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.

***





With the divorce and moving out on my own [finally!], I’m trying to rebuild my savings and start teaching again. I love teaching, but put it aside during college to pursue English and editing. Now that I’m not constantly trying to fight for mental clarity through family drama or marital tension, I can do things again! So, here’s my first idea: a story writing class for photographers.

story_writing_workshop_image

[who]

Professional photographers are artists first, marketers second. Your first priority is to be invisible on the sidelines of an event, documenting light and intimate exchanges, not networking or schmoozing. But with rockstar photographers like Jasmine Star raising the bar for platform quality, online presence, and blogging, every photographer has to be an amateur web designer and dabble in PR to present yourself–not just your work –in a palatable, glossy, online package to entice new customers.

[why]

When writing and blog post presentation are such a small part of what you do, but such a huge part of your online identity, how can you make your words work for you without slaving over every blog post? How much do you need to write? What’s the best way to proofread? What will resonate with your audience best? How can you write the same wedding story over and over and make it fresh and unique every time?

[what]

I will walk you through the basics of story writing, combining techniques from poetry, memoir, and journalism to give you the tools you need to write compelling stories in your own voice without wasting energy or over-writing. Your photos should be your centerpiece. The two-day Story Writing Workshop will equip you to blog with confidence so you can focus on connecting with your audience rather than agonizing over presentation.

***

two-day class: August 24 & 25, 9am – 12pm Saturday, 2pm – 4:30pm Sunday
cost: $200/person [referral discount available.]
where: Gaithersburg, MD
contact me: wineandmarble@gmail.com

bonus!

the first two people to register will get free copies of On Writing Well by William Zinsser,
one of my favorite books.


People come together
People go their own way
Love conquers few

Our love is like a paper airplane flying in the folded wind
Riding high, dipping low
But innocence is fair game, I’m hoping I can hold it in
Our love will die, I know

[Alison Krauss, Paper Airplane]

When life falls apart, I’m anxious for it to hurry up and see the dust settled so I don’t have to linger in emotional limbo, in transition.

Change doesn’t bother me once it’s over. But the row I’m hoeing has been long and hard and slow, and I’m not at the end of it yet. But I think I’m ready to tell you about it.

I’m going to tell you a lot more than I owe anyone, because I’m pretty sure that after the overly simplistic teachings of the courtship movement and the enthusiastic buy-in of my generation to its tenets, this sort of story is going to be one of many like it. I wish that wasn’t true, but when simplistic, idealistic teachings are accepted on black and white terms, without any nuance or caveats for humans being human, the sincere hearts are going to skid to a stop in disillusionment and brokenness when reality hits.

But that’s exactly why the truth of Jesus is so powerful — he didn’t come to teach us how to get it right. He came to be near and love us while we make mistakes.

So, my story.

I got married in January 2011, and I turned my universe upside down and graduated early and moved to a city I’ve never loved for the love of this one guy. He saw me and befriended me and supported me as I walked through the double detox of leaving a spiritually abusive church and setting healthy boundaries and learning self-respect as I left the world of Christian patriarchy. That process has fed most of my writing here.

Then there was the day when I felt a cognitive dissonance when he said “I love you,” and I began to wonder if he had really shaken off the stunted emotional habits of his own childhood and adolescence spent in the sister-church of my former church home.

And we talked and we talked and we talked in circles about what “I love you means.”

Then one day, he told me that he wanted a separation, and maybe we could start over and try again. That the teachings of one SGM pastor who’d told him (shortly before our wedding, when he came to him scared and confused) that it was okay that he didn’t have “feelings” for me, that if we were best friends and he found me sexually attractive, that it would all work out once we were married. That the feelings would come.

So he had married me, telling himself that Love is a Choice, and that Love is Sacrificing Yourself and Your Desires, that Love Is Getting What You Don’t Want For The Good Of The Other.

And I watched him fade away, disappearing into despair and loneliness and self-hatred I couldn’t possibly touch. I cried myself to sleep in the dark many, many nights while he walked alone in the dark, fighting the lies of depression.

We compared notes: how I felt, how I fell in love with him, vs. how he didn’t feel, what he did enjoy, what he knew he was capable of feeling but couldn’t conjure for me.

I’d talk and talk with him, and then fall to pieces, crying, rejected, crushed. He’d look at me, so tender, so sad, so disconnected and completely unable to feel with me.

After counseling didn’t help (“of course you were in love with her! you married her.” “no, no. you don’t understand. did you hear about these books on courtship?”), he asked for a separation again. I decided it’d be best that I do the moving out, since I was dying in the stuffy dimness of our little apartment.

“We’ll work on this, maybe there’s a chance,” he said. “We just need space to recover from the intense tension of the last few months.”

So I moved out on New Year’s day, and I spent two weeks working hard to clear the air, clear my head, be easy for him to talk to.

But a few days before our anniversary, he said he didn’t have the faith for it, that he was done, that he wanted a divorce.

And I walked into the cold and stood by my car and cried when I saw Orion, the companion of my late-night tears since I was small when I would take out the kitchen trash before bed and sit on the driveway and cry from the stress of everything and nothing.

There is nothing more agonizing than waking up alone and forcing yourself to get out of bed and be a person and live today and keep obligations and maintain relationships and be responsible when you know you’ll be fighting that same battle all over again tomorrow morning.

I’m going to be okay. This rekindles old dreams. Grad school, writing books, California, New York, England. I have big ideas and I’m going to spend the next year getting stable, finishing obligations here, investing myself where I need to be, for now. But then, 2014? You’re mine, baby. Look out.

But for now, there’s grief and processing and rending of hearts and sore knees and restless nights. I understand too well how he almost cannot help but do what he’s doing — the detrimental effects of anti-emotion, anti-body courtship teachings are relentless and ruthless. I am the only person with a real right to anger at him, and I’m refusing to partake. Please refrain from it as well. He needs the Body to be the Body as much as I do.

He’s moved on, and I’m trying to pick up the pieces over here. It’s final and I’m fighting an uphill battle with those I love questioning whether or not we tried hard enough, if I’m just giving up, do I believe that divorce is wrong, why I can’t just wait to decide on this because what if he changes his mind?

I didn’t choose this. It’s happened. We tried, and he’s done. Divorce is the awful consequence of choices gone wrong. Of course we’re taking this seriously.

When those questions fly, I just want to slam my fist on the table and yell, GRACE GRACE GRACE GRACE GRACE.

Letting him go is letting him live.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


When I posted about Dannah Gresh’s concerning (and poorly composed) chapel sermon at Grove City College on Tuesday, I figured I wouldn’t get much response.

I guess I assumed that most Christian leaders are like those I grew up with — ensconced in their own success and emotionally unmovable when criticized rightly. Pastors and teachers I encountered along my path were usually those who would listen gravely to what you had to say, and then effectively smile and pat you on the head with some platitude or smooth response, and never really hear your hurt or perspective. There was no empathy or genuine concern about how they affected people. Usually, what got their attention was the threat of bad PR, not a hurting individual.

Since then, I’ve learned that there are good pastors. The pastor who cared for me during my last two years of college, the pastor who’s been praying for me as I work through hard personal things right now, the professors at Grove City who have a ministerial relationship with the students under their watch. These individuals (with their relatively small spheres of influence) have given me a lot of hope, personally.

But when it came to those with big public ministries, I retained my cynicism. From where I sit, I have observed that fame does things to people. It looks like it’s easy to be wrapped up in the numbers and the tour and the new topic or book and forget that there are real people receiving and engaging with your message. That people are sometimes basing their whole spiritual life on your ideas and what you say deeply impacts the decisions they make and the way they live. I think it’s for this reason that James reminded his audience that teachers will be judged more strictly.

So. When I posted yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect, but I certaintly didn’t expect Dannah Gresh to personally respond. And I never expected her to respond with gentleness and apology, with an attitude of “please let me make this right.” But I thought I’d at least make sure she was aware we were talking about her message, and I posed this on her Facebook fan page:

FB dannah gresh

I didn’t think she’d respond. I sort of half-assumed she’d even delete the post. But she didn’t delete it and she did respond to me.

And, oh my. This gives me hope for the Church in new ways. Here’s her comment (she posted the same comment on Shaney’s piece, though not on Dianna’s):

dannah gresh comment

Not long after the comment went up, I received an email from her with an invitation to talk over the phone and continue the conversation. We’ve corresponded briefly, and she’s for real. This isn’t a stop-the-bad-blogs-from-talking-about-me move. This is a real, heartfelt desire to avoid the rape culture elements of the Christian purity movement and a sincere attempt at engaging us here.

I’m excited to see where this goes. She still hasn’t addressed Dianna’s concerns about her use of the word Hebrew word “ahava” (which, to be fair, I’m not educated enough to seriously address the nuances of the translation) and the rape of Dinah, but I’m hopeful that she will.

The purity movement is so well-intended, but it’s strayed into legalism and modesty checklists and straw man caricatures of feminism and blaming the victim. This is not okay. But perhaps there’s some hope for addressing these issues, after all?

***

A further clarification for those who felt like her story was certainly hyperbole (which it did turn out to be) and that those criticizing her sermon were “nitpicking” — words mean things. You can’t excuse someone’s careless words on assuming the best about their intent when they have such a big public presence. If she said it in a public forum, it’s up for public discussion, and it’s her job to communicate clearly to avoid sending the wrong message about abuse.

I know we’re all Christians and it’s a good impulse to try to be nice about things, but that’s not appropriate in situations like these, where she was speaking to (guessimating based on my years attending GCC chapels) an audience of 500-700 students and is regularly publishing mainstream Christian books and leads a multi-level ministry to young people of various ages and helps run a blog about  these topics. Statistically speaking, there are those who were in her audience on Tuesday morning who are currently in abusive relationships or have experienced abuse, and without her clarification, the message they heard was “don’t be needy,” “don’t fall in love,” and “being thrown against a wall is okay if your partner really loves you.”

This is why her clarification and engagement with our concerns is so, so important and encouraging.

Thank you, Dannah. Let’s keep talking.


I love reading. When I was in third grade, my mom had me make a list of all the books I’d read in the last year. Once we got through the library loan records and my Sonlight reading list, I discovered that I’d read between two and three hundred books that year.

When I was in tenth grade, I fell behind and stopped working on most of my schoolwork for a lot of reasons–my mom had just had twins, I was babysitting for her a lot, I was stressed and probably depressed, I was socially isolated in unhealthy ways, and I coped by reading everything in sight. I read and drew and wrote lots that year, but mostly I read. Sometimes I think that books were my lifeline to sanity while I lived at home.

During college, people would ask me why I chose to be an English major. I’d jokingly tell them that it was so I could get good grades just for reading all the time like I would do anyway.

Paper writing intimidation, 2008.

Writing has always been part of who I am, as well. I wrote a historical fiction “novel” in high school, various short stories, and lots and lots of essays. In the last few years I have begun to explore poetry, write more fiction, and really focus on honing my craft.

But my favorite thing is still reading, challenging myself to read the greats and develop a good ear for quality language and voice and presence. To push myself to enjoy what I might not find easy in order to learn and stretch my own writing. And to just read for reading’s sake, savoring the presence of an author’s story and losing myself in someone else’s world and words.

Short stories are my very favorite of all. They fit well into a busy life. I love how they can be tight and focused like poetry, but the genre allows them to also be broader and more narrative. However, the form seems to be fading, and fewer authors are writing short stories and fewer schools are studying them. They’re not yet outdated, but there’s a slow fade happening for short stories in the publishing world. And that’s sad, because you’d think there would be a bigger market for them in the world of e-readers and online publishing venues and Twitter and blogs.

Inspired after attending a speaking event by Lorin Stein a few months back (promoting The Paris Review‘s new short story collection, Object Lessons), I decided I wanted to do more here with writing and promoting this great genre.

So here’s the plan:

During the first week of April, I’m going to host a short story week on Wine & Marble. 

And I want you to help.

I’d like to feature a short story every day from March 31st (Easter Sunday) to April 6th. 

That’s seven stories.

You write it, I’ll help you clean it up, and we’ll publish it here. 

I’ll be accepting submissions from now until March 23rd. Send them to me at wineandmarble@gmail.com. 

To kick this off, I’d like to give you a short story I wrote a couple years back. 

Click here to download Wine at Christmas.