Tag Archives: religion

I am still angry

Well, this morning I had a lovely little shit surprise waiting for me at work. I was quite justifiably frustrated and I did let those responsible know that their actions were unacceptable in the future. But it did get me to thinking about something else that’s been lurking in the back of my mind for quite some time.

I am angry. Specifically, I am angry with my father. Not just for raising me in such a strict, stifling environment, although I consider that pretty reprehensible as well. I am angry because he wasn’t really there for me. I am angry that he failed me so hard. And not so much that he failed me, but that he never owned up to it and he continues to live his life thinking that everything was hunky dory when it was far from it.

It wasn’t. I suffered for years under him. And even when I tried to escape into a world he never fully prepared me for (because, as he put it, he’d been expecting me to stay at home until I got married) and I ultimately ended up stumbling and falling, he was never there for me in a truly supportive way. I could not qualify for the FAFSA until I was 24, and I could not get help getting into college on my own, but since I wasn’t “living right”, he refused to help me. Not very helpful when the one person that can help you not only refuses to help you but also berates you for your poor quality of life and for not doing anything to change it. I wanted to scream at him so many times, I can’t change it by myself! I need help! And you won’t help me! I guess his sports car and his luxury apartment in a gated community were more important than a daughter that was living in an unheated camper trailer for two and a half years in Pennsylvania (which, dunno if y’all know, but Pennsylvania winters get mighty cold). Oh, he did pay my car insurance for the car I had that was paid off (it was under his name, as I’d never had the title transferred to me when I moved out, and part of his divorce decree was that he would pay it until I was financially ready to take over). So there’s that I guess, even though he was basically ordered to do so, he still did it without giving me any hassle. Until of course the car was totaled in an accident and then I had no transportation at all, living in the middle of nowhere with no public transit whatsoever. Oh, he had extra vehicles after my first stepmother passed, but I’m not sure what happened to them. It would have been very helpful to have a working vehicle living where I was. But that would have been asking too much, ya know, because that would have required that he gave a shit.

For full disclaimer purposes, he did eventually end up helping me. Eventually. After I suffered for almost four years in poverty, he moved me out to where he was in Ohio and rented an apartment for me so I could start over. I qualified for the FAFSA at that point and I went to school through an accelerated program and I finished an associate’s degree in fourteen months. He also generously put me on his insurance because I didn’t qualify for Medicaid in Ohio (he previously absolutely refused to, so for a while I suffered without insurance until I finally caved and got Pennsylvania Medicaid and had to keep reapplying for it because I had no other options; it was far from the best coverage, his would have been much better and more beneficial to me, but he outright refused). He paid my rent until six months after I graduated, to help me get on my feet (which, I actually ended up moving to Minnesota because the landlords were horrible to me and I didn’t want to live there anymore). Oh, and when I moved to Minnesota, he did give me some money to help fund my cross country trip. But probably only because I was breaking up with my ex and moving because of that, as he didn’t like him.

So, I mean, while it’s not like I was totally abandoned, and I wouldn’t want to portray it that way, he really seemed to do the bare minimum and wait until things had reached critical mass in order to help. When he decided to help me move out to Ohio, it was because I begged and pleaded with him to help me because I wanted to go back to school. I wanted to change my life. Nobody wants to live in poverty. But I needed help and I finally got him to see that. I had found a program I wanted to do, that I could do from home, but I needed an internet connection because I had none and I had no transportation to get to classes (remember the totaled car and the no public transit?). He refused to help me with just a basic connection and I remember that I almost broke down and finally told him that I did want to change my life, but that I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed help. I think he finally realized at that point that I truly wasn’t looking for a quick fix. Somehow, something I said made something click in him that made him present the offer.

The fact that it took me four years to do so is ridiculous. In my honest opinion, a truly caring, empathetic father would have reached out before then, and not at the insistence of the child. While I don’t have children yet, I can’t imagine subjecting them to nigh-homelessness and two years of Pennsylvania winters with no heat just because I didn’t agree with how they were living. Not to say that he should have catered to my every need or given me handouts left and right, but for fucks sake, help me in some tangible way! Help me get into school so I can better my life! That’s what I wanted. That’s what I had to wait four years for until he finally gave me the opportunity.

I would think a former pastor would be more empathetic. Not him. He was never empathetic to anyone that I personally saw, much less to his own family. My mother had to constantly remind him to call his own mother. Now, I myself have difficulty keeping up with people, I admit, but even I remember to call and text (or now, facebook with) my own mother on at least a semi-regular basis. Because I care about her, it’s easy to remember. My own fiance regularly calls and messages/texts his mother as well, just to check in with her and make sure she’s doing okay. I really can’t fathom how self-absorbed one must be to never, ever remember to call or keep in touch with his own mother over the course of his entire life. I seriously remember being very young, perhaps three or four, and I remember my mother telling my father, “Don’t forget to call your mother!” Seriously. And that was a constant thing for my whole life. And not just his mother, but also other family members and a couple of pastor and missionary friends. I suppose if he could have, he would have just lived in isolation from everyone, reducing any social interaction to the bare minimum.

So, how exactly did this revelation come to me? In a dream. In the dream, I had already come out to my father as pagan (which I have in real life, as well), and for some reason I was visiting him and I was forced to go to church. I hate going to church, especially since I get flashbacks of bad memories whenever I go. I dread it. I don’t go nowadays and I don’t usually like to think about it too much more than just in passing. But, for some reason or another, he forced me to go with him. During the dream, I kind of had a moment where I snapped and had enough and I turned to him and started leaning into him, saying that this whole dragging me to church thing even when he knows I’m pagan is just rude and inconsiderate beyond anything. I started leaning into him regarding something else as well.  What exactly I can’t remember, but what I do remember is that I actually shamed him into silence. He couldn’t give me any answer, because he knew he didn’t have an acceptable answer.

It was one of those dreams where I woke up and my throat was hot and raw, like I’d been yelling. I laid close to my fiance, willing myself to settle down, but it took a little longer than normal to finally fall back asleep.

I think my subconscious channels the anger I still feel toward him. Anger at emotionally abandoning me (though, if he was never there for me to begin with, is it still abandonment? Or is it something else?), anger at the mold I was forced into for the formative years of my life, anger at the absolute passiveness he exhibits when it comes to his own family members, anger at the lack of love and true care I felt from him at any given time (no, paying the bills =/= true love and care). He has disappointed me in ways that I truly cannot even describe.

I have tried so many times to put together a letter for him, something from my heart, something to tell him how I feel. Not that I think that he would really change, just to basically clear myself of him. But every time I try to commit words to paper, the anger flourishes in my words and before I know it, I’m screaming at him through the page. And that’s not what I want to do. Letting him know how angry I am is not what I truly want to do, because that will accomplish as much as yelling at a brick wall. I want him to realize that he damaged me in a nigh irreparable way. That it was his specific actions that hung over me like a dark cloud. That it was his lifestyle that made me feel like I could never measure up, because I could never measure up to its standards. That it was his lack of any kind of empathy that drove me to certain depths. That the father that I should have been able to look up to, to look for in time of trouble for comfort, to look at as an example in what to look for in a significant other … that that father does not exist in any form for me. There is no comfort that I can find in him, no care or empathy or love that a daughter can draw out. To me, he is merely a shell of a person, lacking any true substance.

I hope it was all worth it for him. I was forced to suffer the consequences of the lifestyle and his personal issues, but he will be the one to ultimately live with it. He’s pretty well alienated himself, as far as long-term friends go. He’s also alienated himself from a lot of his family, including his children. I can’t speak for my sister (although she interacts with him minimally, I think so as to limit the frustration levels of doing so), but I know my brother has written him off. I personally will not be wanting him at my wedding. He won’t be walking his last daughter down the aisle. He won’t be giving the marriage blessing (not that I would want his Christian blessing anyway). And he won’t see any children associated with me. I don’t want them to have such a disassociated, disconnected, un-empathetic grandfather. To me, that is far worse than having no grandfather at all. Sorry to my future kids, but I will spare them the pain of what I went through. I know they’ll understand eventually.

And this, this right here is why the fundamental lifestyle just does. not. work. People are isolated. Children are forced to measure up to impossible standards, and when they inevitably don’t, it’s their fault for not having enough faith or giving in to the devil or whatever they want to use as an excuse. True empathy is discouraged in favour of rules and regulations. Doing the right thing is done merely for a future reward, not because doing the right thing is doing the right thing. From what I have personally witnessed, it encourages sociopathy, and, frighteningly enough, psychopathy. IFB especially can basically just make it up as they go along, based on their own little twisted interpretations of scriptures, and call it a day. Some of those can be very damaging.

I’m sure some of my readers (if I still have any 😛 ) might have heard of Alecia Pennington. A group I’m a member of have been following her mother’s (frightening) blog for some time, but we had specifically been following her since her escape. She finally came out with the issue that she now can’t even prove she is who she is because her parents did not properly document her and she is having trouble gathering the necessary documents for proof. When I first watched her video, I ached for her, ached because I understood how difficult working with parents like hers are. Difficult to get through the narcissism and sociopathy associated with shunning family members at the drop of a hat simply because they don’t share your beliefs. I had been rooting for her ever since I’d heard of her escape, but now her access to a new life was blocked in a way she could not overcome without the help of the parents that more or less pushed her out.

Fortunately, more than likely due to social media pressure (as her mother shills essential oils for a living and depends on how she is presented to the public, and her father is a CPA), her parents finally backed down from their “offers” (laden with strings attached, if I know anything about people like them, and I do) and agreed to help her, period.

I hope she is able to work through her feelings about them. I know she’s fresh out of that environment, so everything is still so raw and gaping and there must be a whole gamut of emotion that she goes through. I do hope, however, despite her difficulties, that she is able to make a life for herself, a life that she wants and that she creates on her own terms. Considering her mother went on and on in a blog post detailing what basically seemed like grief associated with a child’s death – and then proceeded to shill her essential oils immediately after – I sincerely doubt that they will ever come around to the gravity of their damaging beliefs and actions.

Honestly, I doubt anyone like that will ever come around. Truly, you have to have some sort of ingrained empathy in order to recover from that level of fundie, and they just don’t have it. Like my father, they will likely flounce around forever, wallowing in their own little narcissistic world, just as full of themselves as ever. If there’s a way to truly get through to them and knock them down a peg, I have not found it yet. If I do, though, my father will certainly be hearing from me.

Advertisements

Camp

Ah, camp. That lovely invention of summer that gives kids something to do during the break and parents a week or so of sanity, rest, and relaxation. I never went to camp as a small child, as I was very clingy and dependent on my parents growing up, besides being immensely shy and awkward. But by the time I was a teen, I decided to give it a try once I found a particular camp.

Northland Camp & Conference Center in Dunbar, Wisconsin, was my summer go-to from ages 13-17. It was a religious camp and my only experience with camp. The schedule was somewhat grueling and included required activities that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but I still liked it enough to request to keep going. I’m not sure if it was the idea of going to camp that I liked so much, or that I just convinced myself that I liked it, as looking back on it, the experience was pretty overrated. Fun, but overrated.

Wakeup was always early, because any getting-ready things that needed to be done had to be done by the time all the cabins were to line up for the daily flag raising. Then we had breakfast, followed by cabin devotions. The exact schedule varied day-to-day after that. Sometimes we’d have a cabin activity, or a camp bible session. We always had a morning chapel, at least. After lunch there were sometimes other bible sessions, team game activities (which I loathed, as I hated that kind of thing, but I couldn’t opt out), and then maybe a few hours of free time before dinner and evening chapel. One night a week we’d have an after-dark activity. There was also usually a water day that went along with the team games, but I remember one year it was so cold they almost had to cancel it. There was also a loooooong list of bible verses to memorize. That part wasn’t necessarily required, but it garnered your team lots of points, so it was always pressured.

Even though free time was pretty limited, they had many options with how to spend the time. They had a bookstore and coffee shop on site. There was an archery range. A shooting range. A climbing wall. Many, many trails for walking. A craft shop. A mini-golf course. And, of course, they had a large pond where one could use one part for boating and the other for swimming. I never got a chance to participate in the swimming, because you had to have a buddy with you, and since I never came with anyone (a lot of kids came as part of a church group) and I didn’t make friends too easily, I never had someone to go with. There’s probably other little things that I’ve forgotten about, too, but those are the major ones that stand out in my memory.

When I was 15 going on 16, my mother and I went to a special ladies retreat in Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is a lovely area, and we relished the time we spent on our little mini-vacation. I don’t remember who hosted the event or who was running it, but it featured at least a couple of people associated with Northland’s ministries, because I remember it came up in talking with a couple of women. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but they suggested that I attend the Leadership Camp that Northland offered.

I was immediately hesitant about it, but we said we would think and pray about it. Ultimately, despite my initial hesitation, I ended up attending. Leadership Camp is two weeks instead of one, weekend stay included. The first week is pretty similar to the regular Teen Camp; we participated in all of their activities and are assigned a team, just like them, however we had our own special little sessions and individual counseling with various staff members. The second week was spent being a junior counselor in either the Kid or Teen Camps, along with a regular counselor. We also still had our special sessions and individual counseling sessions. The weekend was fairly open, compared to the week. We usually had a big group trip/activity on Saturday. Sunday we would go to a local church and sing.

The first year I went, when I was 16, I was in a deep denial of myself, my life, and my beliefs. While I had some doubts, I convinced myself of my faith and was in the midst of throwing myself into it with all of my energy. So my first year of Leadership Camp was pretty awesome. I bonded better with the other campers that joined me, probably because they were here purposefully and not just as something to do over the summer. We all had ministry aspirations. We rejoiced in our kindred hearts and drew close together, sharing our burdens and our hearts with each other and praying with one another.

The second year, however, did not go as smoothly. My denial had broken through into major issues for me. I had adopted a more goth-like look in terms of clothes and makeup. I was extremely depressed and stressed in general. I was having trouble dealing with certain traumas in my life that I felt I couldn’t get help for. Despite that, I still went, because I remembered the wonderful time I’d had and I yearned to be around people that were as kind and friendly and wonderful as I’d met the previous year.

While my fellow campers were still very nice to me, the counselors and staff were more stand-offish. I’m sure they likely remembered me from all the years I’d been attending, and my sudden change in appearance was fairly shocking. I still attended all of the sessions, still took copious amounts of studious notes, asked questions, memorized scripture, participated in everything, even if I didn’t want to. But they seemed to treat me differently, based on my looks and regardless of participation.

This became apparent during my first individual counseling session. I met with a lady in the ministry at Northland – a pastor’s wife, no less – and at first it seemed to be fairly the same as the last year. She was a different lady than the year before, but I knew her still, if only from a distance. However, not far into the session, she made a comment about my appearance being “goth”. I replied that I liked black and felt comfortable, which was true. I wasn’t wearing anything extreme, just a black shirt and black pants with thick black eyeliner. Compared to some goth kids I’d seen in the mall, I was pretty tame. But she apparently felt the need to comment on it and make a negative insinuation of it.

I brushed it off, thinking that she was probably just surprised at what would appear to her to be a sudden change. As we talked more and she dug deeper, I did confess issues with depression, especially following sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of a previous boyfriend. I don’t remember everything about the session, but what I distinctly remember is that she asked for as many details as I would give her (I didn’t give her much, as I didn’t feel comfortable doing so) and she simply advised me to be careful upon going home, that I wouldn’t be tempted into immorality with another man.

I remember being utterly shocked at her reaction. She didn’t necessarily invalidate the abuse itself, but she completely invalidated my feelings about it and my reactions to it (I had a lot of trouble even looking a man in the eye at the time, there was no way I wanted anyone to even touch me). I felt like she didn’t take it seriously, because she didn’t. She threw some bible verses at me, I’m sure, but I was in a haze of shock at the lack of support and empathy.

Despite the staff reaction, like I said, the other campers treated me the same. The group I was with my last year seemed to be a little looser, though still just as fervent. There was even a few regular Teen Campers who noticed my dress, asked if I was a “Christian Goth”, and immediately bonded with me over it. It must not be so bad, I reasoned as I walked to evening chapel with them.

However, that little hope came late in the second week. Before the second week even started, I was pulled aside and told – by the husband of the same lady I met with for counseling – that because of my “personal struggles”, I was deemed unfit to counsel the age group that I would be normally assigned to. Instead, I would be assigned to a younger group and paired up with the counselor I’d been with so far, I’m guessing in an effort for stability through the transition into the second week.

It was a devastating blow to me, especially because despite my struggles, I still had a heart for ministry and was still aching for chances to prove myself. My chin quivered and tears welled up in my eyes as he told me, but I refused to let them fall. I would not give in. I would not give him the satisfaction of confirming that I was indeed “broken” and that their decision was correct.

Later that night, in my bunk, I allowed myself some quiet tears, my face buried in my pillow to quell any sounds that might escape. Again, I refused to show any weakness, to anyone. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had to go it alone, because I was alone. Utterly and completely alone.

That year was the last year for me, as I’d reached the maximum age that they accepted. As I left, I clung desperately to the good memories. Laughing with newly made friends. The smell of the morning mist as it rolled in while we lined up for flag-raising. Sitting in the open courtyard in between rows of cabins, listening to a fellow Leadership Camper strum a guitar and complain about the confiscation of his Grateful Dead CD’s. The instant camaraderie felt by others who weren’t the “norm” as far as appearances went in the conservative Christian community.

However, the good just doesn’t cancel out the bad, as much as I wish it did. While I mostly enjoyed the time I spent there, the blatant condemnation and utter lack of any sympathy still linger. Like a cloud that suddenly appears on a sunny day, the rejection will always be there.

I suppose it’s all for the best, looking back, as it helped loosen some of my ties to the Christian community that was previously very tight. Because of the events that followed, I know I would have ended up leaving anyway, but this subtle bond breaking made it just slightly easier, and I guess that’s all I could have asked for.

So, if anyone who knows me from that camp reads this, if you were one of those who accepted me regardless, thank you. Your love and acceptance were and are greatly appreciated. If you were one of those who judged me instead of offering support, I also say thank you. If not for you, my journey to discover my true self and eventually into transitioning into Paganism would have been rougher, tougher, and more ridden with guilt and anxiety than it already was. Thank you for showing me your true colours, for without that, it would have been harder to show mine.

~Shine on~

Lovely stress

I’ve had a long relationship with stress in my life. Most recently, today, apparently my car decided to stall while my fiance was on the way home. Its fate is unknown as of yet. We are supposed to move into a new place on December 1st, and not having a car is going to make things very difficult for us. My stomach is in knots and I feel dizzy.

But this is not an unfamiliar feeling. I’ve struggled with stress my whole life. I even remember it as a child, that sickening feeling in my stomach, the inability to shut down the racing thoughts in my head. I don’t always remember specific instances, but I remember the feeling.

I clearly remember lying in bed in an old apartment of mine, facing eviction, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop worrying about what I would do, where I would go, what would happen to me. I ended up practically homeless, living in an unheated camper trailer in the driveway of my ex’s parent’s house. Like the Mary and Joseph in the Bible, there was “no room in the inn”, so we were relegated to the trailer. In Pennsylvania, it gets bitterly cold in the winter. I had to resort to only bathing once a week, because peeling off all the layers for a few minutes just to pull them back on was such a chore. I dreaded sleeping at night, when it really got cold. I pulled on as many layers as I could, including a hat, and pulled the blankets over my head to conserve as much heat as possible, though I was still chilled throughout the night. Going to the bathroom was a real experience, as there was no running water or working toilet in the trailer, so I’d have to pull on boots and my winter coat and carefully traverse an icy driveway to climb two flights of stairs in the house just to get to the closest bathroom.

Even the duplex trailer we managed to nab and move into, there was still issues there. My ex was a pillhead, and as such he usually squandered his check on pills, giving little regard to our bills. Our electric bill got so ridiculous, we had to be put on a payment plan. There was several times the landlord had to come knocking about rent, and he was far from a gentle man. The vibe he gave off was gruff and unfriendly, and sometimes scary. There were times that I simply dodged into our bathroom or our bedroom (where he couldn’t see in) when I noticed him walking towards our trailer. He wasn’t always coming to us, but when he did, I would ignore his knocking, because I didn’t like dealing with him, especially when I always got the wrath that should have been directed at my ex.

I also remember, in that duplex trailer, we only had one car for most of the time we lived there, and my ex used it to get to work. After that car was totaled, he hitched a ride with friends, but it still put me in the position of being absolutely alone all day. A lot of times, he would go get stuff with his friends after work. Sometimes he would be home quickly, but a lot of times I was waiting for him long into the night with absolutely nobody there, nobody to talk to, nothing to do except watch TV (when the cable was on…our neighbor allowed us to hook into his cable for a small fee each month, but my ex was not faithful on any kind of bills). It drove me up the walls, especially when there was no cable. He was my only real human contact, and I felt abandoned most of the time. Alone with my thoughts and feelings, which tended to overwhelm me. I was living there when I lost all faith in the Christian religion after being coldly rebuffed by a pastor that I personally knew. I’m sure he doesn’t know this, but his refusal to help a member out by simply giving them a ride when they had no other options sent them into a downward spiral that resulted in leaving the Christian faith. I could go on about this, but I won’t. Not on this post at least.

Back on topic, a familiar bolt of panic shot through me when my brother messaged me on facebook and told me that his new boyfriend (of less than a month at that time) was going to be moving in and fiance and I had to move out by December 1st. I remember I actually cried because of the short timeline (this was the end of September) and the fact that not a lot becomes available in Minnesota in the winter because people generally don’t like to have to deal with ice and snow when trying to move. Of course, my brother is oblivious to many things, and I’m sure he thought nothing of it. But I think of these things. Hell, it seems I think of every little thing, and I panicked. I cried. I hyperventilated for a minute. All kinds of cuss words ran through my head. But my fiance was my rock. He assured me we would find a place and that I would never have to go back to the kinds of situations I’ve been in.

And he was right. We found a place, and despite a couple of miscommunications and missteps, we have the place secured. And then this happens with the car. Always something, it seems, that seems to be the theme of my life. I can’t seem to have anything good happen in my life without something happening to interfere or deflate it. I try to not let things get to me, I try really hard. But I’m a worry-wart by nature (thanks, Grandma) and with an anxiety disorder stemming from PTSD, I have physical issues that is difficult to deal with without proper medication. But, because of various circumstances that I don’t feel like going into right now, I can’t get what I need to help. So, I just flounder here and there and go on as best I can. My heart is still in my stomach as I await to hear the fate of my car. I can only hope and pray to the gods that everything will be okay.

 

ETA: Fiance made it back to the car and it started and he was able to get it home. We are hopeful he’ll be able to pick me up tonight as I’m not really dressed to walk over half a mile in the cold and snow to the bus stop. I swear, if it’s not one thing it’s another. My life can’t be going good for too long! Damnit, Loki, gimme a break!

Video games & being truthful with your kids

I just happened upon this topic last night, as my fiance and I were watching some random YouTube videos on old video games. Quite a few I had never even heard of, but he had and had played them. This got me to thinking about my history with video games and eventually led to a decision of mine regarding my future kids that my parents did not do with me.

When I was a kid, I obviously knew that video games existed, no matter how sheltered I was. I asked my parents before for a system, not even one in particular, but they said no. I eventually bought one myself – at a discount – once I had my own job, and while I enjoyed it immensely, I am far from a hardcore gamer. There are many games that are just out of my league, talent-wise, the kind that you get how to play with a lot of experience behind you that you just can’t grasp otherwise. I enjoy watching someone else (like my fiance) play games I’d never be able to, but he grew up playing them. I didn’t. I got my first system and games at 17, which, for all the gamer friends I have, is pretty late in life compared to when they started playing.

Whenever I had asked my parents for a video game, they had said they couldn’t afford it. My fiance’s parents, on the other hand, were able to provide the occasional system and plenty of games for them, because they waited until the inevitable price drop and specials and sales. His family certainly was no better off, and in fact it’s a pretty good guess that they had less income than my family even did. Yet they afforded a small luxury here and there, at a discounted price. My parents refused, cost being their reason. Nowadays, I see their refusal for what it was: they just didn’t want me to play video games.

Now, if they had just come out and said they didn’t want me to play video games…sure, I would have been upset (yet another thing barred from me for religious reasons) but later on I would have admired the fact that they had been up front and truthful with me. Just like with my one normal Halloween, however, they had to dig an excuse out of a barrel that just plain wasn’t true. I think it’s ridiculous lying to kids like that to save face. If you don’t want them to do something, shouldn’t you be able to sit them down and explain it to them in a way they’ll understand and accept? And even if they don’t fully accept it, at least understand it? Why the lies, especially when they become so blatant later in life? I know my father orchestrated the whole thing – as he really did just about everything in my life, like a puppet master – so my respect for him has gone down even more (and it wasn’t very high to begin with).

Which brings me to my decision: I will not lie to my kids about stupid shit like this. If I don’t want them to participate in something or have something, I will have an actual reason (not a stupid one like “oh our religion prohibits it” which I won’t be forcing any kind of religion on them anyway) and I will be able to explain it to them. They don’t have to fully accept it, but they will understand my reasoning. And, I think, later in life…they will respect me more for being up front and honest with them rather than throwing out some flimsy excuse. My kids will be able to say that their mother was truthful with them. They won’t have to go back in their memories and dissect everything and judge whether it was the truth or not, because they will know it is true from the get go.

Another layer to the issue is, knowing that my parents – and my father in particular, as I know he bullied and forced my mother into doing and saying things she wouldn’t otherwise – outright lied to me on certain things, even small things, it brings into question everything they ever told me and taught to me throughout my life. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a principle I want my children to have to follow. I want to be a living example for them as much as possible. While my parents talked the talk about living in Christ and being an example, they weren’t always that way themselves. While I’m no longer a Christian, I will strive to live what I preach and let that speak for itself for my children. I think that is so much more important than hauling them to church every Sunday and Wednesday and forcing them to memorize scriptures and barring them from “worldly” distractions, because if I can’t practice what I preach, how can I expect my children to really listen to what I try to instill in them?

VBS

This post was prompted by a video shared on a forum I’m in that features a bunch of adults acting out a certain song that was rather commonly sung at VBS. And while I thought it pretty sad that grown adults were acting out all the motions to a kids song, it got me remembering my own experiences.

Ah, VBS. Vacation Bible School. It was a time of the year that I looked forward to. School was out for the summer. I got to go to church (a central part of my childhood) and see and play with my friends (since for a good chunk of my schooling, I was homeschooled, I didn’t get to see my friends anywhere but church). Snacks were usually involved in some way, and I swear those church ladies knew how to make the meanest rice krispy treats. And those little plastic juice barrels! Oh yes, you knew it was a good day at VBS when they brought out the juice barrels. That and those little cups of vanilla ice cream with the strawberry or chocolate flavour swirls in them.

I went to a lot of VBS’ over the years, at several different churches. Even though they were all different in some little way, they followed the same basic principle. Play time, singing time, story time, snack time, bible time…sometimes memorization was involved similar to AWANA. There was usually some sort of fundraiser type of thing that happened. I never really won anything with that, as during that time, my family wasn’t able to give me much to donate. I didn’t really like that they did that, because it seemed to isolate the kids who weren’t able to give and rewarded the kids who were with…things that they could have afforded to buy themselves. I tried not to feel too jealous, but sometimes it was hard. I wouldn’t say we were “poor” exactly, but we weren’t exactly diving in the vault ala Scrooge McDuck.

Aside from those awkward feelings, I still had plenty of fun. It mostly seemed to be a super-charged combination of AWANA and children’s church. There was usually a theme for the week and the stories and decor went along with that theme. Story time was usually hit or miss, depending on who was doing it. If it was my mother, I knew it would be good. She was a great storyteller, and she used felt boards to illustrate the story as she was telling it. Some people would use a felt board and it would be awkward, but she used it masterfully. I was always entranced, even if she was telling a story I’d heard at least a dozen times before. I remember watching her carefully cut out the various figures from new story sets, being careful to place them oh so exactly in a box so they wouldn’t rip. I wasn’t allowed to touch and play with them when I was younger, but I always watched her and wondered what story she’d be telling next.

The ultimate guilty pleasure of VBS was, of course, Veggie Tales. I had to google this because I didn’t remember the exact year, but it came out for the first time in December of ’93, so by VBS of ’94, there were videos at the ready to play. It was usually Friday, the last day of VBS, unless a teacher wasn’t feeling well or particularly prepared and decided to opt for a video. We loved watching Veggie Tales, especially singing along with Silly Songs with Larry. Today, I think the great thing about Silly Songs is that the songs have nothing to do with any religious message, really, they’re just silly and fun. Kids need that. Growing up in the church the way I did, we were constantly bombarded with Jesus and the Bible and messages from all angles, even when we were just trying to play. We really just wanted to bust out and have fun without it having to involve religion. And even though the rest of the video was chock-full of religious messages, the Silly Songs part was the one part that I could look forward to and know that I didn’t have to pay attention for a message.

The last time I was ever involved in VBS in any way was when I operated the puppets in my teens. By that time, my religion was losing his luster and VBS no longer held the appeal it once did as a child. The songs that I’d previously had fun singing and acting out were corny, contrived, and condescending in a way. The stories were old, having been told hundreds and hundreds of times before in more entertaining ways. The shiny facade was gone, like adults find in so many things from childhood, but in my case specifically, it was still present for a time, taunting me in a way. The joy experienced by the children, while wonderful for them and wonderful for me to bring out of them, was not the same as I experienced. I tried desperately to hold on for years, to convince myself that I was happy in this faith, that this was my life. But while it was, it wasn’t in a sense. It wasn’t the real me. I only said I believed because I didn’t have any other option.

While I’ll still look back on those summers with fond memories, that’s all they are for me anymore. They have no power to draw me back to a church I can’t reconcile my personal beliefs with. While they may seem to haunt me at particular times, they have no true hold over me. Any pang of hurt I feel came after, and I understand that. I work to separate that. The bad memories don’t overshadow the good memories, nor do they cancel each other out. They exist side by side, hand in hand, simply as they are. That is one thing that I’m trying to keep in mind while writing this blog: that while some memories are painful, and some hurt, that the good memories surrounding them shouldn’t bring on that same hurt. I try to just look at them as they are, acknowledge them, allow myself to remember the good as it was, untainted by any bad memories. Just because they may be surrounded by bad ones doesn’t mean that they are bad themselves, and remembering them as they are should only bring back a sense of nostalgia, not of pain.

When I previously tried to remember certain things about my childhood, I only ended up getting depressed. Indeed, my fiance was concerned when I started this blog, not wanting me to go through a downward spiral that he knew I was capable of doing. But I’m working towards bettering myself, and I’m evolving and growing, and I’m trying to change my point of view of my past. And, by changing my point of view, owning it.

I am Elisabeth. Former fundamental, evangelical Independent Baptist. Today I am a hippie-ish, body modded Pagan. In the future … I don’t know. Who really knows? Life is a constant journey, and takes us to different places. Some things stay the same, other things change, but what I’ve found to be true is that the journey of self-discovery is never truly over, and that we should embrace it.

Happy Samhain

This is one of my favourite holidays now. As a pagan, I now appreciate the roots of the holiday better than I ever did as a Christian. Growing up fundamental and then transitioning through more liberal churches, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to Halloween, from outright disgust to attempts to adapt around it ala trunk or treat activities and harvest festivals.

When I was a child, we barely even acknowledged that Halloween existed. I remember our school calendar my mother did when we were homeschooling…she would decorate it each month with season-appropriate decorations. When it came to October, though, it was all leaves and harvest stuff. No witches or ghosts or little vampires in sight. We didn’t trick or treat or dress up, which is what really got under my skin the most as I loved playing dress-up as a child, so to me it seemed like I was missing out on the biggest dress-up party of all! I remember going through a store like Wal-Mart or K-Mart and seeing the costume aisle. If I could, I darted down the aisle to look at the costumes. Mostly, I just looked on longingly, internally sighing in frustration that such a fun holiday was deemed off-limits.

Curiously enough, we still carved pumpkins. I remember making the trek up to Dawsonville to visit Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. It wasn’t a short trip, but it was worth it. The air was nice and crisp and there were so many pumpkins lined up and ready for sale, all kinds of sizes and colours available. I remember pictures being taken, of me in a row of pumpkins, sitting on very large pumpkins, sitting next to a scarecrow, riding one of the hay rides. I’m not sure where all the pictures are now, but I remember the farm clearly even without them, just as I remember the little tiny pumpkin my parents bought me. It was so small, it fit well in my hand, even though I couldn’t have been more than 4 at the time. When we got back to the house, we carved the bigger pumpkin we got on the front porch and I was posed for a picture.

When we moved up to International Falls, that October, my parents relented on trick or treating. It was the first and only time I ever got to trick or treat, as my parents put the foot back down the next year. I remember I was so excited to finally get to participate, even though I didn’t have a proper costume. I grabbed an old flannel gown that went down to my feet and put on a long wig I’d bought for dress-up purposes. I wasn’t going for anything in particular, but I liked long dresses and my wig, so it worked. I had to wear a coat, because it was very cold, but I didn’t even notice as a couple of friends and I went from house to house. I don’t remember how long we were out or how many houses we went to, but I got a nice load of candy along with a few homemade treats. I wished it could last forever.

The next year, I had acted out doing something or another, and my parents decided that proper punishment was barring me from trick or treating. I shed many tears and tried my best to act good to try to convince them to let me, but I remember my father eventually admitted that they didn’t want me doing it anyway. I was crushed. That was probably the worst thing I could have heard. If they didn’t want me doing it anyway, then why had they let me the year before? I didn’t know the term at the time, obviously, but today I would call it a dick tease, because that’s definitely what it was. I’m glad I did get to experience one normal Halloween, but the ache of never being able to do it again is not small.

Maybe that seems petty, but it’s how I feel. I missed out on a lot of things growing up, some little, some big. But with every thing I missed out on because I wasn’t allowed to, because of religion and Christianity, it just burns a little more.

When my fiance and I tie the knot and we start having children, I’ll definitely be allowing them to participate in Halloween. I even have costume ideas at the ready for when they’re babies (I’m totally transforming a bear costume into a mini-ewok). When they grow up, if they want to participate less, I won’t force them to still do it. I’ll be grateful that they were given the chance to do it and then decided against it, rather than never having the chance at all. And if they want, I’ll explain the pagan roots of the holiday, and why I’m setting out an extra plate of food and why I won’t talk during dinner. And if they think I’m silly, then they’ll think I’m silly. But if they want to start participating in that with me, then they’ll be more than welcome to.

I think that’s the thing I miss the most in my childhood: choice. Sure, parents need to guide their children into making appropriate choices, but there are quite a few things that they should be able to decide for themselves that I was never allowed to. I never had the option of not going to or participating in church. I never had the option to explore other religions and belief systems for myself to see if it spoke to me. I never had the option to not be a Christian, or accept my parents strict beliefs and and rules regarding their faith instead of searching out what was comfortable to me and spoke to me. If I had, perhaps I would still be a Christian today, on the liberal end of the spectrum. Or perhaps Paganism would have still called to me. Either way, when I have children, I will want to let them think and decide for themselves, without just one option being presented as the only option.

I have a few more post ideas, but I think this will be the only one for today. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Samhain. 🙂

Memory Triggers – Songs

This is now the third entry into specific memory triggers of mine (and the last one for today, I promise!). The previous entries have covered one particular scent and phrases. This entry will cover songs, and will probably be longer as there’s more that was coming to me as I was writing. Since there’s a lot to explain in some parts, this might end up a little more ramble-y about music in general, but I’ll start off with the specifics that I first had in mind.

A couple of weeks ago, my fiance started singing this little song that I recognized from my childhood. He had heard it from The Simpsons – who wasn’t singing it exact to the original, simply the melody and a few terms – but of course, I remembered it from somewhere else. While I knew the song as “Rise and Shine”, he simply quoted a line about getting the animals on the “arky arky”, which is a specific term in that song and a theme in every other line to end in a “-y” sound. While the song doesn’t tie to a specific memory – which isn’t surprising, considering it was a pretty common christian children’s song when I was growing up – it does bring back memories of churches I’ve been in, children’s groups, children’s church, even AWANA.

Several different songs like that will take me back, especially old hymns. One in particular – “Just As I Am” – was very popular as an altar call song, but it would always make me groan when I saw it listed in the bulletin. For those who may not know, “Just As I Am” is typically sung very slowly, somewhat softly, and is so boring repetitive that it can be repeated very easily, almost without the congregation noticing. If the pastor wanted to extend the altar call for whatever reason, signaling the pianist/organist was a very simple matter. Just thinking about the melody immediately transports me, usually to a specific church that we attended when living in GA. The layout and everything comes back, even down to where we usually sat: third or fourth row, organ side.

I’ll admit, there were times I would get so bored during a long altar call, I’d go up myself, kneel at the steps, close my eyes and just rest my forehead against the top step. I did so just to give myself a break from standing. I don’t know if anyone else ever did that, but I accumulated little tricks that I now call “church hacks” to make church more bearable for myself. My favourite time was probably mission times, where various missionaries would come through. They’d usually have a little table set-up similar to what you’d expect at a science fair, and I’d love looking at them. Sometimes it was pretty plain with just a lot of writing and some pictures, but my favourite ones were picture heavy and also featured little bits and bobs from the various foreign countries that the missionaries went to. If a sermon or presentation got boring, I’d leave on the pretense of a bathroom break (or water break, though bathroom breaks afforded me a reasonably longer time away) and just wander around the atrium areas where the tables were set up, looking at the ones that really caught my eye.

Back to the topic of songs, conversely, certain songs would excite me to see listed on the bulletin. If “I Surrender All” was listed as the alter call song, that would mean that the invitation would be short, and we’d get to go home sooner. When we started attending churches that weren’t as strict with their music and did praise and worship songs, there were certain ones that incorporated simple hand motions or just plain clapping. Anything to avoid just standing there still. I swear I’ve spent years just standing in church. As a teen, it got to the point where I’d over-exaggerate some back problems I really did have just so they would allow me to sit for certain portions of the service that we normally would have had to stand for. Well, perhaps I over-exaggerated, or perhaps I just expressed how I really felt as I did have back problems that I knew would be exacerbated and I wanted to head them off before I actually got into an “ouch” level of pain.

When I was little, no secular music was permitted at all. It was hymns and southern gospel songs only. My parents loved the Gaithers and bought quite a few cassette and vhs tapes featuring their singing. At first, I liked them just because it was different than the hymns we usually had. A lot of songs were more upbeat and “swing-y” (in my terminology only, as a child, it just meant that it was more lively) and sometimes even featured an actual beat! With drums! Haha, I know certain people that would clutch their figurative pearls at the thought of songs with beats. Devil music! But my parents liked it, so it was permitted. Soon enough, though, their songs got so repetitive and similar that it just all blended together for me and I began to dislike it. Whenever I would hear a snippet of a song I would start internally cringing, and I still do to this day.

Later on, my parents loosened the reigns on music little by little. Old country music became okay. When I was a pre-teen – probably 12 or so – I literally had to beg my parents to allow me to buy a Steven Curtis Chapman cassette. I am not exaggerating when I use the term “literally”. Let that sink in. For anyone who doesn’t know who Steven Curtis Chapman is, he’s a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist whose music is pretty much easy listening/light-rock style, but with Christian lyrics and themes. He is not in any way possibly offensive, being a visible family man and not having any songs that are borderline not-Christian (as some CCM artists sometimes have in their repertoire, especially if they were going to cross over into secular music). While I’m sure he is a perfectly nice man, he’s about as vanilla as you can get in the CCM world. I must have spent weeks pestering and badgering my parents to allow me to buy one of his tapes, and I felt incredibly triumphant when they finally relented and okay’d the purchase.

Around the time that I bought it, there was a PC game out that I’d seen advertised. I don’t remember the exact title, but it was a Barbie dance game. I never played it, but the general premise seemed to be stringing together pre-set moves in order to create a dance. I took a few of the moves and started using them to dance along to a couple of the songs on my new tape (in my room, with the door closed, because dancing was not something that was allowed in my family).

When I was 14 and going to a Christian school, I met my bestest best friend in the whole wide world, and she helped widen my horizons as far as music went. Her mother, while religious, allowed secular music, especially if she liked it. She had quite a few CDs lying around of Queen, Styx, Boston, Michael Jackson, artists like that. Classics. I remember the first time I heard a Michael Jackson song, it was amazing. It was “Billie Jean” and I was enchanted. I discretely burned a copy of the CD and listened to it on my Walkman. I did this with several other CDs, compiling playlists of classic rock to be listened to in private. I never labeled them, for fear my parents would find them and I would get in trouble, which is why I also never played them in my regular CD player. I kept them in a CD holder at all times, never leaving it lying around for long. When I started driving alone, I often kept them in the truck so I could blast them while driving to and from school.

Of course, that wasn’t my first exposure to secular music. It’s unavoidable, really, with how many stores play radio stations overhead, but my parents conditioned me to tune it out. The older I got, the more rebellious I got (or felt I got, as my rebelliousness was rather mild on the scale of rebellion…in the Christian world I was in, though, it was still worthy of getting in trouble). When I was 12 and 13, being homeschooled, my mother started going to school herself for Medical Transcription. When she had day classes she left in the morning for, I would turn on the radio to the local popular hit station 95.5 (WIFC, Wausau…I can still hear the call sign being sung) and just listen. I was always very careful to switch it back to an approved station when I was done listening, though. There was one station that came out of Pensacola, FL that we somehow got on our big radio that played some of the most boring music that my parents seemed to love. If I ever used the big radio for my listening, I was always sure to turn it back to that station before I shut it off. I couldn’t have my parents switch on the radio and have Backstreet Boys or Christina Aguilera start blaring. As Jasper Beardly would say, “That’s a paddlin’.”

I did the same when I was home alone when it came to TV as well. When we had cable when I was a teenager, I’d switch over to the “bad” channels (MTV and VH1) and watch, always careful to leave the TV with two “good” channels (in case my parents used the “last channel” feature on the remote). This was before the days of Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, where reality shows took the place of the music. I watched music videos and documentaries and countdowns and lists and absorbed information like a sponge. These days, since I’m still limited in my music exposure, I get excited when I see a reference to a music video or information about an artist that I saw on one of those channels. Kind of like Steve Rogers in the Avengers … “I understood that reference!”

These days, my tastes in music are extremely diverse, and certainly nothing like what I was raised with. I like just about everything, and even genres I don’t particularly like, there are songs that are exceptions that I enjoy. Music is one of the things I find most soothing and yet energizing to my soul to this day, and while I regret that my exposure to it was so limited growing up, I’m glad I now have the opportunity to explore.

Memory Triggers – Phrases

I guess I shall call this a “series”, though I initially didn’t plan it out that way. I just started blogging about memory triggers and it started to turn into a rambling wall of text that I didn’t want to foist upon any readers that were simply casually browsing blogs. I therefore decided to break it up into a few posts and cut it off where most logical. I will likely revisit this kind of series in the future, but for now I’ll cover what I started on. I covered scent in my last post, specifically cedar. This one is about words. Just hearing this word and I’m back in my childhood again.

The word is actually two words, really: “obedience” and “disobedience”. I hear something about either of those two things and immediately my mind snaps back with the phrase “delayed obedience is disobedience”, a mantra from my childhood. Where it came from, I can’t quite remember yet, but I suspect it came from my family’s brief foray into ATI. It certainly sounds like it could be one of their quips. I hear that phrase in my mind, and I can almost see the study room that was our school room in GA, my mother standing above me and saying it to me. This specific moment in time, I’m not sure what surrounds it. Was she simply repeating it to me so that I would remember? Did I do something that she disapproved of and she was reminding me of this principle? I can’t say for sure. But it is a very strong image that comes back when I hear that phrase in my head.

Sometimes, hearing that, I’ll only get that image in my head. Other times, if I’m not busy or otherwise preoccupied, my mind might wander into the time my family was in ATI. I don’t remember how long we were in it. My mother started homeschooling me starting about K-4, when I asked to start homeschooling after giving a Christian school a try. That is one thing that I will give props to my parents for, is letting me decide how I wanted to learn. If I wanted to try a school, they would get me in. If I wanted to homeschool, they would let me. It gives me an interesting background with a lot of different experiences, some that I’ll always cherish and some that I wish never happened.

Anyway, I’m getting off subject. I believe my mother started homeschooling me when I was around 4 years old. I don’t think it was too much longer after we started that we got into ATI, so I’m guessing I was about 5, 6 at the very oldest when we started, but I’m pretty comfortable with saying 5. We went to conferences (I’m pretty sure my memory is of multiple ones) but I’m not sure which ones. I do remember they were boring as all get out. I also remember playing a telephone game as an exercise in a little kid’s group that I had been put in. I don’t remember how they determined the splitting up of children into groups as far as the age ranges went, but I don’t remember the groups being overly large. When I was there, I didn’t notice this, but looking back, the girl who was leading us seemed rather young. Like, 16-18 years old young. I remember she misspelled my town name as “McDonald” until I showed her my name tag that had it written down correctly as “McDonough”. She had been writing my address on an envelope. Was I supposed to send something to myself? Were they going to send something to me? I don’t remember why we were doing this.

A couple of other clear ATI memories is sitting in a darkened room with a huge group of people and going through a lesson from the Wisdom Booklets. Or maybe we were going over the Wisdom Booklets themselves, as in how to use them and lessons in them. Now that I think about it, that seems to be the more likely case. Character was something that was heavily emphasized, as were the specific character traits that Gothard espoused. Another memory is standing outside during a break, leaning against a rough concrete wall. I remember there was a pathway on the other side of the wall, on a lower level, and I peaked over it several times.

This is perhaps one of my biggest memory fails, and one I hope to piece together. I remember little to nothing of this area of my life. I know that I was still pretty young, but I have distinct memories that I know reach back further, so I don’t understand why this area is so disjointed. I hope that by blogging more and more that it will come back to me eventually. Until then, I will keep writing.

Memories

A lot of people take memories for granted. Names. Dates. Faces. Snapshots in time preserved in the human consciousness.

But what happens when you just can’t remember anymore? Did you really ever remember what happened in the first place, or did you deceive yourself into thinking you were preserving that time and place in your mind?

My childhood is a lot of blur. There are some moments that are crystal clear, others that are muddled, and some points where there doesn’t seem to be anything at all. I know not everyone remembers their childhood with extreme clarity, but I wish I remembered more than I do. I guess that is the point of this blog, to remember, to maybe help me remember. To document random strings of memories and try to connect the dots.

I know a lot of my memories involve church or religion in some way, as I grew up in an IFB-type of religious family. For those not “in the know” as far as acronyms go, IFB stands for Independent Fundamentalist Baptist. While my family waxed and waned as far as religion goes, there was a time we were very similar to families like the Duggars and the Bates, as far as values and beliefs went. Even when we weren’t as extreme, we were always conservative and faithful church-goers. So, a lot of my memories involve going to church or church activities.

Other memories involve that of being homeschooled. My education was fairly unique, in that I experienced a whole gamut: homeschooling, christian school, public school, and internet/charter school. I have quite a few memories of that, some very fond, some not so much.

My entries here will consist of trying to remember bits in time as they come. They may be pretty random. They might be long remembrances, or short little strands of thoughts that I want to document before they slip through my fingers entirely. I don’t have a set time frame for updating or posting or anything like that, so I may post frequently at times, and then at times leave it all to sink in and process. Remembering is a journey. Maybe one day, it won’t be as fractured as it is.

~ Elisabeth