Thursday, November 10, 2011

Looking Back to Move Forward

Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things can have a great impact on your life, if you just keep yourself open to the possibilities.  This post is a far cry from other things I've written--this one comes from a place inside of me that I don't often look into.  But I think God wanted me to do some soul-searching this week, and I'm glad I listened.

I follow a handful of blogs, some for information, some for support, and some for pure humor relief.  The other day I was reading one about Michelle and JimBob Duggar's announcement of child number 20.  I don't care one iota how many kids that family wants to have (though I do have an opinion about parents parading their children about on TV!)  I was reading the comments to this blogger's post because they were almost as funny as her article itself, when I stumbled upon one strongly-worded comment criticizing the Duggar's lifestyle from someone who had been raised in a similar lifestyle. This reader also made reference to the recent children's deaths attributed to Michael Pearl and his teachings. She referred to another blog, and, fascinated, I checked it out.  And was subsequently introduced to a lifestyle I had only vaguely known about before this!

It's referred to by several terms--this blog refers to it as Quivering most of the time, though it's formal name is Christian Patriarchy.  Let me say up front that this blog is not at all singing the praises of the Quivering philosophies--in stark contrast, this is a website where women who have gotten out of this lifestyle are telling their stories as part of their recovery from the emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse they endured while living it.  Now, I don't want to bash anyone's lifestyle without knowing more about it than what I've read in one blog, but I will say this:  I am drawn to these women's stories like someone is drawn to the scene of a car crash.  I am sickened by what I read, yet can't wait to read more!  I want to reach in and pull these women out of the mess they're in, and at the same time I want to shake them for allowing themselves to be in this place at all!  If you want to read some of this for yourself, this is the website I was reading from.

I actually know people who follow this lifestyle in part or in whole.  I know a family who has embraced it fully and lives it out exactly as these women describe it in this blog.  I know a family who follows large parts of it, but rejects some of it.  Having been raised in the church, I have heard of many of the books, publications, and training materials referred to in these stories.  I even have homeschooling friends that subscribe to many of them.  I also know people who embrace some of these teachings and are not anything like the people I've been reading about--families who have many children and "trust God to plan their family," or families who homeschool their children.  So, I make this disclaimer: I lump no one into any kind of stereotype, nor do I criticize the lifestyle of anyone I know.  I certainly aim to offend no one here!

So why does it fascinate me so?  Because of one of the first stories I read when I clicked on it.  This woman told of meeting a man who seemed like the perfect Christian man and the ideal husband.  She told of how he wooed her and made her fall in love with him, and slowly began changing her by convincing her that "the Bible says..." And how, being in love and wanting to please him, she changed for him.  First little things--how she wore her hair, or how much makeup she used, or the clothes she wore.  Then later, she let him influence who her friends were (people he approved of--people that were "good Christian role models" for her).  And then she let him convince her that all the people who loved her were sinners and were dragging her down into the pits of hell with them.  He alienated her from her family and her friends, moved her far away from anyone she knew, and convinced her that he alone could take care of her, meet her needs, and guide her down the right paths.

Sounds insane, right?  Except that I lived this story out myself, and when you are in the middle of it, it's not so insane.  Until that brain of yours starts thinking for itself again, you just allow yourself to be pulled into this trap, and you truly start to believe that you are better off with this man than you ever could have been yourself!

This writer went on telling her story about how, once this man had alienated her from everyone he didn't approve of, he married her.  And when she didn't live up to his unrealistically high expectations, he punished her.  Over and over, the cycle repeated itself.  She'd mess up, he'd hurt her and degrade her--all in the name of love, of course, and all because he was trying to shape her into a more Godly woman--then she'd feel horribly guilty, repent of her sins against him and God, and they'd live happily for awhile.  Until the next time she messed up.

Again, been there, done that.  The difference between her and I was a small one--my husband got caught cheating on me by the husband of the other woman.  This situation, and the backlash of it all, was enough to wake me up and make me start using that brain of mine again.  I got out before any children could be brought into our marriage.  The woman I was reading about had many children and only got out when she almost died from the abuse of her husband while recovering from the birth of her last child.

As I read her story, I realized that I had been sucked into this Patriarch lifestyle when I met this man.  While he didn't embrace it as fully as some people have, he definitely embraced many of its main tenants and he certainly thought he had the right to physically and emotionally abuse me, and completely control me, in the name of his religion and his God-given duties as husband.  I remember his aunt giving both of us some of the publications this movement produces--his aunt and his grandmother were very strong influences on his thinking.  I think that if someone had fully introduced him to the Quivering lifestyle, he would have embraced it whole-heartedly and I would have followed along, willingly allowing him complete and total control over my life and the children we would have. He already had me pretty brainwashed--it wouldn't have been a big step to cross the rest of the way over.

I don't know if he actually turned to this lifestyle later in life.  I filed for a restraining order the year after our divorce when he continued to threaten me and verbally abuse me.  Years later, he sent me a letter with a photo of him and his new family.  The photo showed a perfect little wife who looked very much like I did, once he had finished molding me.  He had several children, all stair-steps apart in age.  And they all looked happy.  I prayed at the time it was true happiness, not the fake smile-for-the-world-to-see happiness I always portrayed when we were together.

I harbor no ill-will toward him, but reading this blog really reminded me of how far I've come, and of how much further I could have fallen.  It was a dark time in my life, and it took me a long time to heal from the pain of it.  But I have put it behind me, and I have learned a lot about myself, God, and other people through this.  I've always maintained that God protects those who are devoted to him, and that He will use even the most painful situations we endure.  I know He protected me in ways that I only this week truly grasped!

I guess you never know where a simple thing (like a humorous post about an extremely large family) will take you if you let it.  Sometimes healing doesn't happen all at once, but rather in small increments throughout the course of a lifetime.

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