I’ve debated telling this story for months now. I had decided not to until Sarah Moon’s post here prompted me to do so in the name of feminism (and you all had better know by now that I can’t resist that).
It’s a hard one. One that, of all the people in my kome, only one other person knows, and that’s because I married him. And he doesn’t even know the whole story because I can never tell the whole thing at once. Even here, it will not be complete, or even close to it.
This story is my story.
I haven’t always followed Jesus. That was a recent development, somewhere in late 2008-early 2009. I grew up in the shadow of the church, though, perhaps because my middle and high school shared a parking lot with a Lutheran megachurch. My mother and I went there occasionally throughout my youth, and I went through confirmation there, though it meant very little to me at the time. I sang in the senior high choir at this church as well, but my doing so wasn’t out of desire to praise Jesus or even to make beautiful music for him, but because I loved to sing and didn’t have time to be involved in my school’s choir.
All of that changed during my junior year of high school. But before we get into that, a much more painful story needs to be told.
Remember how I said that my mother and I would attend church? Notice that my father is nowhere in that statement? This is not because my parents are divorced or even that my father is dead, but simply because he had no desire to be a part of a church, or even a part of my or my mother’s lives.
I say this as one convicted of how wrong it is of me to judge him: my father is an awful man. This may not really be true, I don’t know, but every experience I had while forced to live in close proximity to him makes it seem pretty accurate.
In his (not our, his) household, he was the king, and my mother and I were his servants. Everything had to be done his way, and he was never wrong nor could he ever be wrong. His authority was not questioned, and should anyone attempt to do so, they would hear it (as I would quickly learn in high school). If we did something wrong, he would yell at us, degrade us, tell us we were worthless and that we couldn’t survive without him. This started with my mother before I could remember, and with me when I was six years old, if not earlier (I can’t fully remember).
My mother, born in the late 50’s and an ardent feminist in high school and after, did not know what to do. She ended up in a constant state of chaos, smiling one minute and crying the next, and furious the minute after that. She became very controlling over me, as I was the only person over whom she could have any authority. She would often chastise me for not meeting my father’s expectations, blaming me for his rampages, and then come into my bedroom late at night, weeping, saying she wasn’t sure if she loved my father anymore and that she wanted out.
For this reason, I had a suitcase packed in my closet from the time I was twelve or so until I went away to college. I was always ready to get out of that hellhole. But where would we go? My father was right in one thing, we couldn’t really survive without him. My mother worked full time, but her highest level of education was an Associate’s degree, and thus she didn’t make nearly as much money as my father did (especially after the company for which she worked 25 years shut down, leaving her in a very difficult place for finding a new job). She paid the bills with her income, leaving her with not a whole lot to spare. We would have had nowhere to stay if we had left, since her family lived far away, as does my father’s, not that they would have taken her side. We both wanted to leave, but we had nowhere to go. We were stuck.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit rebellious. I’m also very hotheaded. In high school, I decided not to be like my mother, that I would be strong, and I started standing up to my father, though not always in the best manner or in the most profitable situations. This went swimmingly, as you can assume, and I made things a hell of a lot worse. I ended up running away to friends’ houses for the night on occasion, simply because I thought that if I stayed in that house, I would not see the next morning.
I finally reached a point where I would do anything to not go back to that house. I stayed out as long as I could. Remember the bit earlier about my school sharing a parking lot with a church?
That church became my new home.
One of the youth pastors there who I knew well invited me to come to their youth group. This happened near the beginning of my pivotal junior year. It was a few hours after school got out, so I would hang out at school, or the coffee shop near my school, and do homework until group started. Eventually, I just started going straight over to church after school and either doing homework or volunteering there. I became a permanent fixture in the youth department and ended up being the worship coordinator for the young adult service they held on Sunday nights. I also started dating a guy from that church who had a great Christian family that took me in. It was a pretty sweet deal.
Until I became so consumed with the love of Christ, though I didn’t know it at the time, that he started changing my life.
I was all set up to do exactly what my father wanted me to do. I was going to go to the University of MN-Duluth for my senior year of high school (MN has a program where high school juniors and seniors can do college classes for both high school and college credit, and the state pays for it, which I did do both years), and then I was going to go to Purdue University and study neuropharmacology, become a doctor, and make lots of money. That was how he had planned things. That was what I was going to do.
But, after all of my involvement in the church, I felt pulled towards–today I call this “called by Jesus”–to vocational ministry. I started looking at other colleges, Christian colleges, to attend. I talked to my pastors about seminary and ministry and everything else related to that. I eventually settled on the school I now go to, partially because my boyfriend was going there.
I had finally found someone who loved me and loved Jesus, and I didn’t want to let him go.
There’s this thing with abuse victims that makes them people pleasers, which was the only way I knew how to relate to anyone, and so I just started doing whatever this boyfriend wanted. He loved Jesus, but he was still a teenage boy, and it wasn’t long until he started pressuring me to have sex with him. We never did, thank God, but that led me on a slippery slope that would end literally with me choosing life or death for myself.
But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
My choice to go to a Christian school and do vocational ministry did not sit well with either of my parents, especially my father. He now had two faces, one full of rage, the other of disengagement. He either hated me or I simply did not exist. My mother became very frustrated, probably because she didn’t understand my decisions. This pushed me further and further out of their house and into the church and the arms of my boyfriend.
He was a normal teenage boy. He wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship. I was not a normal teenage girl. I was looking for someone to promise to love me, to really love me, forever. I looked for this in him. In the same way that he pressured me into physical commitment, I pressured him into emotional commitment. This cracked the summer after my junior year of high school. He tried to break up with me, I was devastated, and convinced him to stick around. This lasted for two and a half weeks. He finally had enough and broke up with me.
I didn’t know what to do. I felt like the only person who ever loved me had just left me in the dust. I came dangerously close to committing suicide.
I still thank Jesus for that church. Three different girls who had become very close friends of mine came and visited me after all of this went down (my parents were out of town), as did two of my pastors. They brought me food and gifts and gave me rides to church. I was there every day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and they never let me be alone.
At the same time as all of this, I had been reading The Shack by William Paul Young. I will not argue over its merits here, that is not the point. The picture of God in that book showed me that the unconditional, forever-love I had been seeking was only available from one Source. I committed myself to Jesus, to loving and following him, on July 5th, 2009.
Since then I have grown and struggled with this Jesus in remarkable ways. I married an amazing man of God who knows that the best way to cultivate a marriage and a family is to do as Paul said, to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). My faith life has not been easy in this time, and there have been many seasons of doubt, but the beautiful Love that first called me has captivated me ever since.
Here I stand. Breaking the cycle of abuse. Refusing to be an angry dictator or a passive subject. Stronger than my father ever was, not by my own strength, but through Jesus.
I said I was doing this in the name of feminism, so I figure I ought to address it. Piper, Driscoll, and anyone else out there who wants to tell me I am not strong enough, let this story be a message to you. Neither I nor you nor anyone else is strong enough on their own. Jesus, the great Love, is the only one who can provide us with the strength to overcome anything that we may endure. You say I am weak, you say I need a man to lead me. I say to hell with that. I am strong. I overcame. I needed no man, no leader, solely Love.
I dare you, tell me I am not enough.