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Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Will Not Be Erased

You think you know me, but you don’t.  

You have no idea who I am – what makes me happy, sad, furious, what makes me tick, what makes me, me. You think you do, but you don’t. 

You used to tell me “I know you better than you know yourself.” How dare you? I can’t think of a more arrogant, presumptuous thing to say to someone. You only ever saw the parts of me I let you see. I learned early on that it wasn’t safe to let you see all of me, the true me. That you were not someone I could trust with myself or be vulnerable around. I learned a long time ago that who I really was would never be acceptable to you. So I hid. And those times I couldn’t hide, I was punished by you, confirming that my instinct was correct and you were not safe.

That girl you think you know doesn’t exist and never did. You made her up and did your best to cram me, the real me, into the mold you made for her. You did your best to create a role that I was to fulfill, and I tried, oh how I tried, even until recently, just to be accepted. I was only ever accepted if I played the role well. Maybe this is why you have to erase me, because I quit playing your role. 

You think you own the narrative of my childhood, my life. My story told by you is very different than how I tell it, how I lived it. And when I have tried to express this, I am dismissed, what I have experienced is denied, and everything that has made me *me* is erased by you. Like a magic spell, you speak the words “What are you talking about? That never happened!” and gone is another part of my story, another piece to the puzzle that could tell me who I am and why.

But I am done accepting your narrative of my life. You do not get to control it any longer.
These memories are mine, my life story. They have made me who I am. They embody my childhood, my development into a fully functional human being, spirit, soul, and body. They have influenced my choices in life, including my career choice, my parenting choices, my aversions and desires, who I love and who I hate, what I believe and what I doubt. I am paying today for the consequences of those events you say never happened. I am who I am because of my story then and now. You cannot take that away from me because you don’t like the parts you played. You cannot paint over the dark ugly parts with pastels and rainbows. You do not get to define my identity, and as much as you try to do so, you cannot erase me in favor of a girl that never existed.

I will not be erased. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Nightmares

I keep having these dreams that my parents are keeping my husband away from me, or me away from him, like they did 12 years ago, only worse. Sometimes they have me locked up somewhere, sometimes they deny he ever existed. Always I'm trapped and defenseless and frantically searching for him, trying to find him, to get back to him. Always I can't find him, or he can't hear me, and my parents gain control and drag me away from him.

In the last dream I had, I woke up and was back in my childhood home near Seattle. I was scared, I ran upstairs from my basement room, asking where my children were, where my husband was. Everyone looked confused and didn't know what I was talking about. They treated me like I was mentally unstable and insane and making stuff up. They said I didn't have any children, that we'd never moved to eastern WA, and that I'd never been in love or married. I became frantic, begging them to let me out, to go search for my family. They refused and locked me in the basement, saying it was for my own good, that I was sick. I started to think they were right, but something happened to make me sure that I did have children, that I was married, that I had a life, and that I had to fight with everything I had to get out of that house and away from those people who claimed to be my family and claimed to love me. I knew that my kids were missing me and my husband was probably looking for me, they probably all thought I'd run off and didn't love them anymore and that broke my heart. I sat in the basement room, screaming, bloodying my knuckles trying to escape. I knew I wasn't crazy but....what if I was? What if they were right and there is no husband, no children, and I am truly sick, trying to escape walls that keep me safe?

I hate these dreams. I hate that 10 years after I won and took control and chose my own way in my life, I still fear being controlled. I still fear losing control over my own life and losing the man and children who are mine. I can still feel the agony and helplessness of being trapped, even though the cage was really in my own mind and theirs and nothing physical was keeping me from walking away back then, only spiritual manipulation and fear. I wonder when these dreams will ever stop. I wake up from these dreams in a panic, reaching for my husband, putting my hand on my baby son in his crib next to me, tangible evidences that I am in my own bed, in my own home, in my own life.

And I try to reconcile in my mind the parents I know now who come to visit to bring gifts to their grandkids and have coffee in the mornings and do a little bit of life with us, with the parents back then who controlled and manipulated and who had convinced me they had power over me and my choices and whom I believed. And I wonder how long I can keep saying "my parents weren't abusive, they weren't like those horror stories you read about. They loved us" as I wake up in a cold sweat from these dreams. Do motives really matter in the end? Because it was the actions that broke me; their motives can't fix that. I wonder if we are ever going to talk about it, to go back there and expose all the ugliness that was my life 12 years ago, and if I will ever stop having these nightmares if we don't.

I am 30 years old, a successful mother and student and advocate. I control my life and my choices. I am loved deeply by the man I share my life with, the man who fought for me. I have four children whose lives I nurture and guide. I chose to live every day with a whole heart, with vulnerability, with honesty, with empathy, with authenticity, with deep joy in my amazing life and my beautiful family. Yet one dream every few months with the same theme over and over again, touching a very broken place in my soul, and I am completely undone. I have to fight yet again to convince myself that no one controls me but me. That I am free and no one can take that from me.

This is the power of childhood psychological abuse, emotional abuse, and spiritual abuse. It breaks parts of us that no one can see. That often even we can't see. But that are evident in the panic attacks, the recoiling from normal things, the nightmares.The rage that comes out of nowhere as an instinctual defense. The feeling of being a helpless child again. The confusion when presented with two differing stories of the same incident and being told yours is the incorrect version.

This story isn't over. But as dark and unfinished as it is, it's a necessary one to tell right now, in this moment, so others living the same story don't feel quite so alone. We fight and we win. I know we win. I have already won so much. And I'm not finished yet.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Accidental World-Changers

They wanted to raise a generation of people who would change the world with our excellence, character, and superior skills, unafraid of doing right and standing alone.

Well, here we are.

All grown up and no longer staying silent about things that matter, no longer children controlled and smiling in a row. We may not be what they expected, but we are exactly what they planned us to be. They just never thought that we'd be standing up, not for their movement, not for their "values" or their mission, but for each other. Hand in hand, reaching down, pulling up, hugging close, fighting demons, speaking out, hearts beating together.

They wanted to create a force to be reckoned with. They accomplished that goal. What they failed to take into account was that they were raising people not robots. And people are resilient. They are strong. They have minds and thoughts and wills of their own, things that ultimately cannot be controlled forever. Humans are wild cards.

We have found each other, connected, and now stand side-by-side. "Really? Me too!" is the cry of relief and sadness and connection and righteous anger that we hear every day. The letters I get, the comments on my blog, the conversations day in and day out.....they break my heart, they tear at my very soul, they overwhelm, yet they feel strangely familiar and tell me I'm not a freak and I'm not alone and neither is anyone else like me. This is both terrible and wonderful.

We each bring our own strengths to this struggle. Some are lawyers, some investigators, some the story-tellers, some counselors and healers, all are friends to those who need a friend, a hand to hold onto. I have chosen to bring my passion for soul-healing into the fight, to do all I can to help others have the life and happiness and wholeness that they deserve as human beings, to break the cycle of violence and brokenness. That is my gift and my passion. Others in our midst are the masters of justice. They are the ones that have devoted their time and effort to exposing the abuse and the abusers, of rallying to do what they can for the rights of homeschooled children. And they're doing a damn good job too.

"Sit down, be quiet, stop talking, how dare you? you're lying, you're disrespectful, submit, shut up, be sweet, don't tell, don't question, smile, conform, pretend, why can't you just......"   Ah, but that is not who we were raised to be, who we were supposed to be, who we have chosen now to be. We are the world-changers, the truth-fighters, the culture-warriors. Isn't that what they wanted? What they dreamed of? What they planned for?

This exposure of abusers in the world we were children in is not going to end until the abuse ends. We were raised to be the best of the best, to stand alone, to choose righteousness when everyone else chose evil. *That is exactly what we are doing*. With every brave story, their power crumbles to dust.

This expose happened today: When Homeschool Leaders Looked Away.

I commend my friends for all the months of work they put into this. I know the backlash they will received from a culture of image-worship, a kingdom that is imploding before our very eyes because of years worth of corruption and power-mongering covered up in the name of religion and God and "educational freedom". There will be no more silence about things that matter from my generation of homeschooled adults. If we do not speak up, who will? Obviously not those who laud themselves as the leaders of the Christian homeschool world. I am heartbroken for the victims, those named and those still wounded and hiding. And even more convinced that the way I have chosen and the fight I have chosen and the people I have chosen to stand with is all exactly where I am supposed to be.

We are who we were meant to be. We are the generation that unexpectedly changes the world.....our world. Which is more than enough for us.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Of Children and Horses and Spirit-Breaking

My husband and I were talking and he mentioned picking up one of the Pearl's child-training books years ago. He read the chapter on teaching a child to come to you. He thought it was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever read. He shared this with me about his thoughts on the matter:

"I kept thinking about training horses to come to you. You don't set up the horse to fail then punish it when it does to teach it to come. You make it easy for them to listen and follow, then you continually reinforce the good behavior with positive rewards that could be anything from a scratch on the ear to a sugar cube. Mostly you just reward them. You do this over and over again until they learn to come at just a word because they want to come to you to be with you, to go for a ride, to have fun with you, to get a handful of grain." 

"Some people use punishment and negative situations and even cruelty to train a horse. There was one trainer popular years ago who did this. For example, to teach a horse to neck-rein, he'd tie the horse's head cocked to it's side so it couldn't move, then leave it there for hours. The pressure of the rope would create a reaction and the horse would forever ever turn it's head to the side every time it felt even a small pressure on it's neck from the rein. It was conditioned through negative reinforcement. It works and it takes far less time than using positive means to train a horse. That's why many people found it ideal. I always just thought it was cruel and unnecessary. Why use cruelty when you can train a horse through connection and kindness, making it easy for them to listen and follow you? Well, because it takes a whole lot longer. More time and effort and patience. A lot more. But I think it produces a much better relationship with the horse than using physically negative methods. The negative method does break the horse, but that's all it does....break them." 

I've watched him spend all day just teaching a horse to lift its foot to be cleaned. Or to come, walk forward, or back up. He's about to start breaking our 2-yr-old filly. It's a process I love to watch but lose patience with after a while. I'm in awe of the man who can get such a huge, powerful creature to follow him around like a happy puppy, not by "showing who's boss", but by connection, relationship, setting limits, and upholding them.

The man is only recently familiar with children, but he's known horses most of his life. He has much respect and love for the majestic creatures. His horse was a troubled gelding when we got him, high-strung and out of control. The horse had been through a lot of previous owners who had no idea what to do with him and he had a reputation for bucking people off, not following any directions, and being wild. When my husband got him, there was a quiet determination that dominated the interactions between them; the head-butting sessions where each tried to out-stubborn the other. My husband was firm like a rock and patient like I have never been for anything. He respected and honored the spirit of the horse while teaching him how not to kill someone with that same spirit, setting limits on the creature's behavior that would be profitable for both horse and rider. They were quite the pair when we were teenagers. They won every race down the dirt roads with friends, climbed every mountain in their path, and had a relationship and connection that was undeniable. And when the horse pushed the limits, the man would start all over again, working with him, pushing him, teaching him. I saw the man angry at the horse a few times. But it never came out in his behavior or changed his actions toward the errant horse (though there certainly was some quiet cussing happening under breath a few times). Today, we still have this high-spirited horse. There really is no other human for this horse than my husband. Til death do them part. The horse is almost 20 years old but he doesn't seem to know it. He still follows my man around like a puppy and pushes the limits if he's bored, just to stir up a little fun. A friend once said "Your husband is the only one in the world that loves that crazy horse and the only one that horse respects."

Maybe this is why the man is naturally more patient with our children than I am. Maybe it's just his nature or maybe it's because he understands wild things. Whichever it is, I am overwhelmingly grateful. He's been made fun of for his gentle approach with training horses. He's been mocked for his respectful way of parenting. He's even been put down for having an equal partnership with me, his wife. But he knows something those people don't. He knows the reward of a relationship based on respect and kindness, and the value of honoring the spirit and freedom of another being, be they horse or human.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Are Not The Threat

There's a new threat to homeschooling, folks! That's right, and it isn't the evil government or liberal feminists or Satan. The homeschooling apocalypse will be ushered in because of....*drum roll*.....

The Homeschool Alumni.

Yup. Those pesky people who just won't keep silent about their upbringing. Who dare to tell their not-so-happy stories, the good, bad, and ugly. Who dare to paint big, bold, dark colors on the beautiful Thomas-Kincaid-like portraits of homeschooling. Who dare to stop pretending that everything in their world was beauty and light and are exposing the ugly darkness.

Their stories of abuse and neglect and confusion are apparently a threat to a way of life that is upheld as God's Ideal Plan for all mankind. (Looks like "God's Plan" had a few unexpected loose ends.)

What I'd like to know is this: what, exactly, are we a "threat" to?

If people telling their stories is a "threat" to your way of life, you should really re-evaluate your way of life. It says a lot about who you are and what exactly you're trying to protect and preserve when the very people that lived as you do are merely telling their own stories and you're quaking in your boots because of it.

If our stories of real-life experiences as homeschooled children, and the real-life effects of those experiences on us as adults, are a threat to you, then perhaps instead of trying to silence us, and instead of trying to discredit us, there should be some extreme makeover-type remodeling being considered within the homeschooling community.

Do you know who the real threat is here? Because it isn't me or my friends. It isn't those of us brave enough to speak out and fight for the rights of people who have no voice. It isn't my friends who were beaten, raped, neglected, deprived, and put down; it isn't the victims. To point fingers at us and call us the "threat" is either extremely ignorant or extremely cruel.

The real threat is the abusers. The self-proclaimed leaders who steal, kill, and destroy the lives of the vulnerable. The men and women who cry "Parental rights!!" then turn around and trample on the rights of their children. Who fight tooth and nail to keep their victims powerless. And the second greatest threat are the people that defend them, support them, and fail to call them out on their abuses.  The folks who stick their heads in the sand and deny, deny, deny. They seem to no longer care about the very real faces behind those stories, but only that the image of Almightly Homeschooling is preserved intact. Their institution has become more important than the people that comprise it. THEY are their own worse threat. THEY are doing more to cause the implosion of the homeschooling movement than anything my friends or I could say. If you point at victims and call them "threats", you are telling them that protecting their abusers and the environment that facilitated their abuse is more important to you than truth and healing. Victims are only threats to the prospering and perpetuating of abuse. 

Homeschooling parents, we are not your enemy. How could we be? We were once your children. We are the products of your movement. We are just no longer voiceless and if that is a threat to you, then maybe you should rethink what and who it is you're protecting. 

"An entire generation of homeschoolers have grow up and they are telling their stories, the good, bad, and ugly. Most of us have lived our whole lives under crushing standards, expectations, and facades, and we are done. So done pretending. There a lot of successes and a shitload of failures that came from the conservative homeschooling movement and we will talk about all of them. Because information is power, empowering the next generation to help avoid the awful parts of ours. They NEED to know what went wrong, from the perspective of the guinea pigs. We alone can tell that part of the story, paint that part of the picture, speak from the very darkest places in our hearts about the parts that went so desperately, terribly wrong. What do people think? That we share the worst parts of our stories to billions of strangers on the internet for the heck of it? We share because WE FREAKIN' CARE. We care that others not go through what we did. We care and desperately want to save others from needless pain. This isn't some joyride we all decided to take part of. This shit hurts, and the derision we experience from family and friends is daunting, but staying silent while others suffer is a far worse pain than honestly exposing our own wounds. " ~On Homeschooling, Stories, and Dismissal 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Time To Search and a Time to Give Up

Religion was only ever used to control and hurt. To put down and shame.

God was why I had to be spanked for every infraction.

God was why I was worthless.

God was why the people in the Bible did horrible things to other people.

Church was where we were told how bad we were and how we don't deserve love or life but got lucky that God loves us anyway.

God was why peers were evil and parents were authoritarian and my heart was bad and not to be trusted. Why I had to dress ugly and repent often and try harder to be better. Why we had to be spanked, grounded, and punished. Parents had to do those things because, God.

In all my life, God, religion, church, and spirituality were only ever wielded as a weapon of control. Inflicting fear and pain. "For your own good."

Is it any wonder I cannot see through this to anything other than emptiness? I tried, for years, to find the God of grace and light and love, but I can't find him. I thought I'd found him for a while. But I'm not sure He exists anymore. I wonder if I and everyone else have just made Him up, made up this God of grace and love because the thought of a universe and life without divine meaning and reason is too scary for us. I fight and I fight, every waking hour and sometimes in my sleep, to find the idea of a loving Divine, but He is drowned out by the abusive, punitive version that has been carved into the walls of my heart and mind for as long as I've been alive.

Do you want to know how to raise an atheist? Teach them from the time they are young that there is a God who cannot stand them and a hell that awaits for every soul that doesn't do what that God says. Teach them they have to reject their gay friends and their unchurched friends and their Buddhist friends and every friend that doesn't follow this God the "right" way. Teach them they are nothing without this God, worthless scum destined for eternal punishment. Teach them there is this thing called "sin" that they are prone to and must avoid, even when the rules seem arbitrary because God said so and that things that look good and wonderful are actually SIN for no other reason than some big dude in the sky decided so. Teach them the ways of an abusive God. Teach them that every rule you've made for them and every punishment for breaking those rules are because this abusive God told them to do these things or else you'll get punished too. Teach them that this isn't abuse, it's actually love.

Then watch them grow up and realize they've been duped. Watch them have children of their own and realize that there is no way in hell they will ever teach these awful things to their babies. If a boyfriend treated your daughter the way Christianity says God treats us, you'd call that boyfriend abusive and try to get your daughter out of that toxic relationship. But because you've accepted the idea that you'll go to hell and have a miserable life if you don't do what you're told by this invisible deity, you can't see how very damaging this idea is to both you and your children.

Watch them struggle to figure out if there's anything in their religion worth hanging onto. Anything that isn't harmful and painful and doesn't dredge up repulsive feelings and memories. Watch them finally give up the struggle to find anything good in the mess.

You might think you're doing your children a favor teaching them your "we sinned but God loves us anyway" religion. But you're not. You're killing their souls slowly.

I wish I could approach religion from a clean slate. I wish I didn't have all this baggage and darkness and painful memories warring against the ability to think critically when it comes to matters of faith. But I don't.

No matter how hard I try, the abusive religion I grew up immersed in will always be there in the scars on my heart, screaming louder as I try to silence them in order to think. I'm so very tired of the struggle.

If you've managed to find a God that isn't abusive, kudos to you. I can't find Him. I only see what people do in his name, I only feel the fear of being a child afraid of hell and afraid of God, the overwhelming disgust at all the things I have felt and heard and said and done and wept about because of him.

For now, I'm letting go. I have to believe that if there's a God out there that's worth following, He'll have to come find me. All the asking, seeking, and knocking in the world hasn't helped me, it's only made me so very weary.

Micah Murray wrote these words and they traveled to my very soul:

Lean in to all your questions and doubts and emptiness.
Lean in to the void where the god you once knew is now missing.
There is no resurrection without death.
I’ve come to believe that a very real death of faith is necessary for resurrection of spirituality, especially for those of us who’ve worn the label “Christian” from an early age. You can’t try to anticipate it, steer it, and you sure as hell cannot shortcut it.
Lean into it.
Don’t try to “not lose your faith” Don’t try to resuscitate it or patch it together.
Let your expectations go. Let your faith go, along with everything you thought you knew.
Don’t be afraid.
If there’s a god, I have to believe that they’re more concerned with not losing you than you are with not losing what’s left of your faith.
If there’s anything out there at all, any Divine worth knowing, it won’t let you slip away.

So that's what I'm doing these days. I'm done trying not to lose my faith. It's time to rest and live and love and let resurrection come if it will or grieve my loss if it won't.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Love Looks Like

I was 17 and had no idea what love was. Whispering to my best friend that all these emotions I couldn't explain were baffling and scary and wonderful all at the same time. Trying to deny and reject them, but finally embracing them and all the complexity and struggle that I knew would follow because love wasn't allowed when I was 17. And I felt lost yet strangely safe. His smile, that special one reserved just for me, sent butterflies alight in every part of me. The feelings were too big for me; my heart had not yet been enlarged by love and this was only the beginning.

I was positive I knew what love was, that hot July day when I was 20. It was devotion and longing, and commitment and desire and excitement and overwhelming joy that hurt in a good way. It was "for better or for worse" though we glossed over the "worse" part because who really wants to think about that or acknowledge its existence on their wedding day? Our relationship had never been easy and we had fought for it and knew we'd continue to fight for it no matter what. Because that's what love did, we said triumphantly.

I stood on top of a mountain, watching him cast a line into a pristine lake. Living together only 2 months, and my heart seemed like it couldn't get any bigger. Love surrounded me, enveloped me, was everywhere, and I thought I knew what love looked like. But my picture was still so small.

Life was awesome and difficult and babies came and home burned down and jobs came then were lost and home built and another home lost. Two people, joined together so very young, had to find themselves and figure out who they were, both individually and together. It was messy and scary and bewildering. When I was wandering, he waited for me; when he was angry, I stood my ground; when I was lost, he found me; when he was despairing, I held him up. We constantly showed each other how we saw one another, how we believed in each other even when we couldn't believe in ourselves. Hope left for a while, in the nitty-gritty of life between diaper changes and paychecks and spiritual wanderings. Life turned into daily survival and love, as mixed-up and incomplete as it was, still held on and held together. Dreams came and died; hard decisions made; time kept marching on and life kept happening. Hope came back and we started to dream again, to plan, to go down paths we never thought of traveling. To take each others' hands and say "walk with me, I want you near". When others couldn't handle our journey and rejection hit hard, we banded together, us against the world.

Now I am 30 and while I think I can say I know what love looks like, I'm also mature enough now to know what I don't know and what might yet come in our love-journey. I think love looks like daily mundane tasks, small simple gestures, the getting up and the working and the going to bed together day in and day out, the rowdy adventures and the sitting quietly in the backyard after dark and kids asleep, breathtaking desire, the bravery of both saying and accepting difficult things, honesty, trust lost and regained again, celebration of each other as autonomous people who have chosen to walk together, acceptance and support, authenticity, rest and satisfaction in the knowledge of seeing and being seen and adored for who we truly are.  And a decade passes, just like that.

There is something so terrifying about letting someone in to see every part of you that no one else has ever seen. To give another person the freedom to wound you in ways that no one else could possibly do. To be trusted with such things by another and know you have the ability to utterly destroy them just by being an imperfect human. Vulnerability given and received. Broken and rebuilt. Over and over again. Scars in the open, nothing hidden, nothing too ugly that it cannot be redeemed. I think this is sometimes what love looks like.

I recently stood on another mountain-top, looking over vast beauty indescribable. We are not the same two people, this man and I, as those two people who confidently said "I do" ten years ago. We feel to have lived a lifetime in only a decade. Taking his hand, he smiles down at me then turns back to watch the small versions of us running through the wildflowers, shrieking with laughter and discovery. Physical representations of our love; pieces of our hearts walking about outside our bodies, slaying us, reminding us, keeping us young while making us old at the same time. My heart swells with love and joy, having been enlarged by sorrow and pain and joy these past years. He laughs at something a child says, then grips my hand tighter. I am still undone when he smiles at me, like I am 17 all over again.

People ask me how to accomplish a successful long-term relationship and I'm not sure how to answer; I am just a baby compared to some who would have better answers after several decades of loving another person. I can tell our story, but it's our story and not a How-To list for marriage. It's quirky and messy and wonderful and maddening and it's ours. We are asked how to keep the "spark" alive, how we can be so obviously in love still, and we look at each other unsure. Did we just get lucky, or is there something to the idea that love nurtured grows instead of dies? That two good-willed people who respect and love and support can fall in love over and over again, years without end. Maybe the answer is a little bit of all of those and more.

~To the man that won my girlish heart years ago, my soul-mate, my best friend still. Thank you for sharing life with me. The next 10 years will be the best yet.