The huge disadvantage of homeschooling

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Of course if you talk to others who were homeschooled they and I would agree that there are a number of other things that are disadvantages of homeschooling. But I want to focus on this one thing that has been a huge personal struggle for me and my siblings and unfortunately seems to be a big joke amoungst a lot of homeschool parents.

Socialization.

There is no getting around it. Homeschool is isolating. You have to work very hard to ensure your children interact with a lot of people and learn social skills when they are not attending a school full of students. It is not an easy task. And for a mother who stays home, running a household and attempting to school 5 children as well as provide adequate socialization opportunities for them is at the very least daunting. Add in mental illness, other health problems, and severe relationship dysfunction and you get a guaranteed failure. Homeschooling is not for the faint-of-heart. I would never do it.

My dad and I have talked at length about the problems of socialization in homeschooling. And he now believes it was a huge mistake for our family. It is one of the reasons he eventually decided to send us to a private Christian school (though still extremely small with only about 30-35 students from K-12, we still got to be around other people during the day) and why he later decided to send my little brother to public high school. I can say without a doubt that that was the best decision because my little brother did so well and is much better than I am at socializing.

Unfortunately by the time we started at the private school I was already entering high school. It was too late. My hermit-like tendencies had been ingrained in me by that point and I never learned any social skills. I can imagine it was rather painful for others around me to try to get me to talk or interact like a normal person. We were also very behind for our grade levels and that just added more embarrassment to my growing anxiety.

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Going off to a college of 5000 students was like throwing a baby who just learned to swim in the shallow children’s pool into the ocean. I pretty much felt like I was drowning. It hasn’t really gotten any better, although I may be slightly less awkward only because I am now 10 years older. After graduating I was basically thrown into shark infested waters. I had absolutely no idea what the world was like, what I was supposed to do, or how I was supposed to start making a life for myself.

In this age we live in, unless you were fortunate enough to have parents with a healthy marriage and demonstrated healthy relationship skills, children of my generation who were homeschooled and kept from being part of the world are at a great professional disadvantage. Most jobs today really depend a lot on networking. It’s all about who you know. When you don’t ever learn social skills you certainly don’t do any networking. If your only goal is to work in the ministry of church then I suppose that works. But for most people it does not. Most of us have to go be a part of the real world and get a job that involves… *gasp* talking to people.

I feel most of the time that my undergraduate degree was useless. For me college was basically just a much much bigger version of high school. The work load and material was all the same as high school. I was exactly the same little nervous, socially-awkward kid from high school. And not one single person talked to me about career choices or what I might be good at. So I went to college, studied, made somewhat decent grades, graduated, went back home and fell into a deep depression. It was not a good experience. And I did not develop any kind of skills to prepare me to live in the real world.

I have worked in public school and I would not ever deny that there are many many problems with our nations education system. But attending any kind of school starting from a young age is important because there is a natural source of social situations provided for children every day simply because there are so many other people around.

I worked as a teaching assistant in a first grade classroom and there was this one little girl who was painfully shy. I was immediately drawn to her, most likely because I recognized myself in her. In the beginning she would not even say a single word in class to other students or even to answer questions from the teacher. When she arrived in the morning she would literally stand in the corner right outside the classroom door and not come in. When she did finally come in she had a terrified look on her face. And if you pressed her too much to say something she would start crying. But let me tell you the changes in her in just one school year were astounding. At the end of first grade she was much better at socializing than I ever was. She became extremely vocal in both class participation and with peers. It was incredible to see.

And I was quite surprised. Not only was it a good atmosphere for young kids to begin learning social skills, it also was not the horrible, awful place I had always been made to believe it was. Aside from the fact that it was a minimum-wage job, I really loved it there. Just getting to be in an actual school building with lots of students and lots of teachers was kind of exciting for me. I even opened up more and became a little more social myself because it was truly an atmosphere of getting to know people, both little people and big people.

I daily began to realize how much of a difference it would have made in my life to have gone to a real school. I do think that all parents should be deeply invested in their child’s education no matter what type of schooling they have. But a lot of times that just isn’t the case. I had many students with parents who didn’t care much at all and you just knew their home life was not good. The good part about being in a school full of people is just that… other people.

First of all it can be an escape from a home that some kids really don’t want to be in. Secondly, there are many other people, both children and adults with whom you can develop friendships. That is really important for a kid who feels invisible in their home. School can be a refreshing place where you don’t have to think about your parents screaming at each other. It can be a place of comfort for a kid who feels no one cares about his existence. It can also open your eyes to the fact that there are so many different kinds of people in the world. All deserving of consideration, respect, and autonomy. You also learn a lot of other important things for becoming a functioning adult who contributes to society including camaraderie, team-work, finding passion in your work, and learning to deal with people you don’t get along with.

I know these things because I lived it. And when I finally saw the real world, I realized it wasn’t just a place full of hatred, godlessness, and evil. There is so so much more.

The Monster I’m Friends With

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My monster is back stronger than ever. It’s been my friend for a very long time. I’m almost comfortable with it because it’s so constantly present. But it’s also what turns me into a crazy person and causes people to leave me. And that I hate. My monster friend doesn’t like to let me do what I really want to do. It doesn’t want to let go of me. It wants to be with me every minute of every day. I try to catch it off guard sometimes and run away but it always finds me again. It puts me in a place that I don’t want to be, but it has become so familiar that I almost don’t mind it hanging around. But my monster friend isn’t as scary as it used to be.

I had a boy who chased away my monster for a while. In fact when I think back on it, I wasn’t burdened down by depression at all when he was still around. I was completely happy. But I don’t think that’s healthy. I tasted what genuine happiness is but I’m not so sure that automatically means it was healthy. Because when he left I was devastated. My spirit was broken down and I haven’t really been able to pick myself back up again yet. And that definitely isn’t healthy.

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This transition period that I’m currently in is extremely painful. Extracting myself from all of the people and things that controlled my life for so long–the only things I’ve ever known really–is a lot of hard work. And honestly some days I just don’t want to do the work. It would actually be easier for me to simply go back to the same kind of church and keep doing the same things I was doing and letting the same people drag me down with them and put me in a box. But I don’t like that. I think I’ve always had a difficult time with this, but I don’t want to be the girl who goes and does the easier thing.

I went to the doctor to adjust my medication a bit. I am still in search of a therapist to work with. I was going to one for a little while but I didn’t feel like it was a good fit. It’s very important to work with a therapist who you feel fits with your needs. And that’s not to say that one certain therapist is bad at his job, just that you don’t have a good vibe between you. Because of my work schedule it’s hard to find a therapist who has hours that I am able to utilize. Also my health insurance is freaking expensive which adds a lot of stress to making sure I am getting quality medical care. I’ve realized though that my health–physical, mental, and emotional–needs to be a top priority. It’s hard to give to other people when you feel empty or broken down. And tired. I’m tired all the time.

I am starting work on my masters degree in public history in about a month. I love history. But I am embarrassed to say that I don’t really know anything about history. In fact if it’s even a possibility that I might be part of a conversation that has to do with history I start panicking and trying to figure out how I can avoid it. You see my undergraduate degree is in history, but it’s kind of an embarrassment. I’m sure some of it has to do with me but mostly it’s the school I attended. I’ve been reading a few blogs recently and anytime someone comments and brings up something historical… I have no idea what they’re talking about. I realize history is a vast subject but how can I have a degree in history and not know anything about history!?

As nervous as all of that makes me, I really just love to learn all kinds of different history. I soak it up. If I could make a job out of reading history books every day all day long, I would. I am beyond excited to start taking history classes from a school that is not overwhelmingly biased towards Christians and a biblical world view. I’ve had a “biblical world view” since I was a baby. It’s time to get some other viewpoints and actually learn about things in history that my former schools didn’t want to teach.

I have this fear that one day someone is going to realize that I am a big fat fraud. Not that I am a fraud in my every day life, but that I have a degree in history and I don’t really know anything nor do I engage in conversations about history. I think my monster is a part of this. Everything and anything I attempt to tackle always begins with these voices in my head telling me everything that is wrong and that I can’t possibly do it.

“Just go back to bed.”

“You’re just going to embarrass yourself if you get into that conversation.”

“Why waste your time on more school?”

“You don’t know enough or think logically enough to engage people in important conversations.”

“That guy is so much smarter than you, you can’t start a debate with him.”

“Pretty much everyone is smarter than you.”

Go away monster. You’re another friend I have to cut ties with.

What being a fundamental independent Baptist meant to me growing up

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It meant I was better than everyone else. I actually had that mindset. That we were right and everyone else was wrong. Our religion and beliefs and version of the story was the only correct one and all those other religious fanatics are godless, crazy, and going to hell. We are better than everyone else because we got it right. We have the right version of the Bible, we have the right clothes, we have the right music, we have the right everything.

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One thing I regret more than anything is that I was taught intolerance. Of course it was not my choice but it was taught just the same. It wasn’t just there, it was actively disseminated. “Those people don’t dress modestly so they can’t be real Christians. And those people over there are filling their minds with that evil country music so they are backslidden. No, you can’t wear pants. We aren’t that family and we don’t do things the way that family does things so stop asking to do something they do.” Intolerance and dogmatism combined with hypocrisy makes for interesting lessons as a child.

When I left for college I wanted to die. And I didn’t really know for sure why. It wasn’t because I was so desperate to stay home. I couldn’t wait to get out of my house. But I was also terrified of going to a place so far away and ending up having less freedom than I did at home. I think I had already been unknowingly battling depression for a while. Going to the school I did was not a way out. It was a way in to further suppression of emotional and psychological needs. I did actually go and speak with my academic adviser a few times in my first semester to “get help”. That sounds completely ridiculous to me now because not only was she not a certified trained therapist, she wasn’t even a “biblical counselor” by Christian standards. I was an education major my first semester so I guess that was her area of expertise. Education. She didn’t really say much of anything except to talk to my mother.

I went home after graduating a semester early (which was a whole other issue in and of itself that actually led to an incident that got me into trouble with student life, not by any wrongdoing on my part) and began teaching preschool for free. It was not a paid position. I did get a small bonus at one point. But I was happy (happy meaning more accurately, willing) to do it. Because I was always the girl happy to make other people happy by helping with whatever they needed. But that was the beginning of my digging myself deeper and deeper into that black hole of nothingness. I had no job prospects. I had no relationship. All my friends from school were getting married. I had no future aspirations as I assumed that since things didn’t work out and God didn’t “reveal his will for my life” even though I attended the right kind of school and did everything I was supposed to, it was never going to happen. Nothing mattered. Why should it. I followed the formula and it led to… nothing.

In my freshman English class at PCC I had to write a paper entitled, “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology.” It was not by choice. I was the last one to receive the list of approved topics and it was the last topic left on the list. How interesting that no one else chose that topic before me. Oh how I wish I still had a copy of it. It would be so interesting to read it today. I actually don’t remember what I wrote. What I do remember is that between high school and college combined (including later graduate classes), it was the hardest paper I ever wrote. I had an extremely difficult time finding sources and I honestly cannot remember a single part of what I wrote. It sounds so unbelievably ridiculous to me now that I actually wrote a paper like that, fully trusting that every biased book I read on the subject was complete and utter truth. “Christians absolutely, positively cannot ever, not ever trust that evil psychology” is pretty much what I came away with from that class.

I read the reviews for Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology on Amazon and one of the 1-star reviews surprised me as to why the customer gave it only 1 star. She said, “As a result, I fear that many will try to follow his writings and find themselves putting on a ‘spiritual facade’ instead of truly walking through and grieving their past hurts and eventually reaching a place of true forgiveness and relationship with God.” It sounds good. But the problem is where she says that grieving past hurts will lead to a place of forgiveness. People who have been traumatized don’t need forgiveness, they need healing. I suppose she could be talking about forgiving the person who did the hurting. But more often than not I hear this idea the permeates fundamentalist circles that assumes that someone who has been abused/traumatized/assaulted somehow has to take some of the responsibility for what happened to them and be forgiven. Forgiven for what? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Children who are abused don’t exactly have a choice as to where, when, and how they are raised and what happens to them in the process. The abused don’t need forgiveness. The abusers need forgiveness.

It is astounding to me how many supposed “Christians” I have come across that can be so lacking in empathy and compassion for those who are suffering. Just because you don’t understand or have never experienced mental illness does not make it irrelevant or fixable with “God’s holy word alone.” Unfortunately this is a pervading line of thought for fundamentalists, and only part of the problem with being an Independent Fundamental Baptist Christian. Everyone else on the face of the planet is wrong and they are right. Always. If anything, Jesus spent the majority of his time with those who were abused and suffering. I would dare say that mental illness is included in that suffering.

What hurts me the most is that that very paper kept me from seeking out the legitimate help that I needed, even after I graduated from college and began my downward spiral into severe depression. When I finally told them about it, my parents hadn’t even noticed nor did they believe I needed to go the therapy. My dad has changed his mind since then. But there was really only one single person who actually noticed that something was way off with me. I will be forever grateful that she did because I was finally able to do something about it. But I know I could be much further along and much healthier now, had I understood that getting psychological help is exactly what I needed.

All that to say this, being a fundamentalist Baptist meant that praying and reading the Bible would be more than enough to suffice. That all my problems could be solved by praying more and reading more. That every issue today had an answer somewhere in the Bible. Except for a 14 year old girl who couldn’t actually find any kind of answer as to why she didn’t feel loved or wanted by her mother and why her mother left. Or that that girl couldn’t find any answers as to why she always felt afraid and wanted to hide from the world. Or why that girl constantly felt like a failure and a disappointment. Or why that girl felt invisible. She prayed a lot. She read the bible a lot. And she wrote in her journal that she didn’t understand why she still felt hurt and miserable.

Just Wait

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Just wait. Keep waiting and God will bring the perfect guy along for you. Why this emphasis on “waiting on God to reveal his will” instead of talking about relationships, developing relational skills, learning to understand and express emotions, and learning to communicate clearly and honestly? And trust me, it is instead of not along with. Just keep waiting, waiting, waiting, like a princess trapped in a tower and your knight in shining armor will come along eventually. I never once heard anything that indicated I should work on myself, or relationships in general, or that I should be proactive in looking for someone I would be compatible with. Nope. Just wait.

My concept of “finding the right guy” is so off kilter. I didn’t learn any kind of relationship skills at all. My parents honestly didn’t have a clue themselves so I suppose I can’t expect them to have talked with me about it. But I still struggle with the “just wait, he’s out there” instead of taking charge in my own life and working on myself to be a better person that someone else would want to be in a relationship with. I don’t understand why I never heard this kind of thing. I think it’s really just the fundamentalist mindset that girls are supposed to be submissive, and prepare for the “ultimate calling of a woman” to be homemakers and give birth to children.  I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to just wait. I should have been learning to create and foster friendships, and to know myself better so that I don’t completely lose myself in a guy.

I’m hesitant to write about this because it’s embarrassing and I currently carry a lot of guilt because of it. Last May through October was–how can I put it?–magical. This short period of time is the only time in my entire life that I can remember being truly, completely, unapologetically happy. And it’s also completely pathetic that that is the case. I know that. I fell in love with someone who didn’t want to be in a relationship. I really hate saying that we weren’t “in a relationship” because while I knew that there wasn’t any kind of commitment, it was still a relationship of some sort. We dated for six months. I mean what do you call it? He was never my boyfriend but we met for the express purpose of romantic interests. It wasn’t nothing. It was something. I don’t know what to say it was. But let’s go back a little further in my dating history for a bit here.

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By the time I had my first and only boyfriend, the damage had already been done. In fact the twisted ideas I was fed had ever so slowly and imperceptibly been taking little pieces of me for quite a long time. My parents didn’t have relationship skills themselves and so I never learned anything about being in a healthy relationship and what that looks like. Then I went to a college that basically pushes you to date (under their very strict guidelines of course), causing you to then feel useless if you don’t leave college with a relationship. After I graduated from college I went home and just thought, “ok, what now?” I was an “adult” but I had no idea what to do. I didn’t get the things I thought I was supposed to get from “doing everything right” and going to a Christian college. Something or someone had failed me along the way. The formula didn’t work.

I don’t know exactly what happened. I think at that point I realized it was hopeless to think that I would meet someone in my current circle of friends, which, mind you was very, very small. There was no one at church and I hadn’t met anyone at college. I honestly felt like a failure because my college career didn’t end in an engagement, ensuing marriage and kids that is expected in this Christian culture. So I decided to go on a dating site. The first guy I met, I fell for immediately. He was not a Christian and he felt dangerous to me which was very exciting. He would also be the one I had my first kiss with.

We made out a lot. I moved into the house with the family I was working for and I had a certain sense of freedom which in reality wasn’t all that free. And I was completely infatuated with this guy. I was 23 and it was my first crush where I was on my own and sort of allowed to do whatever I wanted. He was a police officer and a hot shot who only wanted to get some. He made me feel weak in the knees but I wasn’t ready for that and it never happened. But when I was near him, I was so attracted to him I would shake. Like visibly wobbly legs when he hugged me.

I was actually scared to death. I didn’t really know what was happening to me because I had never learned anything at all about sexual attraction and arousal and especially that girls can be attracted and aroused. Because only boys want to have sex, right? That was the impression I was under although my changing body at 12 years old told me otherwise. Still, I was good and I had never touched a boy in all those years. Now I was free and yet trapped at the same time. It never went anywhere. We never actually went out on an official date. And he slinked away when he realized he wasn’t going to get what he wanted. I was heartbroken. As heartbroken as a girl who never had a relationship before and didn’t understand that there was never anything there with this guy to begin I with can be. So that was that.

The next guy… oh my I could go on forever about everything that was wrong with that one and only relationship of mine. First of all, the first date was awful, but I went out with him again anyway. Looking back now I can see the glaring red flags that were flashing before my eyes that I clearly chose to ignore. Although, again, I didn’t have relationship skills. I was a lost baby lamb who wanted someone to pay attention to her. And he did. And again, looking back, I can see that from very early on there were signs of the arrogant, entitled, narcissistic person that he was.

It was a very strange experience going from one guy who wasn’t looking for a relationship and yet I was incredibly attracted to, to a guy who I wasn’t attracted to at all but gave me just enough attention to make me think and feel that he could be a good one. Because he wanted me. He faked wanting to go to church with me. And he faked “getting saved.” And he faked a lot of other things because I’m quite certain now that he faked just about everything to get what he wanted without really giving anything at all. It was an on-and-off relationship that lasted almost 3 years and should have ended a lot sooner. I actually broke it off with him about 1 month after we became boyfriend/girlfriend and then immediately presumed to panic and ask to get back together the same night. I really should have known that there was a very good reason I felt something deep inside was not right and I should have left it after that first month.

Now back to the only happy time in my life. There were a few other not-much-to-talk-about guys once I moved away from home, who were the unfortunate recipients of my predictable instant infatuation and quickly building obsession and eventual heartbreak. Although I hesitate now to call it heartbreak because I really wasn’t in love with any of them. But then in May 2014 I met him. I had never fallen in love before. Infatuated and possibly slightly stalkerish? Yes. But in love? Never. It was so different. The ease and comfort I felt right away made it seem like we had been friends forever. He was the easiest person to talk to. Sometimes (who am I kidding? most of the time) it’s like pulling teeth to get me to open up and talk. But he was this extra special person who somehow managed to get the words out of me.

The next 5 or 6 months were incredible. Easy. Fun. Comfortable. Sweet. Genuine. All things I have never had before with a guy. We went to the movies and ate a lot of ice cream. We talked about our mutual love of elephants, and cold, and eating out, and superhero movies, and cold pink wine. And the night I believe I fell in love we were sitting eating wings as he told me that he wants to do something to help people and change the world. I have no doubt he will do that. He was ambitious and hardworking and full of ideas. I think almost every time we talked he had some new exciting thing to tell me about what he wanted to do. He always went on and on about my cooking and we talked a lot about my writing.

He was the one who really pushed me to start this blog. And when I first got started he was the one cheering me on and telling me how proud he was of me. I just had never experienced anything like it before. I feel that I was actually a fairly normal person with this one and allowed things to progress organically. But near the end of October, when he suddenly stopped speaking to me, I lost it. I mean, I really lost it. I was in love. I tried to keep calm for a few weeks because I did know that his job was killing him and he was working 12 hour overnight shifts. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being abandoned. I had no idea what specifically had happened and why he wasn’t talking to me anymore. Someone who he said he felt so comfortable talking about anything with.  And so yes, now, as embarrassed as I am that I’m still not over him, I feel a loss that I can’t explain. I can’t explain it because we were never actually in a committed relationship and it seems ridiculous to not be able to let it go.

But there it is. I’m not over him.

 

Further Thoughts On Church

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I want to expand on my last post and give a little more detail about and insight into my experience with church, at least as far as I have worked it out so far. It may, and most likely will change somewhat down the road. And that’s fine. Life is about change more than anything else. First of all, I have just begun to learn a little bit about the idea of community. And for me the only frame of reference I have is church. That’s not to say that without church I will be forever lost or incomplete. It’s just the only example I have in which to frame the concept of community.

I just started reading this book, Leaving the Fold: A guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion  by Marlene Winell, Ph.D. And let me just tell you, I am only in the second chapter so far and it is fantastic. Practically every other sentence, I’m all “yes, yes, yes, exactly!” In the section about emotional struggles from leaving religion she says this, “Despite the negative aspects of dogmatic thinking and judgment, church groups often provide a social context that is difficult to match in the secular world. Leaving the faith can also mean alienation from your own family. Until you replace or amend key relationships in your life, you might feel abandoned and very lonely.” I thought she did a great job of putting into words what I could not.

I think the key here too is that for someone from a secular background, this probably doesn’t make any sense to them just as having a community outside of my church/faith that I grew up in is a bit foreign to me. I am not an outgoing or extroverted person and it is very difficult for me to force myself to interact with people in order to even begin creating a community for myself. And my job doesn’t help that any. Of course I know in my head that church isn’t the only kind of community. But the difficulty that I have with social interaction combined with only ever having church as a community support system has made creating my own life and constructing my own new values, and integrity, and support system extremely exasperating and exhausting. It’s also exciting.

Marlene also mentions in her book when discussing family and societal pressures surrounding church and faith that, “As time goes by, the sense of belonging and mattering that results can continue to be very important. Even as you grow older and realize that you have the option of leaving, there are strong reasons for choosing the approval of family and community.” She makes an excellent point here that I can really relate to. That feeling of “belonging and mattering” is huge. And I’ve only ever had church. Just church. I used to sing a lot in front of the church, and I taught Sunday School, and worked on the bus ministry and a host of other things. Those things made me feel like I mattered and belonged. Now that I no longer attend church anywhere, I have to work through and find that sense of belonging somewhere and mattering to someone that I think is vital to living a fulfilling life somewhere else.

It’s very interesting actually when I think back on my church experience. My parents started out very hard core fundamentalist. The girls were required to wear culottes pretty much all the time. We were never allowed to wear pants or a bathing suit without clothing on top of it (which really defeats the purpose of a swimsuit). Church was everything. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other times the church doors were open for meetings or activities. I also recall my brothers getting punished a lot for things that I never heard my parents ever talk about or discuss with us. We had nightly family devotions. We sang along to my dad’s guitar. We even had our own church for a while.

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But as the years went by my parents became more and more entrenched in their extreme dysfunction and began slowly backing away from attending church until they no longer attended at all. At that point I was old enough to drive and take myself places. So I went to church. As often as I could. Because I couldn’t stand to be at home and being at church made me feel protected. It was a shelter. A place where, if I did the right thing, I would stay in everyone’s good graces. And it wasn’t hard for me to do the “right things” according to the church. At least there, if I was good, I got some kind of attention. That didn’t seem to be the case at home. No matter how good or bad I was, I was in constant fear of abandonment, and feeling depressed and unloved. At church I could forget about that.

I also kind of reveled in the fact that for the very first time I was going somewhere and doing something that my parents weren’t, even though it was still a very controlling environment. It was an odd kind of freedom. My parents were bad because they didn’t go to church anymore. I did, so I was good. Better. But I was really just grasping on to the only thing I knew would keep me away from the dysfunction that I felt compelled to be a part of and try to fix. I hated it, but I also wanted to make it better. And when I couldn’t make it better church was an escape.

I honestly do think that church played an important role in my life no matter how much damage it may have also caused. Not everything is simply good or bad, right or wrong. But at church it was. And that made things easy. There weren’t any questions. You were supposed to do these things, and not supposed to do these things and if you followed that set of rules then everything was alright. It was a nice little clean bubble with no confusion as to what I should or shouldn’t do. I would later find out that that isn’t how the world actually works but at that time it was good. It was structure, and comfort, and familiarity that I did not find at home. It was a perfect neat little box where I was the good girl as long as I followed the rules.

It was ideal. For a girl who never felt she could be good enough, going to church meant that if I did what they said, I was ok. I don’t want anyone to think that I hate or despise church. I really loved it. This isn’t a situation where I couldn’t stand it, didn’t want to be there, or couldn’t wait to get away. Not at all. It was easy to be there. And even my pastor’s family was a bit more liberal than my own contradicting parents. At home everything was so incredibly strict and yet at the same time there was so much selfishness on their part that we were often left alone and basically did what we wanted. As much as a little kid can do living on the side of a mountain.

I don’t regret my church experience at all. I needed it. Whatever my struggles are now, it was the only thing that saved me from a pretty awful home life. I’ve just changed. Now I don’t feel like I want or need that clean little bubble where everything is black and white. Children really do crave consistency and structure. It makes them feel safe. That’s what church was for me for a very long time, even into adulthood. Safe. It was something I could go to at the same time multiple times a week, and it was the only thing that was consistent in my life. Consistency and safety. Those are things that I crave very much. And this whole stepping out on my own is scary as hell.

No More Church

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When I moved away from home in July 2013 I immediately threw myself into church. And I immediately felt overwhelmingly out-of-place, uncomfortable, and panicky. I attended at least 5 different churches before I settled on one that I stayed at for about 3 or 4 months. But for every service I attended I began to feel more and more anxious. Every single person who was my age at that church was married or engaged to be married. As if I didn’t already feel out of place, there was nothing for me to connect with or feel included in. Some of the churches were just plain the most boring place on earth. And with a few others, the pastors really rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t at all feel like I could make it a place of comfort for myself.

Someone said something to me a while ago that I had never thought of or considered before. This person does not attend church and does not enjoy attending church and yet he told me that when he has a family someday that he will bring them up in a church somewhere. I thought that sounded so strange and then he explained that it’s a community. Families need a community to support them. The dictionary defines a community as: a group of people who live in the same area; a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc. And a more specific definition: a unified body of individuals.

I think considering that I have been in church since I was a baby and it is all I have ever known, the concept of community was foreign to me. It makes sense. But it wasn’t something I had ever heard before. I had home, which was dreadful, and I had church, which was much more tolerable and sometimes even pleasant. I do believe it is important for families to have some kind of community support system. But because church was my only outside interaction, I didn’t think of it that way. It wasn’t just a supportive community, it was everything. It was all there was. And I much preferred it to home, but still it was all there was. It wasn’t an option. It was THE THING.

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I do have to admit that I miss that sense of community. I don’t really know where to find that here. For as much as I was having such a hard time going to church after moving away from home, back there, it was my safe haven. Church was a place for me to escape from the awfulness of home and there were people there who I trusted a lot more than my parents. I miss the relationships. But it’s not the same here. I grew up in that church back home and have known everyone since I was 11. But going to a new church now is just as intimidating and anxiety-ridden as any other social interaction might be for me, if not more so because I feel completely lost and uncomfortable in a church setting. Previously church was, for me, my only source of social interaction. And I was always awkward and shy and even got made fun of by people at the church. But because I was there so long from childhood to pseudo-adulthood, it was kind of the only social situation I was actually comfortable in. It wasn’t so much about church itself as it was the chance to have a connection with people outside of my own house.

Since I moved away and took a step back from it all, I have realized there is so much that I don’t actually know if I believe or not. Everything has been fed to me. I actually got into a rather heated argument about abortion with someone on some blog I was reading a while back. After going back and forth with this woman that I don’t know for a while, it suddenly flashed before my eyes that I had no idea what I was really saying. It was rote memorization pouring out of my fingers onto the keyboard. When I looked back at what I had said I was somewhat shocked to see that I didn’t feel any kind of knowledgeable, personal passion for any of what I was saying. It was like there was a voice inside my head telling me what to type. And I had to stop. I realized I didn’t have any clue what I was talking about. It was embarrassing but also liberating and eye-opening. I didn’t have to just keep saying what I had always been told was right because “the bible.”  I could actually learn for myself. What a novel concept.

Since then I’ve really taken a lot of time considering what it is I was taught growing up and what I actually believe. Don’t ask me to spell it all out because I’m still working through most of it. I do know that I don’t believe the bible is infallible or inerrant. I also know that I don’t think it’s possible that hell exists. It doesn’t fit with a loving, caring, all-knowing God, whom I also don’t know if I believe in any more. I also have huge issues with the patriarchal themes that run throughout the bible that fundamentalists seem to think is the ultimate way to live. I haven’t dug too much deeper just yet as I am simultaneously working through a lot of other crap in my life and it is quite exhausting. But suffice it say I am not a fundamentalist Christian Baptist any longer. I don’t know that I can even explain what being a Christian really means to me. But the journey continues.

 

Best Friend?

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I always wanted to have a best friend. It was something I felt was my own little secret growing up. I am the oldest of five and I can’t remember a time where I didn’t feel obligated to be the “responsible one.” Even at 7, 8, 9 years old, I felt like I should be doing everything to make sure the house was in good shape, and the kids were taken care of, and my mother was happy. So I held on to this gem of a wish and never talked about it with anyone. I never had a best friend. For some reason I thought I didn’t deserve to have a best friend. I had to stay busy being the good older sister and in all reality little mother.

When I was around 11 or 12 years old I had a sleep over at a friend’s house. There ended up being a pretty nasty winter storm the next day and I had to stay for a total of three days. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. But when I finally was able to get back home, I walked into a kitchen overflowing with days and days worth of dirty dishes. No one did them while I was gone because it was “my job.” I cannot ever forget that day. It is burned in my memory because it instantly confirmed that feeling I had been carrying around all the time that I didn’t deserve to have friends and be a kid. I had to be responsible. I was punished for having a few unintended days away from home.

I don’t know if I really know what a best friend is. I think there have been a few people here and there through the years that I may have called my best friend but I am not certain they felt the same way. And I always thought it was the stupidest question ever to actually ask someone if they are your best friend. Isn’t that what 4 year old’s do. And if you have to ask doesn’t that mean the answer is probably no.

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There have been very few people in my life that I have ever felt I could say anything to. I can count them on one hand. And some of them are not part of my life anymore. That’s hard. I can’t begin to explain how hard it is. I have ever so slowly begun being ok with the fact that I am a late bloomer. I have always been the “responsible and mature (read, boring) one” who doesn’t break the rules and does what everyone else tells me to do. But really I am a late bloomer. I never learned any of the things that are required to be a healthy, functioning adult and so I am just starting at the beginning now. It sucks. A lot. It’s a painful process.

I would give a lot to have someone who is always there. I don’t really know what that feels like. Moving into my own place for the first time has been awesome. But I’m also FREAKING OUT! In good ways and bad. It’s been a dream of mine to live on my own for at least 5 years and I never ever thought it would happen. I love it. But I am also a little afraid of getting all wrapped up in my own little world and forgetting to connect with people. It would be very easy for me to do that. It’s my natural tendency to hibernate and block everyone and everything out. I am thankful I have my writing as an outlet but I know how important it is to actually have human connections. It is a constant struggle.

I may not ever have a best friend. And that’s a funny thing for me. It makes me feel somewhat despondent. I have this all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to friendships and I’m not sure it’s at all healthy. For me, I give everything or I don’t think it’s a friendship at all. And I know that isn’t realistic, but it’s been a very hard concept for me to grasp onto. The idea that you can be friends with someone and not give your entire life over to them is hard for me to wrap my mind around.

I remember when I was about 10 years old, our family had our own church and our neighbor had one daughter who was my younger brother’s age that we all hung out with. She used to come to our church with us sometimes and she would convince me to write little notes on folded up pieces of paper to this boy I liked and throw them under his chair during the service and we would giggle and laugh and whisper and blush. That’s really the only memory I have of any kind of “best friend” activity as a child. I don’t have any lifetime friends. The entire first half of my life was pretty isolated so that continued to feel like a natural state for me.

I cannot begin to explain well enough to parents how important socialization is. However funny some homeschooling parents may think it is to always hear that question from people, they need to understand that it is a necessary skill in life. If you can’t talk to people or you get so nervous meeting someone new that you avoid it altogether, how do you ever get a job. I’ve heard homeshooling parents talk about how terrible their public school experience was for them and I completely understand why they would want something different and better for their children. But here’s the thing, schooling is something that is different for each child. While one sibling in a family may thrive at home school, another sibling in the same family would only thrive in an actual school.

I wish parent’s would understand that just because they had a bad experience or got involved in things they now regret, doesn’t mean that that same type of schooling is also a bad choice for their child. It’s not that simple. More than anything I think parent’s just need to really truly know their children well enough to recognize and admit that something they thought was the ultimate answer to a better education isn’t actually working for every single child. I am not against homeschooling. For some kids it is exactly what they need. For others it isn’t. A parent needs to recognize when they really cannot handle homeschooling. It’s just not for everyone. It isn’t the only “right, godly way” to do things.

For my family, it wasn’t the best choice. It just wasn’t. My mother was not at all cut out to be a successful homeschooling parent. She did not have the energy, or patience, or mental and emotional health necessary to adequately school her five children. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you can admit it. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t do this well, so I need to find a better option.” The problem is when you pretend that everything is perfect when in reality it is a big fat failure. Failure isn’t bad. It’s meant to teach us that what we were doing doesn’t work and we have try something else. If something isn’t working you don’t just keep doing it for years and years. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?