Compassion, Crime, Forgiveness, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Missing

My story is being read by more and more people. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to stop by my blog and go on this journey with me. I have been receiving lots of feedback and I would like to address some of that here.

I’m finding some Christians feel a real need to defend god. They feel like my story is an attack on god or that I’m somehow blaming him for what happened to me. Often their comments are filled with statements like “don’t blame god” or “god never fails” or “I’m sorry you feel that way, I hope you will come back to god” or “god will provide and protect”. Please understand I have no desire to debate god with anyone. I have made my choices in life and I’m happy with them. I don’t care what you believe as long as it helps you get through life, makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt others. What concerns me is the missing lack of attention to the content of my posts. I don’t think it helps anyone to debate who is worse Catholics or United Pentecostals. Arguing over whether or not god was blamed in my post or whether or not it is all UPC churches is not the issue.

I know this can be hard for some folks to hear but I don’t see how god is the issue at all. Why even bring god into it? In my view, the issue is adults and how they commit crimes and are not held accountable. At issue are the systems that make it possible for people to get away with hurting children, or how children fall through the cracks. Another thing to consider is how the church is a business and men are protected because they are the ones paying the tithes. Rape is happening within UPC churches and some people’s main concern is to preach to me? It worries me that I have laid my soul bare and many don’t want to talk about how we stop what is happening.

I know it can be scary when it feels like something you cherish is at risk. As humans, it is normal to want to protect what you cherish. For some people that is the Christian god, pastors, and churches. I would only ask you to take a moment and just be human, show some empathy and compassion, and be willing to look critically at what has happened, and is continuing to happen and ask yourself if you are ok with doing nothing. Do you feel that praying for me is enough? Will you carry my story with you into the pew this Sunday? Will you ask your church leadership what its policies are regarding sexual assault? If those policies are not in line with the law will you leave that church or take action to change the policies?

Whether we agree on the topic of Christianity and god can we at least agree that sexual abuse of the young is wrong and that those who commit these crimes should be turned into the police? Can we also agree that those in leadership who cover up these acts should be turned into the police? I’m fine with people claiming forgiveness if that is what they believe, but should that forgiveness mean they suffer no consequences? When my children would disobey I forgave them immediately because I loved them, but I also made them suffer a consequence so they would understand that there is a cost to our actions. Shouldn’t these adults suffer a consequence as well? I love my country even if I don’t always agree with those in power. I respect my nation as a nation of laws. When an atheist breaks the law he should pay for that, and so should a Christian. Your house of worship or lack thereof should be of no bearing.

If you have any ideas on how we can work together to change the culture of abuse within spiritual communities I would love to hear about it!

D

 

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Childhood, Crime, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Crime and Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be a beautiful act to witness and experience. It is central to Christianity’s salvation message. I feel it is one of the most positive messages you will hear when attending church. Unfortunately, that message has a shadow side. When those in authority decide that forgiveness means that someone who has committed a crime should not suffer the consequences of that crime the message becomes toxic. That attitude assumes that the forgiven person will never commit the crime again and it assumes that the community is no longer at risk. It also minimizes the harm done to the victim. Just because the perpetrator is forgiven by god doesn’t mean that the victim isn’t still suffering the consequences of whatever happened.

I have encountered story after story where the perpetrator was quickly moved away from the church into another unsuspecting congregation. The victim is left to deal with the gossip and shame surrounding the incident. The perpetrator’s life goes on and the victim’s life is destroyed. Often the victim is blamed for the absence of a beloved perp and viewed as a troublemaker. In the case of Calvary Gospel UPC, this often means the young woman is kicked out of school and youth group. Her peers are told not to communicate with her unless they want to be removed from the community as well. She is cut off from her support system at a time when she needs them the most. Because the victims are often minors they have few choices. The perps, on the other hand, go on with their adult life often paying next to no cost for what they have done. They are not shut away from support or the company of their peers. They might be forced to move temporarily but it is seldom permanent. They might lose their license to preach but often they are invited to preach and teach later with or without a license.

Why shouldn’t these men be turned into the police? If they want to claim god’s forgiveness I’m ok with that, but does that forgiveness mean they don’t have to obey the law? If someone commits murder would they cover that up too? If someone robbed the church would they extend the same forgiveness without police involvement, I think not. What about mandatory reporting laws? I have been unable to figure out if there were mandatory reporting laws on the books in 81/82. My case happened a long time ago but some of the women who I’ve talked to experienced abuse that clearly happened when mandatory reporting laws were on the books. So I guess that is another law it is ok to ignore if you are a Christian? The perp breaks the law when he commits the crime and then the pastor also breaks the law by failing to report. Parents who fall under the pastor’s leadership often do nothing but add to the shame and torture the victim is experiencing. Is it criminal to not report the rape and molestation of your own child?

I’m going to be bold now and speak my mind completely. Make no mistake Calvary Gospel has two types of women you can be. Madonna or whore, it is a story as old as time. If you and your virginity make it to the marriage altar then you gain the Madonna role. You will be held up as an example and they will praise you. If you are one of the many who is sexually abused during childhood then the only role available for you is the whore. I know this is harsh language but it is the truth and someone needs to say it. If a sexual crime is committed against you no amount of god’s forgiveness will wipe away the stain in the eyes of the church. You will carry the shame of that crime forever unless you get out of the church and do a mountain of work, I’ve done all that and I still feel shame thirty years later. Meanwhile, the pastor and perp feel no shame and suffer no consequences. If you are a young man with a bad reputation and you change then you are seen as a story of great redemption. Most young victims never find that redemption if they stay in the church because they never receive any counseling or even recognition of the horrible crime committed against them.

Sexual abuse, molestation, child abuse, sexual assault, rape, whatever you choose to call the crime it deserves to be punished. As a society, we must be willing to hold religious leaders to the same standard as everyone else. Religious freedom should not be a cover to commit a crime without penalty. Were you enraged to find out what was happening within the Catholic church? What about the FLDS? I’m here to tell you it is happening within the UPC too. I’m sounding an alarm and I hope the UPCI will pay attention and take action against these pastors and perpetrators. I hope they will seek to make restitution towards all of the victims who have suffered and had their lives destroyed by the church.

D

 

 

Divorce, Family, Southern Baptist Church

The Aftermath

My relationships with men and god were always a struggle. My father was not someone I could rely on. He was in and out of my life over the years. He sexually abused my stepsister. She was around the same age as I was when I was molested. He went to prison and then was deported to his home country. Watching that situation unfold and hearing my stepsister’s story was like reliving what happened to me, it was heartbreaking. He blamed me for not siding with him and our last words to each other were harsh. He is lost to me.

When I think about it, it is amazing I can have relationships with men at all. My childhood was filled with predators and unreliable men and my father ended up being one too. At age twenty I got married. It was a bad idea from the start. I loved him but I knew that he would not be good for me. After my mother died I was barely holding on and I desperately wanted a family. I wanted something that seemed normal. The problem is I had no idea what normal was. After 12 years of being together, I decided that divorce was the only answer.

My mother got divorced and due to my upbringing, I felt that divorce should never be an option. When I got married I told myself this is for life and you will figure out how to make it work. I was so naive, I had no idea how hard my road would be. He was abusive in every way possible. The world saw the physical abuse and thought that was awful, but in my eyes, bruises fade, the things he said to me still linger in my mind.

At this point, I was attending a Southern Baptist church. These churches were kind of rare in Madison. Even though the church was Southern Baptist officially I feel it was more liberal than other churches of its kind. In many ways, this church healed me. Once I was able to get past the lax holiness standards and the use of the NIV. My kids enjoyed the Sunday school program and I jumped back into ministry. In the background, my abusive marriage continued. My husband was convinced by an elder of the church to attend a Promise Keepers rally, at that rally my ex-husband became born again. He was quickly baptized and I thought my prayers were finally answered.

I was wrong. We would go to church together and everything would seem ok from the outside, but once we got into the car the abuse would start. He was very good at showing the right face to the church but at home, nothing changed. I tried to get help from our elder. We went over there for dinner often and my ex-husband liked him very much. Time kept rolling on and at this point, we had three young children.

I remember the day I decided I had to leave. My heart was tormented because I knew what the Bible said about divorce and the one thing he had not done was cheat on me. I knew the church of my childhood and the church I was attending would think this divorce was sinful. It was Christmas time and my almost three-year-old son had just tried to be a human shield between my husband and me. My ex-husband was throwing holiday gifts at me in a fit of anger and I was curled up in a ball on the sofa trying to hide from his anger. My precious baby boy had stretched his body across mine to shield me from the blows, thinking about it now cracks my heart in two. At that moment I knew what I had to do, even if it cost me, my soul.

I left him and it was ugly. Our elder phoned me to tell me that I had to go back to my husband or I would go to hell. He said we could be temporarily separated as a sort of cooling off period but divorce was not what the Bible taught. This conversation broke something inside of me. Mel (the elder) told me he understood that my husband was a bully but I still needed to do what was right. Calling him a bully seemed like an understatement to me. My ex was threatening me and also threatening suicide. He told me he was going to take my kids away and never pay me a dime. Cooling off was not going to solve anything.

I went ahead with the divorce. This is also the point when the Christian god lost his hold on me. It wasn’t an instant thing, it took a couple of years. These men, these churches drove me to the point of not caring about hell or my own salvation. In my mind, I would rather burn for all eternity then suffer another day in that marriage. If god required me to suffer my whole life in order to be with him in heaven I did not want any part of him. At this point I still believed in hell I just could not bring myself to put my kids at risk in order to save my own soul.

This left me an orphan. No parents and no church. Thankfully I’m married now and I have four great kids. I have good men in my life. Men who have proved to me that I can trust and have friendships that do not always have a risk attached to them. These men are not great spiritual warriors but they ask if I’m ok and care about what matters to me. They listen and appreciate my intelligence. They make my world a better place. I am grateful for these men.

D

 

Compassion, Depression, Family, Fear, Illness, United Pentecostal Church

Funeral

My mother was not well. She had very severe asthma and had to be on disability. On top of that, she suffered from horrible depression. Mostly she was ignored. She had one close friend in the church. I don’t have anything bad to say about that woman, she was one of the few who always showed my mother kindness. I feel that because we were poor and my mother made some choices the church did not agree with she was deemed to be unimportant. She suffered for years with her illness and an alcoholic husband. She had my brother when I was 13 and it was hard to raise him after she became sick. My stepfather was no help. I became a second mother to my little brother.

When I was nineteen, about three years after leaving the church my mother died. It was sudden and the worst thing that has ever happened to me. My mother, even with all of her flaws, was my whole world and I loved her unconditionally. It felt like time and space stopped and all of the colors were drained from my life. My mother’s super religious family flew here from Florida to attend the funeral. They were not much help. At nineteen I planned the funeral, picked the casket and acted as the executor of her estate. I became an instant mother. My stepdad was in rehab at the time and so he could not care for my little brother.

The funeral was surreal. Many people from my old church showed up and I was really shocked. A few were people who I knew and had friendships. I was not the only one who had left. I had a lot on my plate. My grandmother was complaining that I was not paying enough attention to her. My little brother needed me more than anyone else, and now I had to deal with these church people. Pastor Grant was offended that I did not ask him to speak at her service. He felt that because he had been her pastor for so long he should have the privilege of handling the service. This was shocking to me because he never cared about her when she was sick. She had not heard from him in years. Thankfully none of the church people said anything really offensive to me but they did go after my stepfather.

I was greeting people as they came in and my stepdad was sitting slumped in a chair, grieving his loss. I saw this old woman come in and I could not help but groan. She was a busybody and always gossiping. She approached my stepdad and proceeded to tell him that if he did not get his life right with god that he would end up like my mother. This filled me with rage! Not only was she saying this to a man who was out on a day pass from rehab, but what exactly was she implying about my mother? My mother died from an asthma attack in the middle of the night. She was implying that my mother died and was probably in hell because she had sin in her life. That was the reason for everything within that congregation. Do you have cancer? It is probably because of unconfessed sin or because you do not have enough faith. Are you plagued with depression? If you would just get your life right with god everything would work out. Over and over I watched people approach my stepdad not from a place of compassion but from a place of preaching at him.

This whole scene made me so angry. Ninety percent of the people from the church who showed up did not show compassion. They were more interested in saying “see we told you so.” The weeks following my mother’s death were some of the darkest days I have ever know. All of those church people disappeared and I was left alone to handle my grief. From here it just gets worse.

Ten days after my mother died my stepdad was released from rehab. He arranged to meet me at the house so I could help him find some documents. When I arrived he was dead. He had shot himself in the head and timed it so I would find him. This time around no one from the church showed up. I shut down and to be honest I have almost no memory of this time. I don’t know how I survived or moved through the days that followed.

My poor mother had such a hard life. The church could have been her refuge. They could have strengthened her through fellowship and loving-kindness. They could have visited her when she was ill or helped when she was hungry. Instead, they offered gossip, judgment, fear, and shame. My mother loved god so much and wanted nothing more than to serve him. Eventually, she did start going to another church but she did not build strong friendships there because she was unable to attend regularly due to illness. She knew what the congregation thought about her and that kept her away. They never came after her, just like they never came after me. She had no money to offer them, and she was too sick to earn their love through service.

I did not see people from that church much after this. I avoided all contact because I could see their true colors. The older I became the more clear things were. They are often referred to as Jesus Only people but I did not experience much Jesus coming from them.

D

Childhood, Family, Fear, Rapture, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

The Monstersk

There are many things to be afraid of from my childhood but the thing that has scared me the most is rapture culture. It still haunts me at 47 years old. I have complex PTSD due to this teaching. I have had to work with a therapist who specializes in spiritual abuse in order to stop having flashbacks and nightmares. None of that is gone completely, it is the monster under my bed and just behind every door, always threatening my peace of mind. If I let it in even a little bit I will spend a week fighting it back into its cage. It is real and more dangerous than any man who ever put his hands on me.

My mother was tormented by fears about the rapture. She could never be perfect enough so she spent long hours on her knees praying and that meant she was not really looking after me. As a small child, I would sit outside her door and worry about if she was ok. She would cry and speak in tongues for hours, I would listen and try to play with my toys…alone. I know that much of my adult anxiety comes from the rapture culture I was raised in. I was always worried about what unconfessed sin I might be missing that would cause me to miss the rapture. I could never rest easy and I could never just be a kid. Add to that those grown men trying to creep on me from the 6th grade on, my life was always about trying to be purer.  I thought something I was doing was causing them to lust after me, and that might make me be left behind.

In 1972 a film came out called Thief In The Night. It spawned a series of 4 films and my church would show them once a year. I was two in 1972 and one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me out of a showing of that film at the Assemblies of God church we were attending. There is not a time I can remember when I did not have nightmares about those films. I could not sleep alone as a kid because I was afraid of being left behind. My mother finally forced me to sleep alone in the 5th grade and I think that is when my insomnia really kicked in. I have had horrible insomnia for most of my life. Tired is the rule, not the exception. I don’t believe in the Christian god or the rapture any longer but my poor lizard brain still does. That is what is so awful about this teaching. When you start teaching it to very young children it becomes part of them and they are stuck with it for life. My therapist explained to me that the brain cannot always tell the difference between something it sees that is a movie and something actually happening, especially when you see it at such a young age. This is why my brain thinks it witnessed a beheading. I am traumatized like a soldier who actually witnessed someone being executed because my child mind could not logic out the difference. This is an interesting thing to research if you are into brain science like I am. I have been trying to hack this out of my brain for many many years.

When I was in early elementary school I fell asleep under a plastic sled. I had been using it to create a fort in my living room. When my mother came home from work she could not find me. My little body was completely hidden under the sled. She screamed and ran to our neighbor’s house sure that I had been taken and she had been left. Suddenly all of these adults come crashing into our living room screaming my name, it was not a nice way to wake up. She was relieved and I was freaked out, it really drove home that she and her friends really believed this stuff.

Since starting this blog I have spoken to many people who suffer the same fears that I do, we all attended the same church. The aftermath of this teaching is anxiety, fear, nightmares, and depression. I wish someone could explain to me why my parents and church leaders thought it was ok to show small children these films. They are violent and if they had been rated they would have not been appropriate for kids. They showed people being beheaded via guillotine and they featured a child awaiting execution. They showed babies starving due to parents not accepting the mark of the beast. Oh and the people running from the One World Government. I spent so many sleepless nights due to dreaming of being chased by men in white vans and armbands. To this day white vans, helicopters, barcodes, and guillotines can still trigger me. It is an awful price to pay if you are an adult raised in this culture. I can be just out enjoying my day and suddenly I’m triggered and I will often have a panic attack. All this because I see a white van parked on the side of the road. My logical brain could care less but my hindbrain really thinks it is a threat. I will have heart palpitations and I will experience fight or flight sensations. I just have to power through it so it doesn’t take over the day.

So once a year my church would show these films 4 nights in a row. They said it was to save the lost, but really it was to keep the congregants in line. After the film, the altar would be filled with congregants and maybe a stray “lost” person. You may be saying to yourself, yeah but they are just movies. The thing is when you are shown them in early childhood, and then the pastor reinforces the teaching all year-long until you watch them again, that all feels pretty real. Every adult in your life tells you it is real. In your world it is real. Our pastor would make a speech before every film saying that we don’t actually support everything in these films. What he meant was that they were softer than his teaching. The films showed people being saved after the rapture and he did not teach that. If you missed the rapture your only hope was to be killed for not taking the mark. Add to that constant talk of demons and devils trying to deceive you and oppress you, and you can start to see where all of the anxiety comes from.

This is child abuse. I have to wonder what I would have accomplished in my life had I not been fighting to keep my sanity. Not turning in predators is child abuse. Who would I be if I had not been preyed upon by those men? I’m happily married now, but I have been through two divorces because I have an awful track record with men. One of my exes was emotionally and physically abusive and the other one ran off with a much younger woman. By the way, the second one grew up in the same church as I did. I have to wonder if that has anything to do with his upbringing and what he saw happening all around him. He basically told me I was too old. My relationship with my parents suffered due to what they exposed me to and the resentment I felt about that. All of the people from my childhood I basically avoid like the plague, which has left me alone to struggle through the wreckage of my childhood. I’m going to end this post with gratitude. I have found others and I think they understand my struggle, I feel validated and their compassion has warmed my heart. I have 4 amazing kids who I love more than anything. They will never know the sorrow of being raised like I was. Lastly, I have a husband who has stood beside me as I reveal this story and I know he understands. I’m grateful for having survived.

D

Childhood, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Trying To Understand

As my story has become more known I’m hearing many stories from others who attended the church of my childhood. These stories are heartbreaking and have torn me up inside. I have wept tears for all of the girls who have been so hurt by this congregation and Pastor. I am aware that the little flame of my adolescence is still alive and burning within me. I want to do something to stop this from continuing to happen, I just don’t know what to do. Maybe that has always been the issue, I have never known what to do about it. In the end, it is my word against theirs and there are many more of them. For now, I’m going to keep telling my story and I intend to help others who have been hurt by this church. Their stories are not mine to tell, but if they decide to tell their truth I will offer this blog as a space to do that work. I will stand beside them as they tell their stories and help in any way that I can.

I have been trying to understand how this congregation seems to cultivate an atmosphere of older men preying on younger women/girls. It seems to both cultivate that and draw that type of man in. I’m sure that the teachings of women being submissive doesn’t help. If you have read my other entries you know I was molested by a man 20 years my senior. Not only did he molest me but he also molested at least 1 other teen. When I really sit and think about it, I was hit on by older men all the time. They flirted a lot and no one seemed alarmed that 2o something men would be hanging out and flirting with someone between the ages of 11-16. The age gaps were not always 20 years but they were still not appropriate.

When I was very young, again about 11 or 12 (They really started that young) both boys my age and older men started to notice me. I was an early bloomer physically so I could see how a man on the street might misunderstand my age, but these men in the church knew how old I was. I’m not complaining about the innocent attention of the boys my age. I remember having notes passed to me during church telling me how pretty I was, that is a sweet memory of sweet boys. I’m talking about grown men hanging out with young girls, flirting, and sometimes more.

I was 16 when I first had sex. The man I was dating at that point was 25. Let that sink in…he was a regular church attendee and 25 years old. Everyone knew we were dating and they knew I was 16. No one ever said boo to me about it. It was just accepted. This was a man who I had known for most of the time I attended that church. We continued to date after I left the church. He would swing back and forth between being out and being in. When I broke up with him he stalked me for a short time and even told me that I was his virgin in God’s eyes, therefore I could not break up with him. Thankfully I had a manager at the restaurant I was working at who told him to leave alone. He told him not to come in anymore and to stop following me. It worked but the pattern had been set because the next guy I dated was also 25. It seemed normal to me. As I look back on it now I have to wonder how my youth leaders and the pastor did not see the problem with a teenager dating someone who was a legal adult. I always thought I was the exception to the rule, but now after hearing other stories, I find that I am a part of the rule. As a young person, I thought that my pastor and congregation just did not like me enough to protect me. I knew I had faith and so it did not make sense why God did not answer my prayers and why he did not protect me. I thought there was something wrong with me. I wondered if I was being punished for my parents’ sins. I wondered if God just couldn’t forgive me for what Steve did to me. Somewhere in my gut I knew dating a man that age was not acceptable by societies standards, but no one in my life seemed too worried about it.

Another more mild example of what I’m talking about involves a man who was 19 when I was 11. Again not a 20-year difference but still not ok. He would flirt with me and he tried to give me expensive gifts like a new watch on my birthday. My mother put her foot down about that one, but not because of his age. He was black and my mother was as racist as the rest of them. She would not have a black man giving me gifts or attempting to court me. He never laid a finger on me but he was always around, sitting too close, and trying to give me things and trying to keep my attention. I think he gave me flowers at one point. Now that I have raised 4 children I can say that there is no way I would have let any of my kids date a 19-year-old when they are only 11. Wallace and I never “dated” but I had no doubt about how he felt and if my mother had not scared him away who knows what would have happened.

This one experience has been stuck in my head for days. There was a young woman in my church who was the daughter of one of the elders. She was a few years older than I. She never really dated much and when she got engaged it happened really fast. The guy was older and I think she was a senior in high school, or just graduated. When they announced the engagement during a church service the pastor made a big deal about questioning this guy regarding his intentions. He made this big speech about how she had grown up in the church and how everyone felt responsible for her happiness etc… He jokingly (did not really seem like a joke) told the guy that he had better treat her right because the men in the church would come get him if he did not. I find it weird (or maybe not given what I now understand) that the pastor made a big show of being protective of this young woman but then could care so little about what happened to me and others. I think I know why first off her parents were elders and lifelong friends with the pastor and his wife. She was white and her parents gave the church money for years. Her mother was the church secretary for all of my childhood. She was part of church royalty. It seems to me that if you are related to the pastor, close friends, you give lots of money, or you are an elder you are treated as church royalty. Everyone else is just commoners. As a young person watching the pastor give this speech, I could not help but feel how low I was in importance.

I think that is it for today. I have so much more I want to share with you all and I’m sure I will have another post before the end of the week. Please feel free to ask questions. My thoughts are kind of jumbled and so if I was unclear in any way I am sorry.

D

 

Childhood, Education, United Pentecostal Church

Leaving

Since I started blogging about my experiences within the UPC church people have been asking me how I left. I think of it as death by a million cuts. As my teen years went along things became more and more obvious to me. The hypocrisy and racism were pretty hard to ignore. The only man of color in a real leadership position had that position because he was an amazing worship leader. I felt because he performed for them they honored him with elder status. Most of the people of color in our congregation were poor and ignored or shunned. My pastor taught that interracial marriage was unacceptable unless you came into the church already married that way. My dad was from Mexico which made me only half white in their eyes. When I asked the adults around me who it would be ok for me to marry they mostly shrugged at me. You might think this was signaling that I could date who I wanted but you would be wrong. Some of the boys I dated had parents who did not care that I was half Mexican, others flat-out told their boys to stay away from me for that reason. My pastor never talked about this issue from the pulpit, it was more understood and whispered about. It was assumed. I’ve got many stories about racism within that congregation and I’m sure I will share them with you eventually.

Molestation. My being a molestation victim meant that I was branded as a slut. Remember I said it was treated as adultery. Again carried out mostly in whispers, but every once in a while blurted out and those times were pretty painful. I was a super Christian in those days, trying to be perfect in order to gain God’s acceptance. Some people were kind but for the most part, I had a scarlet letter pinned to my chest and they would never let me take it off. This also impacted my dating experiences. Boys would tell me about the lectures their fathers gave them regarding falling into sin with me.

Being a bright kid and knowing what the Bible said meant that I could see the cracks. I could see that the rich had more of a voice. I could see the lack of forgiveness and compassion. I could see how many of the men in positions of authority treated their wives badly. As time went on I could barely stomach being in church. I went from sitting as close to the front as possible to sitting in the last pew refusing to sing or follow along in my Bible. Weirdly none of the adults in my life seemed to be alarmed by this. No one could see me drifting away, or if they did they did not care.

At this point, my mother was married to an alcoholic. She met and married a man who had joined the church. As soon as they were married they both stopped attending altogether. Some of this is because my mother’s remarriage caused a big scandal within the church. The pastor gave his blessing because my mother divorced due to adultery on my father’s part. Because this wasn’t a well-known fact a few of the older women in the congregation brought it up at a church business meeting and made a big stink. Also, not everyone agreed on when it was ok to divorce and remarry, they would defer to the pastor but that did not stop them from gossiping. It got ugly and my mother never forgot how they treated her. Because my stepdad was a drinker I ended up moving in with my biodad. My dad was basically never home. He spent most nights with his girlfriend and so I was living alone. Neither of my parents were involved in my church life and they were both too involved with their own lives to parent me. So the decision to leave was all mine.

You might remember that I quit the quiz team and my coach was very unhappy about it. Soon after that, our church built a huge new building and the school moved with the church. This new building was way out in the country where there is no city bus service. For many years I carpooled to school and when I couldn’t do that I took a city bus. Many of the older kids with cars had graduated and the one monitor I could catch a ride with was no longer working at the school. So basically I had no way to get to school. I started to ask around and it became clear that I was not going to be able to ride with anyone. I tried to meet with my school principal and he always seemed too busy to sit down with me. With no parent to help me deal with this, I felt stuck. Finally, on the Sunday night, before school started, I tracked down my principal and told him about my problem. I explained to him that I had no way to get to school. I also told him that because I was living with my dad I had access to a public school within two blocks of my home. He argued with me about what a bad idea going to public school was, but he also offered me no solution or help. I tried to be nice at first and I explained to him my position and argued that all of my Christian education had prepared me to be out in the world. By the way, I only had one year left so I would have been out in the world by the next spring. After going around and around he started to get very heated with me, almost desperate sounding. I was confused, what did he want me to do? He told me that he suspected if I walked out that door to attend public school I would end up in hell. This infuriated me, and I cracked. Remember I wrote before about that little flame that had been kindled in my adolescent heart, well now it was ablaze and threatening to burn the room down.

I did not say another word to him as my heart felt like it might explode out of my chest. I tried to get out of the building as quickly as possible. My dad had agreed to pick me up after church so I knew he was waiting in the parking lot. As a side note, not only could I not get to school but the church was basically out of my reach too unless I rode the Sunday school bus. I lived at the church so this would cut out all of my activities except Sunday morning service. As I was storming out a friend tried to stop me and asked if I was ok. I looked at him and the words “I’m never coming back” slipped out of my mouth. I knew it was true, but I only knew it in that moment. It felt like time stopped. He was my age and we had been close since age 8. He knew what I had been through and just looked at me with very sad eyes.

I never went back. I was done with them but God still haunted me for over a decade. I tried many churches and eventually ended up at a Southern Baptist church. That is a story for another day. What I’m about to say is probably the saddest part of this post. No one ever came looking for me. No one called to see why I disappeared. No one sent me a card or stopped by my home. They did gossip about me. I ran into someone years later who asked about my child. I did not have a child. The story was that I left because I became pregnant and was ashamed. Of course, that is what they thought. The truth is, I gave birth to my first child at 22 after being married for two years. Even in my angry state I was shocked that I did not hear from any of them. I was involved in many ministries, didn’t they wonder what happened? I had many adult friends, to this day none of that makes sense to me.

Thankfully I started my first real job and I met some really friendly kids. I also made friends in public school. I learned that the world was not as scary as they taught me. All the monsters came from the church and my mind. Hell, the rapture and the antichrist lingered on the edges of my mind. I’m 47 years old and have not gone to church since my late 20’s, at least three times a year I have nightmares about the rapture. They show up by surprise and make me feel uneasy for days. I have anxiety issues and all it takes is seeing the wrong image or hearing the wrong thing and I have flashbacks. The seeds planted in my childhood were seeds of abuse. Every time I think I have beaten the monster in my head he finds another way to get to me. The good news is I am free now! I have found a religion that is less toxic and I’m grateful that the Universe guided me out of that pit of vipers.

D