How NOT To Fire An “Immoral” Employee

After college, I secured a job teaching in a Christian school on the east coast. As part of my contract, I signed the customary code of behavior. It was standard practice for churches and Christian schools to require their employees refrain from practices such as drinking, smoking, using drugs, and often more benign things like going to the movies or dressing immodestly. Of course, “immorality” such as fornication, adultery, and homosexuality were also forbidden in the contract. What differentiates these contracts from codes of ethics offered by other employers is that the employee is expected to follow them 24-7-365, not only at work, but also in their personal lives.

Though I was taking the job so I could live with my lesbian girlfriend Rita (all names have been changed), I signed. When you’re living a secret life, you do everything you must to protect yourself. The school was connected to a hyper-conservative Baptist church. My girlfriend was teaching at another school connected to her Baptist church and had signed a similar contract.

This was my first job — EVER. I was 23 and very naïve. I had just gotten my first driver’s license. You see, my parents, who were extremely controlling, had never allowed me to work outside the home or drive, even while I attended college thousands of miles from home. As if this background wasn’t limiting enough, I also found myself in a culture very unlike my own with a deep history and subtleties in communication I cannot to this day understand. Had I been living only one life I would have been in over my head, but with a secret life on the side, I was doomed before I even started.

Rita was one of the most tortured souls I have ever know. She abused alcohol and showed me how to as well (I had never had a drop before moving in with her). She introduced me to her rowdy lesbian friends who partied with drugs. Somehow I never tried them. At home, she abused me physically and emotionally, but I was used to that from my family of origin. I even put up with her affairs. She was corresponding with a man in prison, and we visited him once. I let her use this as a ruse to throw people off our clandestine relationship. Once she came home and confessed she had slept with one of our lesbian friends. I was deeply hurt, but forgave her. Only when I realized the friendship she had with another teacher at her school (a mother of 6) was actually another affair, did I begin to think of leaving her.

Then came my birthday. Rita and I were on the outs (though still living together) and had no plans to celebrate. And here we come to my tips on how NOT to fire an employee.

DON’T call them on their birthday and ask them to celebrate at your house only to ambush them when they arrive.

Kelly, my principle’s wife and someone I considered a good friend, did just that. It sounded like fun, so I packed a bag (she had invited me to stay the night) and drove to her house. When I walked in the door, she and her husband and the pastor of our church were waiting in the living room with stern faces. I wish I had turned around and left. They sat me down and told me they had figured out that Rita and I were more than just roommates. They had already grilled my friend Jenny in whom I had recently confided. They browbeat me into a confession.

DON’T forbid them to return home even to pack a bag or pick up mail, instead insisting they LIVE FOR A TIME WITH YOU.

You read that correctly. I was essentially under house arrest at the home of my employer. Over the next 24 hours I was forced to compose and sign a letter of resignation delineating my breach of contract and admitting I was guilty of homosexuality. I was humiliated at every turn, and all the while made to believe these abuses were for my own good.

DON’T forbid them to contact their friends and family.

These were the days before cell phones. To call my family in another state would cost money I didn’t have, and I was not allowed to call them on the phone where I was being held. I was told I should protect them from the truth of my “fall from grace.” I was also not allowed to talk to Jenny, or rather she was not allowed to talk to me as doing so would be considered “the appearance of evil.” In this nightmare, I felt completely alone.

DON’T be surprised when the only job they are able to get is door-to-door sales.

The school was my only employment history. They wouldn’t give me a good reference. I had no experience to draw from. After days of checking the help wanted ads, I settled for a “job” selling encyclopedias door-to-door. Terrible choice. The principal and his wife watched me as I spent hours memorizing a dozen-page script. Every day from 3 to about 9, I would go knocking on doors with a team of people. We were lucky if we made 2 sales in a day. After 3 weeks, I finally made a sale, earning about $100 to be paid out at the end of the month.

DON’T be surprised when under these circumstances they eat an entire batch of your homemade snickerdoodles.

Enough said.

DON’T accuse them of lying about getting a job as a ruse to go home to their lover.

Yes, I really was selling encyclopedias. No, I really hadn’t been continuing a relationship with Rita or going to the home which still held all my earthly belongings. But I hadn’t brought home any money, so they made up their minds that I had been doing exactly that. And they kicked me out.

DON’T after all this kick them out of your house with $20 to their name.

I spent the day driving around town trying to figure out what I was going to do. Would I sleep in my car? I didn’t have enough for a hotel room and barely enough for food for a couple days. But I was FREE. No one was holding me captive any more. No one was telling me what I could or could not do. I called home, collect.

My parents listened and cried with me as I told them the sordid story. My dad called the airline and arranged for a ticket to be waiting for me in the morning. He told me to call Rita and ask if I could spend the night. She and I spent that night packing all of my stuff into my car. A couple of weeks after I came home, my dad caught a plane and drove my car back. A very dark chapter of my life was over, but it would take years to put it behind me.

DON’T ignore them when they try to make amends you don’t deserve.

After 24 years, I saw the principal’s name on facebook. I decided to message him, to clear the air. Here’s what I wrote.

Hi Dick, I want to say I’m so sorry. Thank you for the love you and your family showed me during the darkest hours of my life. I am forever grateful. The Lord has been so good to me. I spent 3 years teaching abroad in the 90s. A few years ago, I married the love of my life, and we have 2 beautiful daughters. My husband and I serve in our local church and are on a journey that brings us closer to him every day. Before my father died, I found myself sitting on the floor by his feet with my head on his lap. I told him I was so sorry for hurting him and mom, breaking their hearts as I did. He said all was forgiven and that he was so proud of me. How we wept together. I can only imagine what I put you and your family through. We all made a lot of mistakes in a very big mess of my making. I am truly sorry. I have never forgotten the joys we all knew together in better times — the long conversations about life and how to live it, Sunday School lessons that were life to me, and oh the music! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

There was never a reply.

I have since realized that what I thought was love from them was really manipulation and control. They didn’t even know how to love someone like me. It would appear they still don’t.

Someone asked why on earth I ever thought I owed them an apology. Truthfully, I didn’t. I was still steeped in fundamentalism when I wrote it. Over the last three years I have broken free! I’m sharing more about that journey on my sister blog, Rhythms of Grace.

If you would like to read more of my story, you may do so in this post.

If you think this conversation is important, please share on social media.

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Photo Credit: Jirsak, https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/give-notice-fire-be-dismissed-get-181968044?src=4daDTB5-qa8Qw-YRj0_s9g-1-1

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It’s You I Like

This morning, I woke up with a song running through my head. During deconstruction, it grew to be one of my favorites. Listen to Fred Rogers as he sings it to Joan Rivers.

I watched Mr. Rogers as a child. My favorite part was the Neighborhood of Make Believe. But as I grew older, I began to feel the show was too “young” for me, and I stopped watching. I regret that now as I realize Mr. Rogers was the only person in my world at the time who liked me exactly the way I was.

I was surrounded by criticism. I was never good enough for my parents, and I often felt like a nuisance. Sunday we attended an “independent, fundamental, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, KJV-only, Baptist church” morning and evening. Wednesday evening we were there again. Monday through Friday I went the same church for school. I was immersed in a culture that saw me as inherently sinful and doomed but for Jesus.

Even with Jesus, I wasn’t good enough. I was a child. I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, cool enough, poised enough, disciplined enough, or perfect enough. My childishness was treated as a sin, and for it I was spanked at home, at school, and at church.

But every afternoon, a man would come into my living room and ask me to be his neighbor. He talked to me like an equal. He asked me questions and seemed to be genuinely interested in my answers. And he told me he liked me exactly the way I was. He didn’t ask me to change or tell me that if I made a mistake I would be punished. He didn’t threaten me or gaslight me the way the other adults in my life did. He was my friend. When he put on his sweater, he made a warm, safe place for me.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for liking me, for loving me. You couldn’t see my face in your camera, but you saw me, the real me, more than anyone else in my life. You valued and validated me. I will be forever grateful.


Photo credit: Darin McClure, original image cropped, https://www.flickr.com/photos/darinrmcclure/22387866284.

Religious Addiction

A couple of years ago, in the midst of marriage and family problems, I began to question whether my nightly glass of wine, which had recently grown to two, might indicate I was developing an addiction to alcohol. I knew I was seeking relief from the pain of life (much of which I have now come to understand resulted from spiritual abuse). I decided to go to an AA meeting.

The meeting was held in a local church. I was the only woman there. We all drank coffee as the five men each shared their stories in turn. As they talked, they read from their copies of Alcoholics Anonymous (which they called “The Big Book”) with tattered covers and pages as worn and marked as many Bibles I’ve seen. A couple of the men had attended AA meetings daily for decades. Though I found their commitment to sobriety admirable and their stories inspiring, I couldn’t help but wonder if they hadn’t traded one addiction for another.

“Hi, I’m Grace Maginnis, and I’m an alcoholic.” Somehow that statement didn’t ring true within my soul. In fact, I wasn’t an alcoholic. What I didn’t understand then was that my addiction was not substantive, but behavioral. Just like the men around the table with their tattered books, I was addicted to meetings. Mine were called church.

People who study addiction have in recent decades increasingly recognized that behaviors can be as addictive as substances. Gambling, sex, computing, dieting, and even exercise have joined substances like alcohol, drugs, and food as commonly treated addictions.

Whether substantive or a behavioral, addictions have common characteristics.

  • The addict finds physical or emotional pleasure or relief from the substance or behavior.
  • The addict develops tolerance and must indulge in increasing amounts of the substance or behavior to experience the desired effect.
  • The addict cannot stop using without experiencing withdrawal.
  • The addict will go to extreme lengths to secure adequate supply.
  • The addict often engages in risky behavior in association with the addiction.
  • The addict is unwilling or unable to admit the addiction or change even in the face of dire consequences such as physical illness, loss of relationships, financial crisis, or even death.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but when we take a close look at it, we see how for many like myself, religious observance has become an addiction. Just listen to how some people talk.

“I have to get my Jesus fix every week”

“How do people live without church?”

“That worship service was awesome! Everyone was drunk in the spirit!”

“I had such a spiritual high after the conference, and now I’m just crashing.”

Just yesterday, a Christian friend of mine asked me for prayer and advice. She said she thought she was under spiritual attack because an ear infection she had treated with antibiotics seemed to be coming back. She felt discouraged and defeated because she was not receiving a miraculous healing.

I did pray for my friend, for about 30 seconds. I prayed that her ear infection would be healed. Then, I told her to call her doctor and make an appointment. This wasn’t a spiritual attack. She was just plain sick. But to her, it had to be spiritual. This way of thinking is typical with religiously addicted people.

For those of you who wish to learn more, here are some articles and books on religious addiction:

When Religion Goes Bad: Part 2 – Religious Addiction, by Dale S. Ryan and Jeff VanVoneren

Can Religion Be an Addiction?

When Religion is an Addiction, by Robert N. Minor

Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse, by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

Symptoms of Religious Addiction

Can Religion Become an Addiction?

Threads

My dad was the son of a preacher who abused his family. He was asthmatic and small — a full head shorter than his twin sister. With abuse at home and bullying at school, fear was his life-long companion. He compensated with control. Mom wasn’t prepared for marriage to such a man, and her coping mechanism was yelling at me.

Spiritual abuse was woven into the fabric of our family.

The fundamentalist church I grew up in justified the abuse my parents were enduring and perpetrating and solidified in me that I was unworthy and disappointing. I was a lonely, scared little girl who received regular “spankings” from my father that left deep bruises from my hips to my knees. When mom tried to intervene, dad threatened her and accused her of being “unsubmissive.”

Fourteen years of Christian school thoroughly indoctrinated me in fundamentalism. Naturally, I followed my father’s and grandfather’s advice (as I had learned from countless Bill Gothard seminars) and “chose” Pensacola Christian College.

PCC was a big lake to my small-pond upbringing, and I had no idea how to navigate. The culture was permeated with fear – fear of failure, fear of the administration’s power, fear of being known, fear of God. Naïve, lonely, and afraid, I was in no way prepared for what lay ahead.

Rita (not her real name) asked for help with a class assignment. She made me feel smart, important, even loved. She told me no one loved me like she did. Though time would prove her a user of the worst kind, I believed her. When the principal from a Christian school in her home town across the country offered me a job, I accepted.

Monday through Friday, we taught fundamentalist children. On the weekends we went across the bay to party with our lesbian friends in anonymity. To my surprise, these friends seemed more genuine than the hyper-religious community of my childhood.

I began to question everything I had ever known, even God. No God, no consequences, I thought. Then Rita slept with one of our friends, and then a stranger, and then another teacher from her school with 6 children of her own. Our secret got out and we lost our jobs.

I was amazed when my parents embraced me and let me move back home to pick up the pieces of my life. The scared little girl was back in her small pond, but not for long.

Three years later, I jumped into the biggest sea of people on the planet – China. It was a chance for a new beginning. At the time, I was “going to the mission field.” In retrospect, I’m sure I was trying to regain the favor of God I was sure I’d lost. That was probably also the reason I had left fundamentalism for charismatic circles. The charismatic church offered energy and hope, until I discovered it was even more fraught with abuse than the church of my youth.

I taught English, fighting illness and injury for a year and a half. I prayed. I talked to people about Jesus, and some put their faith in Him. Then, a newbie supervisor more hungry for power than truth grilled me for an hour about my relationships with school officials. I had no idea what he was driving at until he finally told me they had not invited me back and that he would not recommend me for language school. He assumed I knew something. I didn’t. He treated me like a criminal.

“Don’t speak to anyone about this,” he ended.

I was crushed and confused when I returned to my school for my final semester. I had not regained God’s favor; I believed I had lost it forever. People kept asking what was wrong. I kept quiet as I had been told.

Three months later, I was suicidal. I called our Hong Kong office and begged them to let me out of the rest of my contract. Within days I found myself on a plane to America.

I was completely shut down and would probably never have gotten help if my hair hadn’t started falling out. A doctor from my church prescribed medication. I went into three years of church-supported counseling at the charismatic church.

Ten years after China, and after a year teaching in Japan and what seemed like interminable singleness, I met my husband. We married within six months. Dad reminded me to be a submissive wife. My pastor’s wife advised me against marrying someone who wasn’t “Spirit-filled.”

I chose not to listen to her.

Something changed the day we got married. He was now my husband, my spiritual leader, my head. He would provide, and I would have babies. I would homeschool and keep a perfect house and be everything my husband always hoped for in a wife. I had yet another chance at a new beginning.

But I was still depressed and broken on the inside. I found myself unable to keep house or be the wife I wanted to be. We lost three babies. My father died. We decided to adopt. Five months after we returned from China with our first daughter, I gave birth to another. Our already-strained marriage began to crumble. For years we were in and out of marriage and family counseling.

As my husband and I began to embrace the Hebrew roots of our faith, I began to see God in a new light. I took a class on listening prayer and began to hear him. Through everything, God had been there — unseen, unknown, but always there.

One morning, I woke up with the words “spiritual abuse’ repeating in my mind. Spiritual abuse? I thought. What’s that? I ended up on Soulation watching videos of a fellow PCC alum I’d never heard of talk about experiences that struck a chord in my soul. I wept through the videos about his PCC experience and began to see the true source of my lifetime depression – spiritual abuse.

I immersed myself in articles, videos, and books on fundamentalism and abuse. I listened to podcasts and talked with old friends who had begun to emerge from spiritual prison. I heard God say He was reaching down and gently pulling me out of the deep, dark hole where I had lived so long.

At first, the light was so bright I could barely stand to look at it. The world began to open up, and I saw truth in the most unexpected places. I found God’s voice not condemning, but consistently encouraging and loving and good. And deep inside of me, where no one but he could see, a very old, festering wound began to heal.

My husband noticed the difference first. As I shared what I was learning, his eyes began to open too. We defied our church tradition and embraced egalitarian marriage. The shackles I had been laboring under fell off. I found out my husband had more grace for me than I did for myself. Together, we are pursuing a brand new way of loving each other and parenting our children.

I don’t know what the future holds, but for once I’m not looking for a fresh start. I’m beginning to see my life and myself as wholly valuable. God continues to show me how He is weaving the threads of my life, even the dark ones that were not part of His original plan, into something truly beautiful. The fear and shame and abuse that has thrived in my heart for so long is being crowded out by God’s unconditional, unfathomable, and unending love.


Photo Credit: Rajesh_India, https://www.flickr.com/photos/74821492@N00/sets/72157625463625584/

Truth. We could spend hours debating its meaning or whether it exists at all. Many with better skills of reasoning and debate than I would leave with their opinions unchallenged. Nevertheless, I see truth as objective and eternal.

Churches call their view of truth doctrine. In every church I’ve attended, internal doctrine is embraced and external doctrine eschewed without question. In other words, each church believes it has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. While I find the Bible to be true, we have not always interpreted it properly, nor does the Bible hold the monopoly on truth.

When I left my sheltered, fundamentalist world, I was amazed to find people who do not believe in God, who do not see Christian Scripture as authoritative, who have never entered a church but for a wedding or funeral, yet seem at peace. Some of the most well-adjusted people I know are not religious at all. Some belong to faiths so different from my own that they were never a topic of discussion in my circles. And yet these “pagans” had found something I hadn’t — inner peace.

I am not a universalist. I believe with all my heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But I also see a God who so longs for people to find the truth that he has hidden it everywhere. It can be found in the words of Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. I have seen it in the spires of a cathedral and the strokes of a painting. I have heard it the lofty thoughts of Greek philosophers and the simple words of a child. I have found it in the lyrics of a hymn and in the lyrics of the Beatles.

Recently, I have felt compelled to look for truth in the teachings of Buddhism. Amazingly, I found that the Path and the Way intersect at some points, and from these new understandings, I have gained much. These will be the subject of my next post.

Photo Credit: Reinhard Klar, https://www.flickr.com/photos/32409232@N05/3253788790/

More Spiritual Than I

A couple of years ago, my daughter had her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. We had just begun to attend a Messianic church, and we invited a new friend, a little girl whose parents were on staff. The mother (I’ll call her Gina) informed me she was fasting and eating only vegetables, and I agreed to provide a veggie tray for her sake.

When my mother and brother arrived with his family, I was embarrassed by the fact that I was wearing a head covering. We had just attended our church service where head coverings are common, and rather than show my flattened hair, I chose to leave the scarf on. I was not raised with such a custom and was nervous about my family’s reaction. Whether they intended it or not, I read discomfort in their faces.

As the party continued, I found myself increasingly self-conscious and nervous about how Gina perceived my children’s behavior. They were loudly and eagerly collecting tickets for the prizes they wanted. Their childhood exuberance seemed very selfish in the light of a spiritual “leader” who was fasting and noticeably limiting her daughter’s activities. I found myself repeatedly apologizing to her for my girls’ lack of self-control. Her responses were kind on the surface, but there was a quality in them that read to me as disapproval.

As we traveled home, and my daughter cried because we had said no to her request for cotton candy, I questioned my wisdom as a mother. Other than my husband, there wasn’t an adult at the party by whom I hadn’t felt judged. Now my 5-year-old was declaring we didn’t love her because the cotton candy was still at Chuck E’s. It was a low moment.

The next day, I cried as I told my husband I was sure I was a terrible mother. I decided to e-mail Gina. I included an apology for bringing her and her daughter into an environment where greed and “gambling” were encouraged. I concluded by asking her to mentor me in the finer qualities of Christian womanhood. Her reply contained what should have been a red flag for me: “No one has ever asked this of me before.” She eagerly accepted and had soon laid out a plan of regular meetings and a list of books for me to read.

As I emerge from the cloud of spiritual abuse, I see this incident in the light of truth. I was at a new church, with new people who knew nothing of our family. That is why I had chosen to wear head coverings. It was a chance to establish a “spiritual” reputation within an environment where I had experienced so much pain and rejection in the past – church.

Gina was someone in leadership, someone I felt I MUST impress.

When I realized I had not only failed to impress her, but had probably also managed to alienate her, I was compelled to undo my mistake. My asking for mentorship was a desperate attempt to regain her good opinion. Her acceptance was confirmation for me — I was a poor wife and mother who needed her help.

How I wish Gina had responded something like this:

Thank you for your e-mail. My daughter and I both so enjoyed the party. It reminded me of our church’s annual Hanukkah party. We set up game stations for the children and they earn tickets with which they buy all sorts of fun toys and prizes. I hope you and your girls will attend this year.

I can so relate to your concerns about being a good wife and mother. I struggle in this area too. It would sure be great if we could encourage each other. I’m honored by your request for mentoring, something no one has ever asked of me before. But since I’m struggling as well, I’d rather be a friend to you and have your friendship in return.

Is there a day or time when we might have coffee and get to know each other better? I’d love to hear about your life and share mine with you too.

And thank you for the veggie tray.

Sincerely,
Gina

He Restores My Soul

What do you think I did as a little girl all those times I was sent to my room to await a beating? I cleaned my room of course! I knew if my dad saw the state of my room, the beating would be all the worse. My brother did the same thing. Is it any wonder we both grew up to be slobs?

Now, I’m not trying out for Hoarders, but there are chronic cleaning issues at my house. To go into detail would be embarrassing, even on an anonymous blog. It has been a source of contention for my husband ever since we married. This week, we had a heated argument about it (and other things, of course). When we discussed all this with our therapist, he wisely pointed away from my cleaning (or lack of it) as the source of the problem. Still, I have been taking a much closer look at this issue in myself this week.

I can plan cleaning sessions like nobody’s business, but when it come time to actually get started, I freeze. This week I’ve practiced mindfulness in those moments, looking deep into my heart and asking myself what I am feeling and why. I feel deeply depressed, even sick to my stomach. I feel tired and afraid. All the negative feelings overwhelm me, and before I know it, I’m sitting on the couch checking Facebook again. As the song goes, “What’s goin’ on inside me? I despise my own behavior.”

What seems clear to me is that I associate cleaning with pain and abuse. When I start to clean my house, I feel all those feelings I used to feel cleaning while waiting for a beating. The dread of those moments transfers to the present and paralyzes me. I obviously need healing in this area.

Last night, as my mindfulness meditation, I chose Psalm 23. I pondered each phrase.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

Wait a minute! He restores my soul? He does? Really? That’s what it says. He restores my soul.

You mean, God wants to fix the broken parts of me? He wants to turn me back into the beautiful person He created me to be? Is that possible?

When a restorer goes to the flea market, he searches for the things others have overlooked. He wants that special piece he can return to its original beauty. He finds it, buys it, takes it home. He stares at it for a long time. He’s imagining it in its former glory. Then he gets the wood stripper and begins taking off the old paint. Why would anyone want to paint over this beautiful wood? he wonders. Gently, carefully, he wipes and brushes away the changes others have made. Then he sands the wood smooth, being sure to remove the last vestiges of abuse. Finally, he applies oil to the wood, and the piece glows again.

I think this is what my Restorer is doing in me. He’s stripping off the paint people have slapped on me to get me to look the way they wanted. He’s sanding smooth the splinters of abuse that have arisen from my core. And He’s rubbing in the healing oil that will return me to the original beautiful woman He created me to be.

I’m not there yet. I still feel dread when it comes time to clean, but I’m cleaning anyway. And I’m trusting my Good Shepherd to complete the work He has begun in me.

ADDENDUM: A few days after I wrote this, I had the opportunity to buy myself some new t-shirts, you know, the everyday kind. I really needed new shirts because I tend to get grease on mine while I’m working in the kitchen and I’ve never quite figured out how to get it out. Well, I loved my new shirts and didn’t want them to be ruined too. So I decided to pull out an old apron and start wearing it when I was working to protect my clothes. Not only does it feel really good to be taking care of my new things like this, something amazing happens every time I put on that apron. The depression lifts. I feel energized. There’s a spring in my step, and work gets done without dread. The other day I started working in my room while my apron was downstairs. I just pretended I was wearing the apron, and the depression lifted. He really does restore my soul.


Photo Credit: Richard, https://www.flickr.com/photos/rich701/5834476660/in/photostream/

It Was Just a Branch

Trigger warning: This post contains descriptions of child abuse.


I must have been around 10 years old. It was a summer day and I was in our front yard playing alone. Like most little girls, I pretended to be cooking, and I scavenged the yard for bits to include in my concoction. A low hanging branch from our maple provided the perfect green salad leaves. I just got my dad’s pocket knife from his room and picked off a branch.

Dad came home and walked over to see what I was doing. “Did you pick that branch off the tree?” he asked. There was something unsettling in his tone. I felt I was about to get into trouble.

“No. I found it in the yard.”

He questioned me again, and again I lied. Clearly, he wasn’t buying my story.

As he continued to press the issue, his voice grew louder, his face harder, and his manner more threatening. I couldn’t go back now. I had no idea what so crucial about a little branch, but I feared what would happen if I told him I had lied. No, I stuck firmly to my story. He went inside.

A moment later he was back with his pocket knife in hand.

“Why was this out?”

Silence.

“You used this to cut the branch!”

With my secret out, I admitted I had lied.

“Go to your room!” he yelled. Those words always meant one thing — a spanking was next.

I waited in my room for what felt like an eternity. Then the knob turned. I saw Dad’s stern mouth first, then the paddle. It was wooden, about 18 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 3/4 inch thick. We were well acquainted.

He came over, sat on my bed, and lectured me for about 5 minutes. He told me again that lying was one of the worst sins, adding a story about when as a teenager he had lied to his father. He had been woken from sleep to the worst beating of his life.

I was terrified when he told me to lie over his lap. My waist wouldn’t bend. So he reached up with his arm and forced me down. I began kicking and screaming. He held me down with one leg and began hitting me will all his might. As I cried and begged him to stop, he only yelled over me to shut up.

I don’t know why I chose to count this time, but I lost track after 40 “swats.”

Then my mother came in the room yelling at Dad to stop. He did, probably out of shock that she had dared to interrupt. He raged at her, telling her she had no right to question his authority, accusing her of being “unsubmissive.” They both left my room and continued arguing outside my door.

The bruising extended from my hips to my knees and lasted for weeks.

I swore to myself that I would never lie again.

Of course, I did lie again, to him, to others, and the fear of retribution was overwhelming.

These incidents, along with constant fundamentalist teaching at church and school, convinced me that I was inherently broken and evil. No one could possibly love me if they knew the truth about who I was.


I love my dad. I always will. Before he died 10 years ago, we had the chance to apologize and forgive each other. It was one of the most treasured moments of my life. But there are many incidents in our past, like this one, which I will never be able to forget.

Spiritual Abuse

The words were rolling around my mind as I was waking up — spiritual abuse. What’s that? I wondered. Earlier that week He had woken me up by speaking my name. Yes, audibly. It sounded like my husband’s voice, but when I turned he wasn’t there. I had found him, asked if he had called me. He hadn’t.

God was trying hard to get my attention. Maybe this spiritual abuse thing was Him too.

A few minutes of clicking online gave me more questions than answers. So I changed my search to “spiritual abuse Pensacola Christian College.”

Jackpot!

Spiritual abuse is misusing God’s name. It is claiming the intentions and character of God are behind the thing that men and women are wrongly doing.” So said author Dale Fincher, a fellow PCC alum I had never heard of. On his blog, Free At Last, Dale had posted a series of videos detailing his personal experiences at our alma mater. As I watched them one by one, something in me stirred.

He had been mistreated too? But he was one of the popular people! He was student body president, became a grad student, taught classes! Why would they do those things to him?

I had always thought it was just me. I thought the administrators at PCC must have seen the truth about me, that I was unworthy, that I was a screw-up. That’s why I had been mistreated. It was all my fault. But Dale wasn’t a screw-up, and look what they did to him!

I read more and pondered. Maybe my recurring PCC nightmares meant something. I had joked with my college friends that it was PCC PTSD. Now the joke didn’t seem so funny.

The more I read, the more I realized that spiritual abuse was the cause of more than just my nightmares. It was at the root of my 20-yr clinical depression. SA’s voice had spoken louder than God’s for most of my life. Until now.


For more About spiritual abuse, including a list of articles, visit recovering grace.org.

Photo Credit: c. 2010 Brian Pennington
https://www.flickr.com/photos/byebyeempire/4635520149/

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