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.

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/

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