My mom went to college in Ilsa Vista. We heard stories of how beautiful Santa Barbara was all through our growing up. The town is a romantic part of our family mythology.

Yesterday’s shooting didn’t leave me as shaken as it should have, like other shooting that happened have. Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora. Those haunt me in their very senselessness. The mystery of why. They’re unforgettable because the motives are unknowable.

Yesterday’s shooting made perfect sense.

I think that’s more frightening than anything else could have been — watching the video made by the shooter and hearing his “nice guy” whine about being “friendzoned” and suddenly I was back in the car, listening to my date rant about his frustration, and telling myself to be calm so I didn’t lose control of the situation. Alone. In the dark. In an empty parking garage. With a dead cell phone.

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” — Margaret Atwood

After my divorce, one of the things I heard a lot from older (usually white) men was “We’re not all like that! Don’t hate men because of him.” Even my grandfather emailed me to share this little nugget.

Of course I know that all men aren’t like that. But you never know which ones are like that until you cross them, and then it’s usually too late. That’s why after my date with #2, I changed my work schedule and I blocked his number when he texted me a couple days later to ask for a second date. He might not be “like that,” but I sure as hell don’t want to find out by experience if I’m wrong.

“Not all men are like that,” and I’m sure it’s safe to say that most of the dads at Clare’s prom didn’t look at her inappropriately. But someone complained, and she can’t know who, and she and I both know that homeschool dads watching you usually means you’re about to get in trouble for something they feel entitled to control.

Not all men are like that, but yes, all women have encountered men who are like that.

Gun control, mental health care reform — these are important, but they are easier to fix than male entitlement and misogyny.

Take a few minutes today and go read the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter in honor of the victims. And if you are a man, know that it’s not your place to comment or respond to this, but please observe our stories with respect and silence.

Not all men are like that, but all men need to hear our stories.


This week is the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls.

This week a girl in my sister’s school beat her up, hitting her face and head into a locker and giving her a concussion.

This week I raged and cried over beer with a friend after work because I’m nearly 3,000 miles away from home and can’t be there with her. Instead, I have to call her late at night (her time) during my 15 minute break at work to find out that these same girls filmed the fight, put it on Instagram, and then took to ask.fm where they verbally abused her and tagged her by her Twitter handle.

The Urban Institute did a study on cyber bullying and teen dating last year, and the results may shock you. They should.

…more than a quarter (26 percent) of youth in a relationship said they experienced some form of cyber dating abuse victimization in the prior year. Females were twice as likely as males to report being a victim of sexual cyber dating abuse in the prior year. More than a tenth (12 percent) of youth in a relationship said they had perpetrated cyber dating abuse in the prior year. Females reported greater levels of non-sexual cyber dating abuse perpetration than males.

(Technology, Teen Dating Violence and Abuse, and Bullying. Zweig, Dank, Lachman, and Yahner, 2013)

I detailed more of the background on what happened to my sister on Twitter, and Storified it here. I may repeat myself some here, but this is the story:

My sister started the school year with a couple guys interested in dating her, she turned them down, they both start dating other girls. The boys reach out to my sister behind their girlfriends’ backs, my sister shuts them down and asks them to stop contacting her. The girlfriends find out, start threatening my sister, waiting for her in bathrooms, at the bus stop, and sending her threatening messages. My sister shows a teacher, and the one girl gets suspended (she’d already been in trouble for fighting). The suspended girl is the queen bee of a clique, and in retaliation, the girls in the clique start threatening my sister further, and the queen bee eggs them on.

One girl takes it further, threatening my sister in the hall at school. My sister’s boyfriend stands in her way, but the girl ducks around him and punches my sister (who has her back to the lockers) in the face repeatedly. And then they took to social media afterwards, because now the second girl is suspended for fighting.

I saw the video. 25 hearts for my sister getting punched in the face.

My parents are pursuing legal recourse, my sister’s resting at home, and she’ll recover. Hopefully this will stop soon and everyone will be able to move on with life.

Here’s the thing that gets me: Mean Girls is 10 years old, and this is still going on.

These girls beat my sister up, yes. But they’re victims just as much as my sister is, and I’ll tell you why.

They’re perpetuating the system established by patriarchy where men are sexual creatures who do not bear the consequences for their the waves left in their wake. They act, women clean up. They expand themselves socially, we cover for them and accommodate. The boys aren’t satisfied with their girlfriends? Their girlfriends don’t challenge them or break up with them out of self-respect; they attack my sister, because they see her as a threat.

They see her as a threat because we have been socialized to see other women as competition for men, not comrades at arms in the struggle for respect, equality, and autonomy.

I’ll step aside here and let one of my new favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie take the mic on this point.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”  (The Danger of A Single Story. TED Talk, 2009)

As you know, I help run a YouTube channel where we talk about YA literature with a heavy dose of feminist critique. One of the reasons I chose to start this project with Gretchen is that I was sick of seeing female protagonists in fiction (or film or pick-your-media-of-choice) whose narrative arcs are centered solely on their relationships to men, and I was tired of seeing female friendships in media that were fake.

Fake because they didn’t relate over anything except for men. Fake because they are either flat stereotypes who giggle and “support” each  other in romantic escapades, or are pitted against each other in competition for a man. There’s not much in between, because without a romantic male interest, the media gatekeepers don’t seem to think there’s much of a story worth telling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard new novelists say that their editor love their ideas, but wanted them to “up the tension” by adding a romantic interest. A female-centered story without a romantic interest, apparently, won’t sell. And realistic depictions of female friendship is worth sacrificing for the sake of male-centered sexual tension.

Did you know that if a movie has a sex scene where a man is receiving oral sex, the film’s rating is going to be either PG-13 or R, but if a woman’s receiving oral sex, the rating hits NC-17? A woman receiving sexual pleasure from a man is apparently more dangerous to society than the other way around.* Did you know that we’ll get a movie with a raccoon and a tree as superhero leads before we’ll get one with Black Widow or Wonder Woman? Did you notice that The Hunger Games books opened and closed on relational plot points rather than action plot points? (I didn’t notice that myself, but I can’t re-find the source on that observation now–help anyone? ::edit:: Gretchen pointed it out, thanks to her reading of Swati Avasthi) Did you notice that Katniss and Tris don’t have any female friends, not really? Did you know that conservative leaders are still saying we don’t need feminism anymore?

But Mean Girls is 10 years old, and my sister has a concussion.

How many of you have experienced girl drama because of the patriarchy?

::edit:: This deserves some clarification–Black Swan was originally rated NC-17 and they dropped it down to R after an appeal. The reason this is remarkable is that girl-on-girl sex scenes are generally performed as if for the male gaze, and are there for a “curiosity” item of sorts, and not aimed at female viewers. Therefore it’s less “offensive,” apparently, than a woman getting pleasure from a man — something that is rarely done in film because it’s not for the male gaze and has to be all about her sexual satisfaction.


http://enkidu-of-ur.tumblr.com/

Cliché blog title and topic, oh, I know.

This is a lament.

I’m feeling more whole, more happy. The California sunshine is stretching me out and caressing my soul. I’m not so curled up tight all the time. I can breathe better. I don’t wake up every morning with that feeling of “oh shit” anymore. Not every day, anymore.

I want to untangle myself from this world — I want to write about books that make me happy, about ideas, about things that enchant me. I want to tell you about yoga and baking and writing process.

People here ask me about my story and I hesitate — which version to tell them? If I tell them true, tell them gory, I get stunned silence and gentle recommendations to move out and beyond this world.

They’re right. Writing about abuse in the church, about theology and faith and church and conservative homeschool communities and purity culture: it’s a small, small world. It really doesn’t affect most the rest of the universe. It’s really insular, cramped, self-absorbed.

But then, too: this morning, my day off, I got two calls (before I got my coffee!) about Christian communities in which sexual assault has been ignored to the point of blatant abuse of power. Two communities that haven’t made the news about these issues. Yet.

I didn’t sleep well last night, and this bleary-eyed grief over this stuff is compounded by my own personal sense of healthy boundaries that’s emerging. The stronger, the more whole I get — the further removed from that world I become — the more blatantly horrific these things appear.

And I realize how insane all this sounds to everyone outside of this little blogging world, how appalling it is that these abuses occur. But I still get calls about girls who are afraid to use their real names when they tell their stories because they are afraid of Christian leaders attacking them for speaking out.

How insane is that?

Why are we here? How obvious is this, and how is it that we could not see these things for so long?

Fuck everything, is all I can manage to say, half the time. I hear these stories and I hear the shame and the fear and the massive amounts of cultivated codependency for the sake of crowd control, and that’s all I’ve got. Fuck everything. Here we go again.

The anger turns numb because the abuses are too common. Fuck everything, here’s another story. Another leader. Another frightened soul. That leader steps down, but another story comes to light.

When will it be done?


I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for months. It finally showed up on my doorstep on Friday (it releases tomorrow, but I got lucky and got an ARC) and I gobbled it up by Sunday morning, reading it during stolen moments here and there.

Blogger Elizabeth Esther isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea. She’s not that poised goddess of tact and diplomacy we all so admire in Rachel Held Evans. She’s not just a funny adult Catholic convert you want to buddy up with over beers to talk about boys and babies and the pope.

She’s larger-than-life, she’s sloppy, she’s enthusiastic, and she’s loud. Her Catholicism is deeply personal and sometimes off-putting. She wears headscarves to church. She live-tweets American Idol. She has Twitter-rant ADHD and reads more books than I can keep up with, and has a daily schedule that’s probably more demanding than the president’s–yet she’s often able to write a blog post a day (when, you know, she’s not writing a book) and be a good friend and pour herself into everyone and everything she loves with abandon.

When we met up this past fall, I wasn’t sure if we’d get along. Our stories have a lot of overlap, but I’m an introvert and she’s not. I’m stiff and awkward when I get uncomfortable and she gets happy-puppy affectionate.

Guys, I can’t review this book without talking about the woman who wrote it. I don’t know how it will come across to someone who’s never met her, but as I was reading Girl At The End Of The World, all I could think was “damn, her voice is so clear.” Every event unfolds and I can hear her telling these stories. I can hear her laughing at herself, I can hear her tender heartbreak and forgiveness as she talks about her parents, and I can hear her admiration and devotion when she talks about her husband, Matt.

This book rings true.

Memoir is tricky. I love to hate Joan Didion because she’s such a good writer, but her voice is so very much that of an unreliable narrator to me that I find myself in internal dissent with anything she says. I want a new vantage point, other angles. There are other authors whose memoir messes with me in this way–they’re ever so slightly out of sync with themselves and can’t quite hear themselves talk when they write about their lives. It’s uncomfortable to read.

This book is uncomfortable to read, but that’s not why. Elizabeth Esther has taken the memories from her formative years in her grandparents’ cult and grabbed these memories by the ears and showed us their bald faces–crooked teeth, handsome eyes, bad breath, and all. There is no disingenuous narration. There is only the agony of being a child, craving security and affection, and getting told that God doesn’t like you and your parents will beat you because of it.

This book is a love letter, from Elizabeth Esther to her child self.  And, I think too, it’s a love letter to her own five children — who are the reasons she found the strength to leave the cult and seek out a God who loves. It’s a promise to work against the curse of legalism, shame, and abuse, to give her babies a family life with the love and security that little EE didn’t get to know.

We’re getting to eavesdrop on these conversations, as readers. We’re being handed her heart and we’re given permission to look at her scars. I’d feel more guilty about that if her writing of dialogue wasn’t so vivid and funny. But it is, and so I read and laughed and lost myself in the story. And I offer it to you, if you can stomach it, with this commendation:

Look how beautiful she is. 


Fundamentalism isn’t an ideology, it’s a habit of thought patterns. Fundamentalism is based in fear. Fear of not being heard, fear of being invalidated, fear of attack, of erasure, of silencing.

Fundamentalism can be present in any community regardless of ethics or system of belief.

The reason that I started questioning the Christian fundamentalism I grew up with was because I saw people valuing the system of belief as more important than having compassion for hurting people in our community. I was upset that our value system put being right over sitting with someone in pain and empathizing with them in their vulnerable place.

I think that’s why most of us left the system of legalism, fundamentalist Christianity, Christian patriarchy—whatever you want to call it. We saw the system steamrolling people in pain—either us or those we loved—and realized that the system didn’t work for outliers, for those who didn’t fit the boxes or couldn’t follow the rules. We suddenly saw the marginalized, and realized that we were in a broken system and needed a new paradigm to stop marginalizing people if we wanted to have integrity in our claim to love as an ethic of life.

And so we stepped out of the too-small shoes of whatever ideology we’d been living in, and tried to listen and learn and practice consistent compassion and fight shame. We learned about self-care and about boundaries, we learned to question authority structures and say no. We learned the value of listening to those less privileged than us, and we adopted the language of feminism and intersectionality—clumsily at first, for most of us, but with sincere desire to be different from what we’d been before.

But fundamentalism isn’t something you can leave by deciding you’re LGBTQ* affirming, or by reading bell hooks, or by finally expressing the anger you felt when you were marginalized in your former world.

All of these things are good, but being “feminist” or “progressive” or even coming out as atheist can’t really do a thing for unlearning fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is fundamentally a defensive position. It is not easily open to nuance, it uses synecdoche on first impressions to assume that one or two interactions is the sum of a person’s essence. It is too interested in self-defensive labeling of everyone and everything to have the patience to sit with someone and try to learn how much their good intentions are reflected in their actions over time—it doesn’t have time for those who are learning or need to ask a million questions before they can grasp concepts that may have come quickly to us.

In the book Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Nathaniel is talking to a woman about teaching the sailors complex math tricks to navigate more accurately, but they’re not picking it up very quickly and he’s impatient. She chides him, saying [I’m paraphrasing] “Don’t kick the chair because you ran into it in the dark. It’s not the chair’s fault it’s like that.” She goes on to encourage him to try to get to know the sailors individually to understand how their different personalities might inform how he can best approach teaching them to navigate the stars well.

I think about this scene often, because sometimes I’m the quick one who picks things up intuitively, and I don’t always remember that not everyone else is like that. And sometimes I’m the one with clumsy emotional intelligence, and I step on toes without realizing it, and need to have things explained to me in nice, small words so I can understand.

I am not advocating re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of helping someone who you find triggering. That is not your job. Boundaries are good. Take care of yourself.

But: I think it’s inconsistent and a bit mean to have believe you’ve left Christian fundamentalism and to rail against its treatment of the underprivileged and to claim that you’re an ally—and to choose to publicly label someone as “unsafe” for some intent-to-action clumsiness despite evidence that they’re trying to change and learn, just like you. They may very well be unsafe for you or for others and I’m all for eliminating negative influences from one’s personal life. But I can’t help but think how grateful I have been for the kind people in my life who have chosen to sit with me in my ignorance and inconsistencies and help me unlearn my bigotry without labeling me or shaming me.

Compassion is an act of the imagination, right? Shame is the tool of fundamentalists to silence and control the borders of a community. I don’t want to be right and educated well about intersectionality and feminism and my privilege, and fail to have compassion for those who are not as far along in the learning curve as I might be. I remember what it was like to be there. Do you?

Leaving fundamentalism is more about a laying down an irrational craving to be right (oh, I love you my darling Gryffindors, but…) and a taking up of compassion and imagination and epistemological humility than it is about learning and using the right labels and theories. The ethics of unlearning fundamentalism must go much deeper than just jumping to the other side of your line in the sand.

Safe people aren’t relationally fundamentalist. Safe people are compassionate people.


No one is really surprised that Doug Phillips had an affair and is stepping down from Vision Forum Ministries. And no one is really surprised at his statement–it’s the same slightly pompous and affected tone adopted by any politician caught in the spotlight of a scandal.

But what really fascinates me is first, the similarities between Doug’s statement to the statement put out by CJ Mahaney when he first stepped down from SGM in the aftermath of Brent’s “documents,” and secondly, how very differently these stories are playing out.

The SGM “scandal” [read: cruel abuses of power over minors and parishioners and unrepentance when confronted] and the Doug Philips “scandal” [read: yet-unspecified abuses of power and unrepentance when confronted] are playing out very differently and will continue to do so. And in the end, I suspect that Doug Phillips will be a ruined man, and his sins will be the lesser, while CJ’s sins will be the more substantial and detrimental, and he will never quite be brought to justice for how he abused his position of authority.

There are two reasons why:

1) Doug Phillips and his followers practice intellectual integrity (because they are Reformed) in a way that SGM and CJ Mahaney never did or could (because they were never truly of the Reformed tradition)

and

2) Doug Phillips and his movement relies on youth in leadership to sustain its momentum.

The first reason is going to be most clearly seen in the comparison between how Brent Detwiler was treated by his old friends when he, following the accountability system that these men and CJ had put in place, confronted CJ about his abuses of power. These guys had a system in place. Brent was the historian and the enforcer personality, and like the good dutiful type-A personality that he is, he believed that the other men in the group believed in the system just as much as they said they did. He trusted them to hold CJ to his own rules, and to help him enforce these rules by preestablished corrective actions.

But these men, for whatever reasons they had, did not put the rules above the man, and followed the whims of CJ rather than the system that they’d put in place. And in doing so, they unleashed a tireless foe in Brent, who has been aggressive and honest in his years of working against the corruption in SGM. To his detriment, I may add, as he’s lost everything because of it. And CJ is fine. Happily pastoring in Nashville and still invited to speaking gigs and lauded by the other “reformed big dogs.”

Contrast that with the snippets of insight into what’s going on in the world of Vision Forum, compiled in a post on Homeschoolers Anonymous. Vision Forum (which is the core of a larger social group of Christian Reconstructionists that spreads into lots of interesting places, if you ever want to Wikipedia link hop). It looks like the guys in Vision Forum value the system like Brent probably wishes SGM leaders did. They are grieving on Facebook after confronting Doug Phillips and getting cold responses (which is, essentially, what the SGM gents were worried about), and are severing ties with Doug as quickly as they can. It’s speculated that the fallout from all of this is that he may lose his house and his business before new year’s.

Why such a difference in group response? I think the answer lies in the values embedded in these two groups’ internal discourses, and may be further reduced to a theological difference. SGM was “essentially charismatic and reformed” at the time all that political drama went down between Brent and CJ. SGM was courting the attention of folks like Piper and Dever, but still enjoyed being unique, retaining that status by still being “charismatic.” SGM worked because it saw itself as a special snowflake church group–we can’t be a denomination because nobody is like us! We’re CHARISMATIC and REFORMED. The Presbyterians will love us for our sermons, the Baptists for our music, and the non-denominational groups will love how we pray and raise our hands during worship.

Contrast that with Vision Forum, which prided itself on changing every part of culture through Christian alternatives to every part of culture. Politics? We got ’em. Films? Sure thing. American Girl dolls? Try our Titanic doll. Books? Our hardback vintage ones are better and the heroes are more relatable for homeschoolers.

But more than just that, Vision Forum is the brainchild of Christian Reconstructionism, which is, in a bastardized summation, Reformed thinking + white dominionism reduced down to racist, sexist culture-change moonshine. [If you need a better summary, let me know and I’ll find one. I don’t have the emotional resilience today to take Reconstructionism very seriously.] The point of it seems to be that culture must be 100% fixed to match OT “Biblical” standards, and I mean that — if you dig deep enough, you start finding that their leaders wrote treatises endorsing stoning of rebellious children and race-based slavery. And these guys are speaking at YOUR local homeschool convention.

My point, however, is this: they are highly rational. They believe theology can and should be systematized. They believe that science, done right, will prove creationism. They believe in the ideology not because it fixed their need for a religious addiction (which is my theory about SGM), but because they needed rational fundamentalism more deeply than they needed to be human.

And so, when the system says Doug is wrong, Doug has to go. [Whereas, when SGM’s system suggested that CJ was wrong, the system had to go.]

The second reason is a little more simple than the first. Doug and his crew were out to change the culture, comfort be damned. CJ and his crew were out to lead a group of people and keep themselves financially stable — they didn’t quickly bring fresh blood into the inner circle. But like a shrewed ideologue, Doug Phillips relied on the energy and naïveté of youth to make his movement thrive. His agenda was political — he didn’t need to protect his inner circle so much as he needed cheap labor and innocent energy. These kids (like Bradrick) were raised to be culture warriors, and they believe in the system (which brings me back to my first point).

I guess all that I’m trying to say here is: if you’re going to run a cult and get away with it, make sure people love you more than your ideas. And don’t sleep around or blackmail people. Your sheeple don’t like it much.


Sarah sent me this update on her school funding situation tonight! She’s almost set for college — just a few things left on her Amazon wishlist, and she leaves on Monday. Thank you to everyone who helped!

I’d like to say a giant “Thank you!” to all the wonderful people who
have helped me with my first college funding drive. The results of
your efforts are really remarkable and will be very helpful to me in
financing my first month of college. Currently, we’ve raised over $650
in cash donations and purchased over 60% of my wish list. These funds
should cover the vast majority of my first month’s expenses as I
return to college. Most of the really essential and expensive items on
my wish list have been purchased, which is absolutely wonderful! There
are still a few items that I could really use, so if anyone wants to
help out, they’re more than welcome to do so. Thank you to each and
every one of the amazing individuals who are making my education a
reality.

You can read Sarah’s story here, and more on her blog.


I’ve used my blog to share the story of a friend’s sister after she got kicked out of her QF family home for being vegan, and you wonderful people chipped in to raise $10,000 for her to replace her clothes, art supplies, and go toward her college tuition in the fall. 

This time, a 24 year old QF daughter, Sarah, reached out to me to share her story with you–she’s a beautiful person with a knack for words, and she wrote up her story here for you to read. Sarah just started blogging at The Pathway Maker, and will be doing a series of posts on her story in longer form. We set up a PayPal account specifically for donations to her tuition fund, and she made an Amazon wishlist for her school and apartment supplies that you can help her out with, too. 

Sarah: QF survivor, age 24

Sarah: QF survivor, age 24

***

My world spun inside my head, each thought more terrifying than the last. I would lose my soul. The demons would get in if I ate that food. They would get in.

Then my father was there, forcing the spout of the water bottle between my clenched teeth, jamming it into my mouth. I struggled and fell. My father bent over me, forcing the water down my throat as I choked and cried out in panic. Over a decade of my internal tortures had come and gone, but now things were worse than ever.

I hadn’t always been like this. My early childhood had been reasonably happy, despite the anger and the yelling and the spanking. But these had never crushed my spirit, and I had been a carefree child in many respects. But then things changed.

I began struggling with scrupulosity as a young child. My labored confessions were the first signs of the mental illness which would destroy me for years. As if this growing inner torment were not enough, I began to struggle to see the physical world around me and learned, at the age of 8, that I would one day be legally blind because of an incurable retinal disease.

I lost my sight gradually over a period of several years, and at the same time, struggled increasingly with my mental illness, later diagnosed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.*

When I began exhibiting signs of OCD, it manifested in the form of terrifying, uncontrollable thoughts (obsessions) that prompted ritualistic action responses (compulsions). Because my OCD was religious in nature, it was only exacerbated by my fundamentalist, Christian Patriarchal, Quiverfull, homeschooled upbringing. My fear of hell and demonic possession drove me to pray for hours, forego food and sleep and pace for hours in the middle of the night.

My family treated my OCD like silliness or sin that could be rationalized or prayed away. Worse, while they disregarded my obvious need for mental health assistance, they treated me as though I was already possessed by demons. My father claimed he could hear other voices when he talked to me, and once began pleading with the “demon” to let me speak to him again. I listened to this, both terrified of the idea that I might be possessed, and hurt that my father was trying to speak to a demon instead of to me.

I managed to get out and go to a Christian college, but dropped out a couple of years later because of my mounting mental health issues. I returned home, where I received sporadic treatment for my mental health. But I mostly lived at home, isolated and controlled, and struggling with OCD and depression so strong that I had trouble eating, drinking, and sleeping.

And that’s when my father began to physically abuse me, when I was so physically and mentally weak that I couldn’t even fight back. One night he crawled into bed with me and began hitting my head with the flat of his hand, hard enough to make my head ring. He force-fed me multiple times, threw food on me, hosed me off outside with the icy water from a garden hose, bit me, tied me to a bed, and at one point, attempted to strangle me.

His rationale? He wanted to show me what he said I was doing to myself.

After over a decade of untreated mental illness, I finally found a good counselor and a good psychiatric prescription, and I stabilized within a year and a half. As I recovered and began to show greater independence, my parents became increasingly alarmed at their loss of control. I changed my church, my wardrobe, and started classes at the local community college. I also qualified for Supplemental Security Income — not much, but it was mine, and it helped.

Then this summer, I signed up for an online dating service, and this proved to be the last straw for my parents. They kicked me out of the house and now limit and monitor all my contact with the family.

I have a temporary place to stay, and I’m returning to school full-time this fall to study clinical psychology at a university with a reputable program. After my traumatizing treatment because of my disability and mental illness, I’m very interested in helping other people with disabilities and mental health issues, both with counseling and advocacy.

But a good education is rarely free, and though I’ve got some need-based aid, and am trying to pull together loans, funding is difficult since I was never allowed to get much of a job or establish any credit. I’m looking at almost $50,000 in school loans by the time I finish my undergrad. If you’d like to help me realize my dream of higher education as I try to rebuild my life from the ground up, consider donating to my tuition?

* Many people think of OCD and imagine someone who might be a bit of a neat freak. It’s a quirk, they think, the trait of a humorous side character in your favorite TV show. In reality, OCD is a form of mental illness which can be extremely emotionally distressing and seriously threatening to its sufferers. Mental illness is not an adorable personality quirk.

***





[Trigger warning: spanking, child abuse.]

Someone found my blog recently by searching for “fought back against spanking” and that hit me hard.

Whoever you are, I want to give you a hug. You’re not alone.

The memories triggered by that phrase aren’t pleasant. In some ways, I realize I’m reliving the feelings of utter helplessness, desperate fear, and anger associated with those memories. Things with my ex took a much more stressful turn in June, friendships have been shifting, I moved three times in a month, and lost ground with church being a safe space (not my church’s fault). And I’ve been fighting occasional waves of processing/grieving that last for days and make things like focusing, doing my job well, prepping for the GRE, and being a social person really really hard.  So much of this season is out of my control. So much of what I’ve been through has been dumped in my lap by circumstances, and I’m sitting on a pile of rubble wondering “what now?”

God was supposed to be good. God was supposed to have a plan for me. I played the game I was taught to play by my Christian upbringing. I was the dutiful one who did what she was supposed to. I followed the rules, didn’t pass go, didn’t collect my $200.

And some days when I just want someone to hear me out, when I write pieces like this, or could write pieces like that, I wonder…what happened? When did all the staid-and-true life pieces on which I was supposed to be able to depend go and turn on me? Why? What did I do?

***

I remember, when I was a kid, I’d be somewhere in the house, doing school, and I’d hear someone fighting with a parent. I’d hear voices get louder, someone thump their hand on a counter or a table, and then more yelling until the parent had enough and the child would shriek, and I knew that they were going to get spanked. And you could hear the wailing and crying all over the house.

As far as spankings go, my parents weren’t cruel. There was no reason to call CPS on what was going on. And all of us are strong-willed, loud, creative individuals. [If you’re new here, you should read my disclaimer.]

But there is something fundamentally terrifying about the shift that happens when a parent goes to spank their child, for the child. They have no one else to depend on for food, shelter, direction, comfort. And suddenly something goes wrong (and a child of the age when spankings typically happen usually doesn’t have the reasoning capabilities of the adult doling out the punishment), and it’s hard to say why or what the transgression was (in our house, the loudest person usually got the punishment), but suddenly your comforting, nurturing parent on whom you depend…is hitting you.

I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not qualified to say what exactly this does to the psychological development of a child, but I think it boils down to reinforcing that they are

  1. dependent on a higher authority,
  2. this authority is sometimes nice, so be emotionally vulnerable to them,
  3. but if you make a mistake, this authority will be capricious and hurt you until you comply with their will, and
  4. discussing your side is always secondary and less important than the perspective of the authority.

I have a really hard time seeing God as a caring Father. I have a really hard time seeing God as nurturing.

My last spanking was when I was 16 years old. It was the last spanking because I fought back and screamed at my dad to hear me out, because he didn’t understand the situation and had come into the room to spank whoever was being loud. I don’t remember the details, but I think I sassed my mom right when he walked in. I think I was mimicking her back to herself because I was upset at a double standard. I don’t even remember if I was right or not. I just remember the terror of being yanked into the hall bathroom and being told to lean over the sink for my punishment.

***

I’m not saying that every parent who spanks their kids at any point ever is going to ruin them for life, is going to make them unable to trust God.

But it might make it a whole lot harder.

And if your child might ever have a reason to fight back, or if you ever think of the parenting process in any way as breaking the child’s will to yours, you’re wrong.

Your child isn’t yours. And you will be held accountable.

Listen, talk, work as a team, compromise. Embody grace.

And if they don’t turn out just like you, congratulations. You have succeeded in not perpetuating a cycle of unhealth, and you have nurtured an individual.

***

Want more on this? I recommend reading Melissa’s posts on spanking and gentle parenting, Libby Anne’s posts on parenting, and the Still Crying series by Sarah

Spanking can have adverse effects that damage sexuality and sexual identity, too, but I’m not qualified to comment on that beyond observing that it happens. 


Last Sunday night, I got a call from one of my post QF/CP buddies–we’re both the oldest from big homeschooling families with some unhealthy dynamics, and we both left that world when we got married (which torqued both of our fathers, for different, but similar reasons). She and I have been discussing with some of our post-QF/CP peers the needs of new adults trying to get out of borderline abusive or codependent or controlling family situations.

“Hännah,” she said. “I need advice.”

And then she spilled a story about her family’s downward spiral into isolation, fear, and control (increasing after she left and got married as a reaction against how “bad” she turned out), about how her sister “Jennifer” was demeaned by daily screaming from her mom, Bible-based lectures from her dad on why her interest in being vegan and an animal rights activist were rebellious and wrong. Despite many requests to be allowed to make herself vegan food, she was never given permission to even make herself a salad. She wasn’t allowed to touch fruit or vegetables unless given permission, which sometimes meant that food would rot in the fridge even though she wanted to eat it. Jennifer’s parents also threatened her pets, telling her that if she did not eat meat for dinner, she would wake up the next morning to find one of them gone.

The final crushing moment came last weekend, after her high school graduation, when she wasn’t singing in church (out of self-consciousness) and so, in a fit of anger, her parents removed all of her access to the outside world, taking away the power cord to her computer and her cell phone charger. She managed to get a few calls out, begging for help, with the battery power left on her phone.

She called her sister, and asked her to come get her out.

Her sister called me. “What should I do?”

But we knew there was really only one option, and so she and her husband put in 28 hours of driving in three days and went to rescue Jennifer. They got her out after a confrontation with her parents that required police backup, and cost Jennifer her three pets, her graduation gift iPad, her computer, her art supplies, her summer clothes, and her life savings of nearly $3,000.

Jennifer plans to become a concept artist for computer games, and wants to start college classes in the fall in order to pursue her art, but she will need a computer and art supplies and a number of other essentials to start life over in a new state with little to her name.

So, dear readers, I’ve never done this before, but I think this is a worthwhile cause. Would you be willing to chip in $10-15 to help raise $500 for Jennifer’s new laptop?

Update: Use the button below! Comment with your email address below, and I’ll email you my PayPal address and get the fund directly to her–and I’ll tell you how much we raise sometime next week!

I’m also putting together a care package for her, so if you want to write her a note of encouragement (Jesus jukes need not apply) or send her a gift card for clothes or art supplies, let me know and I’ll send you the details on how to make that happen.

Thanks, everyone, for all your support. It means so much for those getting out to know that they’re not crazy or alone, and that good human relationships should not involve conditional love or manipulation.

Jennifer is a pseudonym. Names have been changed to protect identities.