’t make the effort. No clubs or choirs or homeschool groups. Pathfinders didn’t even come until about the time I started school. When I did enter the Adventist grade school in 7th grade, I was made fun of because I was so behind in my social skills, and I am a person who is highly attuned to social behavior and interactions! It was just…awkward, to finally enter school at an already difficult age (puberty) after so much isolation. I had no idea what kick ball or dodge ball or foursquare were. I didn’t know how to play any of the recess games and was unskilled in the highly physical games. My mother didn’t even engage us in much physical activity. It was embarrassing and most days at recess I just felt ashamed and even more isolated because no one wanted to include me.

My mom was not very involved in my “homeschooling.” She ordered the textbooks and that was it. I had no lesson plans, no schedule, no guidance on what to do with the books. She did read with me in the younger years and help me learn my phonics and such, but that was the extent of it. By the time 3rd grade hit, I was completely on my own. I had to read the textbooks and try to figure out what to do, then check my own work with the teacher’s edition. My mom especially threw up her hands when it came to math, which was already a harder subject for me. I had huge gaps in my understanding of basic math, which set me up for a lifetime of issues with the subject. Honestly, I don’t know how I learned anything at all, except that I was a smart kid and a reader. I credit the fact that I was somehow able to pull through during those early years of schooling and turn out ok to my own intelligence and creativity, not to my mother’s chosen method of schooling. When I went to school and finally started taking tests for the first time, I did very well. My first standardized test results put me in the 95th percentile. My mother beamed over this, saying it proved the superiority of homeschooling and her teaching. Not really. I just got lucky. I was smart enough to figure out how to pull through. Others have not been so lucky…my brother being one person. The credit for my academic success goes to my creativity, not to her (although, I will say that one good memory that I have of her is of her reading to me, which I’m sure DID help me. But in the vast and entire picture of my education…she didn’t do much). And how much better of a student would I have been had I received proper educational instruction during those years! Maybe I wouldn’t have been quite as bad at math.

The isolation hurt me. The educational neglect hurt me. And those added hours, days, weeks, months, years with my mother probably heightened the symptoms I experience now as a result of an abusive home environment. Homeschooling helped to hide the abuse. Homeschooling felt like a prison to me. To this day, I shudder thinking about those times of loneliness and fear. Her rages were bad. Ever seen the movie Mommie Dearest? Yeah, try living with that 24/7 with no escape. It hurt me.
THIS is why I call for accountability when it comes to homeschooling. And, while I firmly believe in the importance of play and in using positive discipline rather than punitive methods in the classroom…I will not be homeschooling my children. I will search high and low for a school environment that I think will best serve them, but that will not be in homeschooling. I will fight for more playtime for students and for them to be treated with respect and for their schools to be safe places both emotionally and physically, but I will not turn to homeschooling to solve the problems that education faces.

Holiday Crazy-making

depressing_holiday.originalIt has been a long time since I wrote on this blog.  No, I haven’t forgotten about it.  And yes, I still have a lot to say.  It’s just that sometimes…I feel all the things that I want to say, but the words are blocked.  Or I know the things that I want to say, but the feelings don’t come.  It’s an odd extreme, to either feel everything or nothing.  And sometimes these polar opposites make it difficult to know where to start when it comes to writing.  Especially writing on a public blog.  I vacillate between wanting to tell the world my story and wanting to keep it all a secret, even from myself.  But, with the holidays, there are things that come rushing back that can’t be ignored.  So…maybe writing will help.

I can’t even begin to describe what it is like to not have a family during the holiday season.  Actually any time of year, but especially during the holidays.  Having to dodge the innocent questions about where I plan to spend the holidays.  “Oh, you’re not going to be with your family?  Where do they live?  Are they just too far away?  Do you ever go out to Colorado and visit your family?  Do they ever come visit you?  How did you end up in Lincoln, anyway?”  People don’t know.  They don’t get it.  I know they are just making conversation.  But these are LOADED questions for an abuse survivor who has had to go no contact with her family!  I have come up with all sorts of creative ways to change the subject.  Once in a while, I might divulge some of the story, but most of the time I just play a game of dodgeball with these questions.  Sometimes I get hit in the face, but I’ve gotten pretty fast and quick.  “Oh, I’m spending the holidays with friends this year.  No, I don’t get out to see my family much.  I came to Lincoln for school and have just enjoyed it so much that I’m still here!  So, are you excited to be going home for the holidays?  I bet your mom is excited to see you!”  And so it goes.

The internal battle is the hardest this time of year.  No matter how abusive a parent is to a child, that child still depends on them for survival and is hard-wired to love them and do whatever is necessary to keep the connection in order to stay alive.  That doesn’t just go away when you become an adult and realize how bad it was.  The need for a family never goes away.  The holidays are a time of longing for what I never had, for the family that I created in my head in order to survive.  And they are a crazy-making time.  When you are dealing with past emotional abuse, you have been convinced time and time again by your abusers that what you just saw wasn’t what you just saw, that it never happened, that you made it up, or that you are over-sensitive, or that you misinterpreted everything.  And so this is how the game goes…”Well, maybe it wasn’t really that bad.  Maybe I’m exaggerating everything.  Maybe I made a mistake.  I’m such a horrible, terrible human being!  What kind of daughter cuts off contact with her family?  What if I somehow made it all up for attention or there is something really wrong with me that I completely got the situation wrong?  Maybe it’s true, maybe I am crazy like she said.  Maybe it never happened. Maybe I deserved it or provoked it.”  And then there is this line of thinking, “Maybe she, maybe they have changed.  I should try again to tell them how I really feel about the situation and how they hurt me.  Maybe they will be compassionate and repentant this time.  Maybe they will see what they did wrong and want to face the damage they caused and fix what is broken.  Maybe they are different now, maybe they will listen to me.  Maybe they really do love me and I just have it all wrong.  I should call them to try and see if they have changed or if I can convince them.  Maybe they will listen to my side this time.  Or maybe my side is just all wrong and…” ugh.  You get the picture.  Crazy-making.

It’s in those moments that I have to remind myself of what I know.  No, daughters don’t just cut off contact with their families for no reason.  There is something wrong.  No, I’m not making up the terror and the nightmares and the severe anxiety and the memories that I have.  Why would I make something like that up?  Who would want that?  No, I do know what is true.  I know what happened.  I don’t know all of what happened and there are still gaps and puzzle pieces that don’t fit, but what I know is incriminating enough.  And if they changed, if she has changed…I’ll probably be the first to know.  If she is ready to stop blaming me and start owning what she did rather than post all over Facebook how I just need to learn that no family is perfect and that I need to forgive…then I will know that change is real. But there is no evidence that this change has happened.  None.  It still remains to be unsafe.  I have to protect myself.   I am not crazy.  Broken and wounded, yes, but not crazy.

I am not crazy. 

I am not crazy.

I am not crazy.

Maybe if I tell myself this enough, I’ll start to believe it.

To the emotional and spiritual orphan

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“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14 NIV

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.  God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…” Psalm 68:5,6

“No, I will not abandon you as orphans–I will come to you.” John 14:18 NLT

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4 NIV

“‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.'” Luke 18:29,30

Writing about this subject is, quite frankly, overwhelming for me. I wanted to write something on Mother’s Day, but that day is harder than Father’s Day, so I’m going to be talking about these days collectively, as a group, in this particular post. Dear reader, if you have fabulous parents that you want to celebrate on these holidays, then that is wonderful and that is how it should be. But for many of us (and I think many people don’t want to admit this thanks to the coping mechanism that causes us to idealize our parents, even if they were abusive), these holidays are extremely painful. I realize that this extends beyond the scope of abusive and neglectful parents, that this day is hard for those who lost a loving parent, who have lost a child, or for any number of reasons. My heart goes out to those of you grieving on these holidays for those reasons, and I acknowledge and validate your pain. However, the focus of this post is for those of us who can’t fathom celebrating these holidays because our parents were never worth celebrating. We are the children of abusive and neglectful parents, we are the spiritual and emotional orphans, we are the survivors.

Mother’s Day, for me, is difficult because my mother was abusive and terrorized me. In a society that idealizes motherhood and makes all mothers into saintly creatures who can do no wrong, this is difficult. I think it is easier for society to accept that a father can be abusive, but many turn a blind eye of denial to the fact that a mother can hurt her children. When we see society celebrate mothers and when society looks down on us for viewing our mothers as anything but angels, it is the most invalidating of experiences. So, we hide, we burrow ourselves away on this day. We can’t stand to go to church and hear the accolades bestowed on all mothers simply because they gave birth. We know that our mothers are basking in this praise, praise that they do not deserve. Our mothers take these words and use them as weapons against us. They use them to play the victim, to make themselves a martyr in front of the church, to dramatize and exploit our boundaries. And even if we are far away from our mothers, the ones who caused us so much harm as children, we still end up feeling guilty and the pain is especially piercing. So we avoid church, because we are afraid that we will receive no compassion there, but rather admonitions that we need to forgive, that the past is in the past, that we need to honor our parents (this is the worst! More on that later).

Father’s Day, on the other hand, provides a different type of pain for me. While my mother was actively and overtly abusive, my father’s was more subtle. Many people had the kind of parent in their father that I had in my mother…the emotionally abusive, terrorizing, physically abusive kind. My father didn’t do this like my mother did. While I can remember some instances where he lost his temper with me and emotionally and/or physically abused me, and I do have one sketchy memory that I don’t understand and don’t want to talk about here, for the most part, my father was passive. As I have described it to my therapist, my father is a big “nothing” to me, a “blank.” He never defended me or my brother or protected us from our mother. It was his belt that my mother used to beat us. He allowed her abuse of us to continue unchecked. He was emotionally and often physically absent. I feel like he never cared about me as a person. Neither of my parents did, but I think his emotional neglect was especially poignant. I feel like, just as he is a nothing to me, I was a nothing to him. I have a few fond memories of him, but not much. He rarely showed emotion, except for the rare occasion when he would blow up in anger. He never made an effort to get to know the kind of person I was. I remember one time, as a teen, he told me that I wasn’t creative. As a budding young musician and a lover of writing and words, that stung. I feel like he never cared about me, because he was always blank.

And this doesn’t even cover how I was treated when I left Adventism…

Please don’t judge those of us who are spiritual and emotional orphans for not celebrating Mother’s and Father’s Day. Please don’t try to make us be happy or push us to go to church. Don’t tell us that we aren’t honoring our parents if we have chosen to end contact with them. Actually, going no contact with an abusive, unrepentant parent might be the most honoring thing we can do for them. Every time they abuse us, they are dishonoring God, who instructs parents to not exasperate their children. Every time they abuse us, they are sinning and reaping more judgment upon themselves. God defends the weak and loves the orphan. God is the creator of healthy boundaries. Jesus said that anyone who causes a child to stumble would be better off having a stone hung from their necks and cast into the sea. Jesus is a gentle parent and he defends children…including those of us who are adults but still have hurt children living inside of us.

Please, church family, let us grieve. Comfort us, don’t try to make us smile and forgive and forget. That isn’t healthy or helpful or biblical. Just let us grieve and treat us with kindness and empathy. You know what I think would be a great idea? If more churches had a time to honor not just parents, but to honor us emotional and spiritual orphans. A time to honor the children, the survivors. That might make it easier for us survivors to go to church on those days. I don’t know, this is just me rambling at this point. My overall point is this…to my brothers and sisters in Christ, please love the spiritual and emotional orphans among you. Care for us like you would a physical orphan. Validate our emotions and our pain, and don’t use spiritual clichés and Christianese to try and make us “snap out of it.” Let us feel what we need to feel and mourn with us. Comfort those who mourn. Encourage us in the Lord. Remind us that God is both a mother and a father to us and that we will meet and provide us our needs, even the needs of our hurting inner children. And then be the hands and feet of Christ to us and minister to us.

To the other orphans out there who are, like me, avoiding church tomorrow…please know that you are not alone and that God is with you in this pain. He understands and He is grieving with you. He is such a tender Father. So kind, so compassionate, so gentle. I will say that again: He is gentle with us, which I know is a foreign concept to many of us. Because of Jesus, he deals with his children only through grace, not in punishment or condemnation. Lean into the arms of the Heavenly Father. And be sure to listen to what your inner child(ren) may need on this day. Ok, I’m preaching to myself here, too. Lots of self care will be needed tomorrow, and I may just end up having a meltdown and forgetting everything I just wrote. But you know what, that’s ok, because God gives me grace and love in those moments and he is even closer in those times.

Even if the church isn’t giving this to us, and even if we can’t give it ourselves tomorrow, please know this, fellow orphans: God is giving you compassion, comfort, and grace, and you are not alone.

Memory

TRIGGER WARNING for those with abusive pasts.

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I remember a good thing that you did.

I remember taking Meals on Wheels to the old people once a week. I would dress in my cutest outfit. Brother and I would each bring a favorite toy. It was an adventure! We climbed into the van, excited about what the morning would bring. We picked up the red knapsacks that were warm and emulated a comforting smell. But all those old people ate meat, food that we knew we couldn’t have. Meat was against the Health Message, and a lot of the meat was unclean. It helped us to not be tempted to sneak a little bite or piece of any of the food.

We delivered the meals, one by one, to the old men and old ladies. Some of them were very grumpy, but most of them were nice. The smiling old ladies would pinch our cheeks and tell us how adorable we were. If we made sure to smile really big, they might even give us candy! That was the best part. Some of the old ladies smelled funny, but when they were nice, we didn’t care. It was great fun.

To end our weekly adventure, you took us to CiCi’s pizza, where we could eat all the pizza we wanted (well, all the VEGETARIAN pizza we wanted). We could watch cartoons on the TV, stare longingly at the arcade games, and just talk and laugh. It was a perfect ending to a perfect afternoon.

As I recall this memory, another remembered feeling comes unbidden. The bitter sweetness of the end of that morning filled me with dread. Soon, it would be over, and we would have to go home. I didn’t want to go home. My stomach churned in knots at the thought of it. No, this wasn’t a childish tantrum of not wanting to leave a fun place. This was genuine fear. For, once we were home, alone with you, who knows what might happen. The fun was gone and replaced by vigilance. Being home alone with you meant tiptoeing, listening to every crack in the floor, tracking every mood and facial expression. Home meant that something terrifying might happen. Home meant that my stomach would stay in knots until Daddy came home from work, which could be very late. Home meant that fun mom was gone, and scary mom was in her place. Scary, yelling, raging, hitting mom. As the van drew closer and closer to home, the feeling grew in my stomach and crept up my throat. The fear was real. Oh God, it was real. I can feel it even now.

The fun was erased by the terror of being alone in the house with you, of trying to find any excuse to leave the house again, where it was safer. Home had an atmosphere of dread. I wanted to leave. So I did all that I could. I lied down on the bed, and I floated into a far away someplace, a place of nothing.

Academy Tales, Pt. 1

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The soft whirring of the minivan’s engine, the abundance of green foliage and velvety hills, and the chatter of voices filled the sounds and sights of the moment. But she barely noticed the southern beauty of the landscape, for the panicked, nauseous feeling in her stomach overpowered her senses. They were so close now. She was only 14. A 14-year-old that had spent most of her life in homeschooled isolation, then in a two-classroom SDA grade school. She was not ready to be sent to a boarding school far, far away from home.

Home was not a happy place. Home meant living every moment on guard, having to be aware of every sound, voice tone, or mood change. Home meant enduring Mom’s rages. Home meant fear. It meant never being good enough. But at least it was familiar. Even if she was terrified of her mother, even if mom’s behavior was inconsistent and confusing, it was all she had known. Now she would was going to be left in a foreign place full of strangers. She wouldn’t get to go home for three months. She would be living in a dormitory full of girls she had never met before, and she was going to be 850 miles from home. And she was doing it alone. And she was only 14.

The scary stomach fluttering only got worse as her things were unpacked and her dorm room was set up. Mom and great-grandma were there, but they would be leaving so soon. Her dorm room looked lovely. Mom had made sure that she had pretty things. She had always had pretty things (except for jewelry, of course. Wouldn’t want to be a Jezebel). But all the things in the world could never make up for the absence of a safe mother. They could never forgive the presence of a terrorizing one. And they could not soften the blow of being abandoned in a far away academy at such a young age.

When the time came for Mom and Grandma to leave, she was having worse separation anxiety than a toddler. 14 years old. Strange boarding school. Didn’t know a soul. 850 miles from home. Wouldn’t see anyone she knew for 3 months. That is just altogether too much.

She sobbed. She begged her mother not to leave her. She was crying so hard that she couldn’t breathe. Why did mom have to send her to an academy so far from home? Mom may have been abusive, but trauma bonds are strong and they are real. This mother was all she had known. She didn’t know that the way her home operated was unhealthy. But she also didn’t know anyone here in this new place. She felt so alone. She was panicked. Please, mom, don’t make me stay here! Don’t leave me!

But mom left. She didn’t cry. She just left her distraught daughter on the doorstep and didn’t look back. And the girl was alone. She felt afraid. She had been abandoned. No, home was not safe (although the girl didn’t realize this). But this academy was not safe, either. The girl spent the first few weeks in the new place in agony, but she soon adjusted. She made friends. She aced her classes. But…there was no protection in that place. There were predators on campus. She survived, but not unscathed.

Boarding schools don’t provide protection for vulnerable students. And, SDA boarding schools exist for the sole purpose of further laying a foundation of indoctrination in Adventism. Adventist parents are guilted by SDA leaders into sending their teenage children away to academy or other SDA schools. If you, as an SDA parent, do not send your children to SDA schools, you are setting them up to leave the SDA church. And leaving the remnant, leaving the truth, that never bodes well. So, teenagers are sent to boarding schools to be further indoctrinated into Adventist teachings. And these teenagers are so often hurt in these academies.

That girl, as I’m sure you already know, was me. I don’t know how a mother can just leave her child like that, but it happened. I enjoyed my academy days. I was an advocate for boarding academies after graduating. But…stuff happened there. Stuff that I will have to write about at another time. There were many good experiences in academy. And it may have been safer there than it was for me at home. But….but. Adventist boarding academy also left its scars. Are my negative academy experiences why I left Adventism? Absolutely not. I did not leave Adventism because I was hurt, I left because Adventism is not biblical, plain and simple. But spiritual abuse leaves a mark. I couldn’t examine the wounds until I was safely out of Adventism and out of the abusive, dysfunctional family. The life after Adventism, so often, is also about healing from trauma. This academy 850 miles from home…it did not protect me. I was harmed there, in spite of all the good times.

And what kind of organization makes it ok for a mom to abandon her 14-year-old 850 miles away for months? Not a healthy one, that’s for sure.

Sunday’s Coming!

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The above book cover is one that I remember seeing in my parent’s house.  Although I never read this particular book, the title captures the sentiments of one of the most feared events in Adventist eschatology.  The inevitable “Sunday Law” would soon be upon us, the ruling that would usher in the end times, a time of great testing for Seventh-day Adventists.  Here’s how the story goes:

Jesus will finish his second phase of atonement in the heavenly sanctuary (called the “Investigative Judgment”), and then make the solemn declaration found in Revelation 22:11.  Everyone who is already clean will stay clean, but anyone who is unjust will also have to stay that way.  In other words, you MUST be perfect by this point in earth’s history.  Christ’s character will have been perfectly reproduced by his church, so all who have entered into this perfect state will stay that way, but if you weren’t found to be perfect, there is no more hope for you.  Jesus will cease his work of mediation, and you will have to stand before God without a mediator.  This is known as the “close of probation.”  At the close of probation, the Sunday Law will be enacted in the United States, that “lamb-like beast.”  This law will state that everyone must worship on Sunday.  Those who do not worship on Sunday but instead keep the seventh-day Sabbath will not be able to buy or sell.  Even worse, the law will give “Sunday-keepers” the permission to hunt down and kill the Sabbath-keepers.  This is God’s final test of loyalty:  who will keep the true Sabbath?  Who will observe the day that marks God’s authority and who will worship on the day that gives authority to the Beast?  Who is part of God’s special, end-times remnant people?  Who is truly just?  Adventists believe that those who worship on the Sabbath will receive the Seal of God (because the Sabbath is the seal), and those who worship on Sunday will receive the Mark of the Beast (because Sunday is the mark).  But those with the Seal of God will be persecuted.  The most blood-thirsty for Sabbath-keepers’ deaths will be those of us who once “knew the truth” but rejected it.  This means that even family members will turn against each other.  Even a daughter will try to kill her own mother.  And that is why the impending Sunday Law is something that is very scary to an Adventist!

Wow, sorry to pack all of that into one paragraph!  This is probably very confusing to those of you who did not grow up being taught these things, and that’s ok, because it really doesn’t make sense, nor is it even remotely biblical.  It takes great leaps of logic to reach these conclusions.  Or maybe more like tremendous bounds over the boundaries of logic.

Growing up, I was exposed to many different venues that would “prepare” us for this time.  Adventist publishing houses have produced many books that tell morbidly adventurous tales of those living through the Sunday Law.  Adventist summer camps and schools put on skits and plays about the Sunday Law.  One summer camp recently put on a pre-enactment that included pointing guns at teenage campers’ heads.  Another fairly recent addition to Adventist’s Sunday Law education repertoire is Senior Survival, an event in which Adventist academies (boarding high schools) take their seniors on a camping trip that teaches them skills for living in the wilderness, since they might have to flee the Sunday-keepers someday.  I went to Senior Survival during my academy days.  While much of it is touted as being an opportunity for class bonding, the under-lying goal for the trip was to teach us how to survive when we would have to run to the hills for safety from the Sunday-keepers.

When I left Adventism and became a Christian, my first Easter was an eye-opening experience.  As I celebrated Holy Week for the first time, one of the things that stood out was what everyone was saying on Good Friday.  My fellow Christians would encourage each other by saying “It’s Friday now, but don’t worry, Sunday’s coming!”  These were words of hope and joyous expectation.  The darkness of the crucifixion would soon give way to the dawn of the resurrection, the crowning event of Christianity.  As an Adventist, “Sunday’s coming!” would be words that would strike terror in my heart.  They were heavy with the weight of judgment and solitary doom.  But as a Christian, these are words of comfort and celebration.  What a glorious difference!

Without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity.  We would all be fools worshiping a dead god.  But our God is alive!  He is victorious over death and the grave.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we too are raised to life when we trust in Him to save us.  He calls our spirits from their tomb of sin and brings them into life, connection with the Life-Giver.  We are transferred from the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of the Beloved Son.  It’s a radical change, and it is all possible because Jesus rose and conquered death.  This is why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday, and this is also why Christians have chosen to come together and worship on the Lord’s Day.  We are not keeping the Jewish Sabbath, the shadow of our rest in Christ.  We are not transferring the Sabbath to Sunday.  We are celebrating a new thing.  We are celebrating our salvation in the Risen Lord and the New Covenant that now guides our lives.

That is why I can now proclaim with conviction and joy rather than with fear and doom, “Praise God, Sunday’s Coming!”

heisrisen2

On Optimism and Too Many Emotions

I have often been referred to as an “eternal optimist.”  And, lately, people ask why I seem so happy, so “normal,” in light of my past.  I fooled everyone with my cheerful exterior, even myself.  To be honest, I sometimes will use my up-beat ways as evidence to myself that it wasn’t really that bad.  I wouldn’t be the bouncy, bubbly little girl that I was if I was being abused, right?  I must be over-exaggerating, I must want attention, I’m misinterpreting everything…and on it goes.

Why am I so happy?   Is it my natural personality?  Could it be a defense mechanism, a way of coping with a darker reality?  Did I separate myself from all the negative things that I must have been feeling?  I think that the answer is yes to all of those questions.  I think that a combination of those elements is part of what has helped me to survive.  I believe it was also a learned behavior, to an extent.  We are happy little Adventists, after all!  When I cried, my grandma always would chirp in her sing-songy way “Put on a happy face!”  I remember her telling me that tears were toxic to the system; crying was poisonous.  And all of those Ellen White quotes about how important it was for us to have cheerful countenances didn’t help, either.  Don’t ever say anything bad about the Adventist church to non-Adventists.  Some things are meant for Jesus’ ears only.  We are the remnant, we follow the health message, we rest every Sabbath!  Look healthy and happy!

When you mix all of that together, well, you get me.  When I am using positivity as a defense against the more painful emotions that I have separated away from myself, it becomes a coping mechanism that does not always serve me.  Surprise surprise, it’s ok to express sadness.  In fact, grieving is necessary for healing.  It’s part of being emotionally healthy.  Who knew?  I am now finding myself learning how to grieve.  Often, these emotions are so strong that they come out in strong waves of endless tears.  Sometimes it feels like the emotions are too big for me, like I’m a little child who is overwhelmed with feelings that she does not know how to handle.  I’m finding that I have to learn how to regulate feelings in the same way that a kid has to learn how to handle them during their growing up years.  I never learned how to do that, because it was not safe for me to grow like that.

Often I am encapsulated with fear that is so strong that it seems to be a living, breathing thing.  Often I feel like I am back in frightening situations, like they are happening RIGHT NOW, even though they happened years ago.   Fear is probably the most prominent emotion in my life, past and present.  Except, which is it?  Because the past feels like the present, so really, is the fear now or then?  Welcome to the confusing world of post-traumatic musings.   Fear is the emotion that I remember growing up, ranging from complete terror to a constant antsy nagging that things were about to explode, but never knowing when that moment could be.  It was constant.  It was there even in my cheerfulness.  It was always there.  You’ll probably see me writing about fear a lot in this blog.

But my optimism is also a gift.  It does serve me, at times, by helping me to not go completely catatonically crazy.  I can find the humor in what I’ve been through and I can see the sunshine on the path.  It’s what got me through and what continues to get me through.   It’s a problem when I use it to numb out and deny the other feelings, but it isn’t all bad.

There’s a new Netflix TV show that is all the rage right now.  “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a hilariously light-hearted approach to post-traumatic stress.  Kimmy, the protagonist, spent 15 years of her life trapped in a cult that kept her in a bunker underground, because the apocalypse was above them!  I could make comparisons to Adventism here, but we’ll save that for another post (I’ll probably be talking more about this show on this blog; it’s too good not to share!).  The New Yorker ran an article about why the spring-time-sunshine-ponies-and-bunnies optimism of Kimmy Schmidt makes the show work, in spite of the awful circumstances of the story.  I simply must quote the last sentence of the article.  “That’s the key to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s ambition: by making horrible things funny, it suggests that surviving could be more than just living on. It could be a kind of freedom, too.”

And THAT is what makes the survival worth it.  The indescribable joy of freedom.  Think of a person who has spent a lifetime locked in a building with no windows.  Think of how that person would feel when they step outside the building for the first time.  Yes, there would be fear, confusion, overwhelm, all of that, but also a pure form of exhilaration.  That is what it is like to discover the truth about Jesus and the Gospel and grace.  That is how it feels to eat bacon for the first time or pierce your ears.  That is how it feels to worship together on Sunday morning with Christians and not think that they are either “poor, deceived Sunday-keepers” or maybe your future persecutor, murderer!  That is how it feels to be free from the emotional bonds of an abusive family.  The freedom to LIVE for Christ is amazing.  It makes all the pain, tears, fear, loss, terror, flashbacks, nightmares, everything, it makes all of that worth it.  JESUS IS WORTH IT.

Well, true to Laini style, I have once again ended a blog post about awful things on a happy note.  Just wait until I post my poems, people.  Ain’t no sunshine in those babies!  But that’s for another time.  For now…thank you, Jesus, for the joy of finding freedom in You.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/30/candy-girl

God’s Provision

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families,
    he leads out the prisoners with singing…” Psalm 68:5,6

 I have held this passage close to my heart since leaving Adventism.  God has been showing me that he is trustworthy, and one of the biggest evidences of his faithfulness is his constant provision for me as his child.  This is a topic that I have often shied away from speaking about in public, but this is a very large part of my story.  Leaving Adventism is more than disentangling from heretical theology.  It means escaping a culture, digging down into the very roots and foundation of your spirit.  Truly processing out of Adventism means examining every. single. aspect. of your life within Adventism.  It means healing, healing at the soul level.  It is a work that only God can do.

When I left, I was also leaving behind a toxic family legacy.  I was 21 years old and dealing with the shock of finding out that I’d been lied to my whole life and the wrath of a very Adventist family.  I had the rug of parental finances pulled out from underneath my feet with no preparation, and I was still in college.  I thought that finishing college was going to be impossible.  I was afraid, so afraid, of facing my family, of surviving in the world, and terrified that Adventism had been right after all and I was, as my uncle had told me, “hopeless.”  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I cried at the drop of a hat.  In spite of the piercing light of grace and truth that had given me joy and freedom, emotional and spiritual darkness still tried to consume me.

I lost the illusion of a loving, supportive family.  I really had never had that, but as a child, I had to protect myself from that reality.  So, I believed that the way that I was treated was loving and that I had had the proverbial charmed American childhood.  Never mind the crippling fear, the nightmares, the pervasive shame. That was normal!  But being born again means living in reality.  It means finding out the truth about your life.  It means allowing the light of Jesus to drive out the darkness of sin.  And, slowly, my self-protecting illusions began to fade.  It’s now safe for me live in reality.  It took a dramatic event for this to happen, but it was necessary in order to bring about healing.  Jesus came into my life at just the right time.  I still have a whole life ahead of me to bring him glory.

One of the most beautiful ways in which God has shown me that he is trustworthy in how he has provided for me from the very beginning of this journey out of Adventism and out of all the abuse that life entails.  He gave me a support system right away, a body of believing former Adventists who were my rock during the difficult months after leaving.  Through this group of people, I got a job and a place to live after having to drop out of college after my junior year.  He even provided me with a knowledgeable and compassionate Christian therapist.

Eventually, God provided a way for me to go back to college and finish.  I now have some wonderful roommates and a stable job, a safe environment as I take the next steps and continue to heal.  The Lord gave me people who are genuine, people who are showing me that I am loveable.  People who are teaching me to live in safe relationships and who allow me to use my voice and be myself.  The professionals all recommend that, before the true, nitty-gritty work of facing the past can begin, one needs to have a safe life in the present and a strong support system.  God has given me those things, even before I knew what that looked like.  Parts of me are still not convinced that I am safe, but it is a process.  And God is there, holding me through the process.

The Psalm that I quoted above is absolutely true.  God is showing me that he is my true Father.  He is loving me in ways that I never could have fathomed during my life before.  And, like a good Father, he is taking care of my needs without vindictively withholding his love when I mess up.  He is patient with me.  He parents me with grace.  He is so tender and gentle with me.  He sees the bruises and scars and is healing them with care.  He knew that I have always been lonely, but leaving Adventism would allow me to realize and feel that loneliness, so he has shown me that he can be counted on to comfort the parts that feel alone.  And he has brought me into his family, the body of believers.  I was lonely, and he put me in a Family.

I’ve always said that leaving Adventism comes with a cost, but that it is worth it.  I still stand by those words, three years out of Adventism.  Again and again, God has shown me that he will never let me go, that he is still holding me in the palm of his hand.  This doesn’t mean that he has shielded me from pain, but he has never left me to deal with the hurt alone.  I know that he is caring for me.

I don’t want to make it sound like my life after Adventism is all sunshine.  It’s not.  Healing HURTS.  And I know that I still have a long road ahead of me; I’m barely getting started.  But, God’s healing is part of my sanctification, part of my refining.  And I struggle with the process.  It’s difficult.  It’s not easy to give up a perfect illusion for a painful reality.  It’s not fun to have to feel those things.  But I know that it is all necessary for my growth.  And I know that I have already been made whole in Christ.  Having him as my foundation makes everything else possible.  I have a defender; I have a family; I have a Father.   And it is forever.

The Silver Swan

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“The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,

when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.

Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,

thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:

‘Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!

 More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.’”   

The setting of this text by Ned Rorem has, I think, become a permanent fixture in my song repertoire.  I sang it as part of a Rorem set in my senior recital, chose this piece to analyze for a paper/project in a senior-level theory class, and am again bringing it to my UNL grad school audition.

This text has always held much meaning for me, but even more so as I have transitioned out of Adventism.  I have always identified with the Swan.  She has been silent for a lifetime.  She has no voice.  It is only with her dying breath that her voice is finally free, and she can express her true feelings about the mostly foolish inhabitants of earth.  It took a dramatic event, her impending death, to finally unlock her voice.

As I was working on this piece in my voice lesson this week, by voice teacher said to me “This song needs to come from a personal place, a depth that I know you can give.  Imagine a swan that has lived her whole life without a voice, just floating on the water, afraid to cause a ripple, not unlike you were just three years ago.”   As I performed the piece in my lesson, I took myself back to that place…the place of being so afraid that I was locked into silence.  I journeyed with the Swan to the bittersweet moment of release, her moment of freedom.  But, this freedom comes at a cost, her very life.  So it was with me.  Growing up in a cult and in an abusive environment stole away my voice.  I was not allowed to have a voice, and if I ever dared try to exert my voice, the consequences were great.  I learned that having a voice meant pain, terror, and a withdrawal of love.  So, I tried as hard as I could to recite the script that I had been taught and to stick with it at all costs.

But then, something happened.  I died.  And in that death was freedom.  Unlike the Swan, my death was New Life.  That life came with security in knowing that God would never withdraw His love from me.  It was now safe to sing.  My voice was free!  Fear tried to keep it chained, but Love gave it wings and made it soar.

Yes, there was a cost to this new found freedom and life.  It was my death.  I had to leave my old life completely behind.  The implements used to tie me down had no place in my New Life.  There is no fear in love.  I had to leave behind all those things that kept me from living in the Truth.  This included the false Jesus of Adventism with all his fearful trappings laced with guilt and deception.  This included the sins that bound me to this god of my own making.  This included my idolatry of the Sabbath and Ellen White.  This included my loyalty to abusive people.  These things were toxic, and they had to go.  Because these things were all I knew, it was not easy to let them go.  But, by the grace of God, He buried them in a tomb.  The old, sinful woman is dead and gone, and she is now a New Creation.  She is loved and treasured, she is free to grow in Christ, and she is safe for eternity.   She is free to sing.  It’s worth the cost.

Needless to say, I left that lesson and promptly shed a few tears in my car.  Tapping into that place isn’t easy and it can be emotionally taxing, but it is also beautiful that it is safe for this place to be exposed.  It no longer has to hide in the dark, but is being brought into the beauty of God’s light, the light of Truth.  Unlike the Swan, my soul will sing forever (because it will never die!).  In my New Birth, God has given me the strength to take back my voice.  I don’t have to be that Swan whose voice is locked, because now it is safe for me to sing in freedom, to use the voice that God gave me to bring Him glory.  This is what the life after Adventism is; it is learning to sing.