**All photos and posts are my original work. Please do not reprint photos or articles without permission.**

Monday, January 12, 2015

On Being Apostate


These are some of the things that people encounter upon leaving Christianity. The questions are endless, the loss impossibly painful. Some of us are rejected straight out by family and friends. Some are harassed in the name of evangelism. Christianity says that you can't leave. Leaving means burning in hell forever. (Or, if you're Calvinist, you don't even have a choice, saved or not whether you like it or not.) Leaving is unthinkable. Leaving means losing everything that makes life worth living. Leaving means losing your community, your support, maybe even your job. The whole system is arranged in such a way that leaving isn't even a choice for many.

They try to beg you, reason with you, using not reason but emotional manipulation. "How can you do this to yourself, to your family? Aren't you afraid of hell? Don't you care about your children's eternal souls? Don't you care about how this makes the church look? If you leave, we can no longer be your friends; you cannot be part of our family, God says so. We must now treat you like an unbeliever." Excommunication, rejection, anger, irrational cliches.

Do they really think these tactics will make us want to stay?

People will come up with all sorts of reasons why you must be apostate.

"You just never knew the real God."
"You weren't saved in the first place."
"You are deceived by Satan. You love your flesh more than God."
"You just want to live a sinful life."
"If you only knew God the way I do, the REAL God, you could never leave him."

If I had a dime for every time someone told me that last one, every time they said "that isn't God, this is God" and pointed in another direction, a way I've probably already been, I'd be rich. You can only be told so many times that the God that hurt you, the church that rejected you, is not the real God and the real people of God because eventually  you realize that all gods are made in the image of men and all humans are human no matter how other they claim to be.

I need people to understand something. You don't have a formula for why I walked away from your faith. From MY faith. You cannot justify to yourself some way that I am different, some way that I was broken that you are not, some way I got it wrong, in order to feel secure that you got it right. It's difficult to fathom when you've been taught that if you do xyz, you will be saved forever that someone could do xyz and yet not be saved. I get it. I was you once and I didn't understand and it was scary and I read all the cliches that supposedly explained what was wrong with the apostate that could never be wrong with me. Yet.....here I am. And there you are. And you can try with the best of them to continue to figure out "what went wrong" but your answers will never be satisfactory. Because they will not be true. There is no formula that can keep your faith intact. I realize that according to all the rules, I was not supposed to happen. I've also come to realize the rules are broken, not me, and they lie. I know this doesn't fit into the Christian paradigm. I don't fit. That's OK by me. But someday people are going to have to stop hiding behind their paradigm with all the answers that dismiss everyone who doesn't fit, and start addressing the hard problems that just won't go away and that they don't have answers to.

The truth is that sometimes people wake up and they know something isn't right and they change. It can be sudden or it can be gradual, but it happens. They wake up and they realize they swallowed a lie and life is not what they thought and they can't keep going on pretending that if they just keep on trying, maybe it will work out the way they were told it would. This can happen to anyone, I am not special or unique or flawed. I am human, just like you. No one is exempt from such awakening. It's a choice that we make to continue to live with cognitive dissonance that grows ever worse until we shut down parts of our hearts and minds to stop it and just keep doing and believing what we are told, what is safe. It's also a choice to choose to walk through a door that is scary and foreign but that is honest and true to ourselves. I have chosen the latter. And, for me, that means walking away from belief in god. For some of my friends, it meant re-defining who god is and what that means for them, and I respect that. I hope they find peace in that. I cannot. I've tried. It's dishonest for me.

Please, on behalf of all my ex-Christian friends I beg you, stop trying to save us. It feels very dismissing and disrespectful. I know it's your reaction based on fear that we will rot in hell, but it's a hell that men made to control people's behavior and I reject it. You must believe me when I tell you that there is nothing you can say to me that I haven't heard and probably once said to someone else. The childhood religious indoctrination was complete. There is no scripture you can quote that I don't have memorized. You cannot out-Bible an ex-fundamentalist. You cannot out-Christian-cliche me. I know my Bible better than most pastors. I know the hymns by heart. I was a worship leader. I know every nuance and flavor of Christian culture quite intimately. I know the Greek and Hebrew words. I know the apologetics and the proof-texts and the sermons and the doctrines and all the "right" answers to everything. I was fervent and devoted and loved Jesus with the best of them. You cannot dismiss me by a wave of your hand and a proclamation of "you were never saved". I was the saved of the saved. I was on fire. And now I have seen differently and changed my mind.

Without Christianity, I am free.  I have no desire to go back into that damaging bondage.

This is not a decision that I, that any of us, take lightly. It is insulting to my intelligence that you would think it's "a reaction" to my past. It's true there's an emotional component to my choice. I am an emotional being. But I am also rational and the two are not mutually exclusive. I know what I am doing. Can you please take me on my word at that?

For those of you walking the same path, I want you to know you're not alone. There are resources out there for you. Here are a few that have helped me:

Journey Free~ Religious Trauma Syndrome
Recovering From Religion

Celebrate the journey. Life is precious and far more valuable than I ever imagined. Drink it up. Love much. Pursue your passions. Leave a legacy. Write your story. Love others regardless of their religious beliefs. Peace be with you on your journey.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Raising Humans

Raising kids who are strong, thinkers, unafraid of standing up for what is right and just, begins when they are little. We simply cannot raise children who never question us or other authority figures, who aren't allowed to say "no", who are told what to think and feel, then expect them to magically become adults who question, think, feel, and stand against injustice as soon as they hit 18. I've seen so many people who are surprised to end up with young adult children that have no idea how to make good choices or be responsible after an entire childhood of not being allowed to make choices and only following orders. We didn't allow them to say no to us, yet are surprised when they can't say no to boyfriends, girlfriends, peers, corrupt authority figures, and others who influence their lives when they get older?

You don't teach a child to become a respectful human being by cowing them and disrespecting their autonomy. You can't teach them to respect others' rights by taking away their own. You can't teach them to take charge of their life when you were completely in charge for most of it. You can't teach them to trust their intuition when you deny their emotions their entire childhood. We want perfectly behaved children then suddenly expect them to be adults who do what's right and go against the flow. We want children who follow orders and don't question us yet expect them to become adults who question and think for themselves. But it doesn't work that way. Unquestioning obedience sounds really convenient for us when they're small, but is that the type of character trait we want to see when they grow up? Are our parenting methods now matching our long-term goals for our children?

"Well-behaved children" is not my goal. Unless by "well-behaved" you mean respectful, strong, independent, a little rebellious, empathetic, humane, kind, honest, intelligent, compassionate, and free-thinking. I am not raising human beings to be complacent, well-behaved members of a society that has no value for the things that really matter. I am not raising robots and yes-men-and-women who fear contradicting those with power. Our home is not a practice in hierarchy and authoritarianism and it never will be. Conformity is not my goal and my parenting reflects that. I value people who are not afraid to question the status quo when the status quo is wrong, and I am not intimidated when my little humans practice that ability on me. Learning when to say "yes" and when to say "no" is a necessary ability and I am the perfect, safest place for my children to learn this and to learn to do this with respect and honor and confidence.

I can't help but see the strengths in my children. Even in the middle of a difficult event or all-out battle or inconvenient behavior, I find myself admiring the people they are. Sometimes I think we get so focused on fixing bad behavior that we forget to see their strengths. The child that will fight to the death against what they perceive as unfair treatment? That's the child who will passionately stand up against injustice for themselves and for others. We need to learn to see past an action or behavior that we find inconvenient and understand what is driving it, and figure out how to channel and guide that driving force in productive, healthy ways.

Children are people too. If we can find ways to interact with other humans in our lives without hitting, shaming, yelling, and manipulating, then we can find these same ways to interact with our small humans. They deserve this as much as any of us. Imagine a world where an entire generation of children were treated as human beings and grew up understanding what empathy and respect looks like. That world starts with us.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

10 Things Homeschool Parents Try To Explain But Fail

There's an article going around, called "10 Things Homeschool Moms Want You To Know". Reading her points made me cringe, as it did my homeschooled friends who read it. You see, we were the kids in her article. So our perspective on these things are a little different than hers. Since this post was being passed around and lauded by homeschooling parents, I thought it worth an examination. I took her points and thoughtfully went through them here. Because I think that other homeschooled parents need to know that their perspective on homeschooling is not the only, and perhaps not the most important, one.

1. "Our choice to homeschool is not a judgment on you."

This was her first point. She goes on to say that others shouldn't feel bad, she won't judge you for not homeschooling, don't judge her for homeschooling, everyone is just doing what's best for their kids. That's all well and good and I sincerely hope it's true for her. However, this was not my experience either as a homeschooled child or as a public school parent. Homeschooling was toted as superior no matter what. And those who didn't homeschool just didn't love their kids enough or let "worldly things" get in their way of choosing the best for their kids. We were raised thinking we were superior to public schooled kids, which we learned from the seminars and books and attitudes of the adults in our world. As a mom whose kids are in public school, I can say that this attitude of superiority is still prevalent in my world. It's been repackaged by the new wave of homeschooling as "the natural, best way to teach children". But it's still a superiority complex. I think it's great if everyone just chooses the best route for their family and leaves others alone unless harm is being done, but that just hasn't been my experience in this context, then or now.

2. "Our kids are behind in school."

This one really irks me and I almost think is the most important point. Educational neglect is a very real travesty among my alumni peers. It isn't something to joke about. It isn't something to be taken lightly. This is not a good thing. The author says that her 13-yr-old daughter can't spell "were" and her son hasn't done his math. She then throws up a red herring to distract from these disturbing facts to tell her readers (who are presumably public school parents) that it's OK because our kids are behind too. Behind in what? Well, life skills! That's right, she says because her kids can change the brakes in a car and lead a Bible study they're actually not behind but yours are because they can't do basic life things, and claims importance is "a matter of perspective". But from my perspective and that of my friends, having "life skills" and not being equal to our peers in academics means that we are not only behind in school, we are now behind in life. We were taken out of the competition before we even started. Jobs, scholarships, college, all the things that could get us where we want to go in life....we never stood a chance for these. We, with all our "life skills" and "work ethics", were passed over for kids who weren't behind in school. You can complain all you like about the way things are and the way things should be, but the way things are means that if you do not have academic skills equal to your peers, you will lose. And you will spend your adult life trying to catch up. Many of my friends are in their 20's and taking high-school equivalency classes just to get into college. They are a decade behind their peers. Take it from the homeschooled alumni: this is serious and needs to be taken seriously. 

Now about the false dichotomy. Does she really think that public schooled kids can't change brakes or lead a Bible study? That public schooled kids have only "book learning"? Where you go to school doesn't make a difference, it's how you're parented that provides education in life skills. My kids are in public school. They also spend their free time with animals, art, reading, baking, camping, fishing, going on geological hikes, visiting museums, helping Dad fix things, learning horse care, and myriads of other things that will give them life skills. They are also very much NOT behind in academics. You can have the best of both worlds, and I suggest that if this mother's children are not getting that, perhaps she needs to rethink her educational methods.

3. Our Kids Are Weird

So, yeah, I was definitely weird. Actually, I felt like a freak as a child. It was tough. Maybe I would've still felt that way in public school, maybe not. But she goes on to say "don't stereotype, we're not all like that", which is cool and everything, except for the fact that her entire piece is based on stereotyping both homeschoolers and kids in public school. Huh.

4. We really Aren't All That Patient

This one is a little concerning. She says, "We aren't any more patient than you are. There are days when we scream. There are days when we cry. There are days when we lock ourselves in the bathroom for hours on end. Our kids drive us crazy too." I'm no perfect parent and I've done my share of yelling and losing patience, but, see, screaming is not really normal. Unless your child is about to be run over by a stampede or bit by a snake, screaming at children is not merely "I lost my patience". It's more like "I am overwhelmed and taking it out on the first people I see". And, no, I have never locked myself in the bathroom. If I need some space I go outside and breathe and watch my kids play and soak up some sunshine. I get out of the house and spend time in a book store or on a mountain somewhere by myself. I take care of myself so I can take care of my kids. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to blow off steam and screaming at your kids is not healthy. Locking yourself in the bathroom is a sign you need help and major self-care. Saying, "See? I'm just like you! I do crazy things that are a cry for help!" is not convincing at all. It's OK to say you're in over your head and need help, need to switch things up a bit. Many of us lived daily with parents that were stretched to the max because of homeschooling. Parents that were constantly impatient because they never had time to take care of themselves and therefore they couldn't rightly care for us. Parents who threw their hands up in the air, declared "school is over today I can't take anymore" at 10 AM, and locked themselves in their room. THIS IS NOT OK. As someone who was the child in this author's scenario, I need parents to know that this is not healthy and does not produce healthy relationships or attitudes in the home. As a parent, I get the need for a break, trust me. My husband is a trucker and I parent 4 kids alone. So take a break! You are not superwoman. But don't act in unhealthy ways, don't sacrifice your kids' education and emotional security for the sake of homeschooling. It isn't worth it and you aren't doing them any favors. And if this was just supposed to be a joke.....it failed miserably. It's not funny.

5. We're just trying to do what's best for our kids.

See, here's my thoughts: many, if not most, parents want what's best for their kids. I mean, have you ever heard a parent say, "Naw, I don't really care what's best for my kids"?  But they've been duped into thinking that homeschooling is always The Best Right Way for their kids, so much so, that all the warning signs that it isn't actually best....like screaming and locking yourself in the bathroom and your kids falling behind.....are completely ignored.  "We were just trying to do what was best!" is something we alumni have heard ad nauseam. When, in reality, they couldn't see past the picture of The Perfect Family that they so desperately wanted to what really was best. They were so convinced they were right, they let critical thinking fly out the door. They bought a bill of goods hook, line, and sinker, to our detriment. When my best friend's mom couldn't figure out how to teach her what she needed to know, she just quit teaching her. No more school. Because public school was so wrong and evil that it couldn't possibly be better than NOTHING AT ALL. The warning signs that homeschooling is not "what's best" are there. There's a bunch of them in this author's piece. (Can I just say that if your 13-yr-old can't spell, and you're locking yourself in the bathroom, and your kids are unable to operate in the society they were born into, that you are NOT "Doing what is best" for them OR for you?) But those warning signs will be ignored because Homeschooling is a hill to die on and there can be no failure. I've seen it. I've lived it. So many of our parents still insist homeschooling was "best" even in face of educational neglect, emotional abuse, and lifelong struggles due to being homeschooled poorly. So I have a difficult time with parents like this one who claim if it wasn't best, they wouldn't do it. They will never be convinced that it isn't best so the claim is pointless. I sincerely hope I'm wrong, that this parent, this author, is different. But I'm cynical for good reason.

6. Our kids are not trick ponies.

From a kids' perspective, this is totally legit. It was always annoying to be given pop quizzes upon a stranger's discovery that we were homeschooled. Just leave kids alone, 'k? They don't owe you an explanation for their parent's choices.

7. Grades don't reflect character.

Does anyone think they do? She then downplays grades as unimportant and character as the most important thing. Another obvious false dichotomy. And from the alumni's perspective, it would've been nice to know what our grades were. That way when we graduated and entered the real world, we would know whether we were good competition for our peers or woefully behind and unable to get scholarships and jobs. Parents liked to say that grades didn't matter, but I think they should have. Perhaps just to make sure they were teaching us the way we needed to be taught, to make sure we were keeping up and learning, to hold THEM accountable. I sometimes think now the whole "grades don't matter" mantra was really a cop-out for our parents so they didn't have anyone to judge their competency. For us, it just made everything confusing and made us think we were smarter or dumber than we really were. Trying being 18 and getting to college and realizing for the first time that grades DO matter. On a test, your profs aren't going to say "Oh, your D doesn't matter, we know you have great character". Once again, the idealism of the homeschoolers doesn't match the real world that we were thrown into as adults unprepared. 

8. Our kids are socialized.

That's good to know. She says, "People seem to have great concern about whether or not our kids are well-adjusted socially. We would like to assure you, they are doing just fine." I wonder if she's thought to ask her kids how they feel about their socialization? Because my parents, and every homeschooled parent I knew, said the same things. "They are well-socialized" actually meant that we were pretty good at talking to adults and playing with small children. But many of us have no idea still how to relate to peers. Peers scare the crap out of us. Some of us still struggle to see ourselves as adults and peers of adults and struggle to relate and socialize with other adults our age. This is the product of most homeschooling socialization. We spent our lives around adults and siblings, and, rarely some of us luckier than others got to be a part of homeschooled co-ops with kids our own ages or sports teams. Not many of us were that lucky though. And some of us were completely isolated from everyone because we were dependent on our parents to offer opportunities to socialize and many parents just didn't bother. It's a legit concern and was reality for many in my generation.

9. We Worry

Here she says things like, "We really don’t need you to list the "what-ifs" for us. "What if he can’t get into college?" "What if you can’t teach her the proper way to dissect a frog?" "What if a 'regular' school was the better way to go?" We worry about all these things and more. We doubt ourselves and hope we haven’t ruined our children. We have the same Mama-guilt as you".

This was a bit infuriating. You worry? Did you ever stop to think those worries were legit? We worried too. Worried that we'd never teach ourselves to read when you gave up on us. Worried that we were cheating our way through high school math because we didn't understand it and you couldn't figure out how to teach it. Worried that we'd never do anything with our lives because we didn't know the first thing about life. Worried that we'd always be trapped, that we wouldn't have friends, that we'd be seen as impostors if we ever stepped foot into a college or workplace. Worried that we'd never fit in anywhere. Worried that we wouldn't know how to live life outside our very small boxes and 4 walls of our house. Some of us worried because our parents hurt us and since we were homeschooled we had no one to turn to and no way to know if their actions were normal or not. You worried?! Try being us. We are the ones that are still paying for your choices to not listen to your own worries. I'm not saying your worries are less important than ours, but, really, making this all about you and your worries and your success or failure is self-absorbed. This is about your children. If you have sincere worries for their future and whether homeschooling is a good idea or not, PAY ATTENTION to those worries.

10. Our Kids Do Normal Things

That's cool she gives her kids normal kid things. She is an exception. Most of us have no idea what any of those things are like. Prom? Heh, please. Dancing in our world was like having sex standing up. OMG you'd have to touch a girl!!! Some of us were forced to dress like Laura Ingalls and never allowed to watch TV. But the one line at the bottom really bothers me: "We like being different. We are okay being different, and we hope you can appreciate us for our differences!" Do you think your kids feel the same way? Would they even tell you if they didn't? Because my mom said the same things. "Yay, us, we're different! We're not like all the sheeple!" But the fact was, I hated being different. I hated being weird and the freak. I hated it all and was miserable because of it. So, parents, speak for yourself. Maybe parents get off on being "different", wear it like a badge, parading their different children around as some mark of....uniqueness? Superiority? I really have no idea. But the point is that most homeschooled kids don't get "normal" and we didn't like being different, though our parents sure seemed to think it was awesome.

If this is the piece that homeschooling parents are passing around to describe homeschooling, they may want to reevaluate that. It isn't a flattering picture at all. Perhaps what homeschooling today needs is a good dose of empathy: put yourself in your child's shoes and see their world from their perspective. Parents who were not homeschooled need to stop writing about what it's like to be homeschooled because really they have no idea. And since it's our lives that were affected most, and our futures that were gambled, I think that our perspective is important in order to prevent a lot of the mistakes made in our generation of homeschoolers. Education is, after all, supposed to be about the children and the next generation.