Forest For The Trees: J’s Story
HA Note: “J” is a pseudonym. The following is reprinted with permission from J’s blog Teapots and Tesseracts. It was originally published as “Lightbulb Moment: Forest for the Trees” on June 30, 2014 and slightly modified for HA.
Crowded into a packed auditorium at the local bastion for Christian education, the “go to” first choice for homeschool graduates and members of my youth group, I considered where I should sit and rapidly selected the seat next to my brother and his wife. Squeezed in between mom, dad, the oldest brother and the littlest brother, I shrank into my seat to avoid my dad’s snide remarks. I had ducked into a stairwell before the ceremony and lit up a cigarette on a tobacco free campus and could suddenly smell the burning garbage scent on my nice lavender shirt.
Turning red and feeling the anxiety grip my chest, I steeled myself for the shaming remarks encased as jokes directed at me by my father.
A golden child who presented with mom at homeschool conferences (a la Josh Harris), enrolled in a local community college at 15, coached debate my first year after graduating high school, and active in ministry at my church, who answered the altar call to missions abroad at 18, my life had taken a very sharp turn shortly after I stood on the dais at another church with ten other graduates of our homeschool association.
“Now, please, bow your heads with me as we ask for His blessing on these proceedings.”
Accepted to a top ten university at 17 halfway across the country, I was on my way to becoming a biomedical engineer, dreaming of my senior research project, graduate school, becoming a doctor. I continued to be lauded for my intelligence, motivation and godliness for seeking to study medicine so I could serve the Lord in a third world country.
After admitting I had a boyfriend at 18, after being caught in a lie, when I had just stuttered out the truth to my mother’s glaring and wounded face about who exactly “Michael” was, I was summarily lectured about my moral failings, threatened with permanent separation from God, and eventually thrown out of my house two hours later when I defiantly refused to repent.
“Our Father, thank you for shining your light on these young excellent minds, your servants”
The golden child status was gone, overnight. A cold reversal of the invitation to coach debate, ugly stares and plaintive tear-soaked pleads from members of church I ran into at the grocery store, multiple comparisons by haughty homeschool mothers I saw out and about (who just six months before, and even my entire twelve grades of homeschooling, said they wished their children were like me) of my “lifestyle” to sins like alcoholism and pedophilia, all made it clear the penny had dropped.
Taking deep breaths, I stood up and watched yet another brother and sister ascend the dais as we rose to “Pomp and Circumstance” and clapped and called out their names. With fifty-four graduates, they were the largest class in six counties. The brother next to me was in the very first fifteen years ago, and there were only six graduates then.
The commencement speaker was new…the same one for years was a local conservative Republican sheriff who talked about how integrity was a gift from God. This one was a Republican politician, aiming for Congress.
“God will protect you from this day before and cover you in His blessings if you follow in the way He has set in His Holy Word”.
The anxiety rapidly turned to rage and my stomach churned. Abandoned by family, church and homeschool association, my only networks during eighteen very sheltered years, I wanted to scream and cry simultaneously at the speaker for his lies.
“Observe those who have honored God, their fathers and their mothers by making the journey to receiving their high school diploma.”
Three years later after my summary dismissal from home, a phone call turned my world upside down.
Sniffling, my mother, who I had little to no contact with besides three intrusive appearances at a table in my section at area restaurants I served at, and my father, who had completely pretended I didn’t exist (seeing my face caused him “such pain and grief” explained my mother, that I should feel bad for inflicting him with such Job-like woes), passed the phone back and forth to beg me to come home, and hatch a plan to rescue me from an abusive relationship.
Three years with Stephen, and I was an emotionally and mentally unstable survivor of his abuse. My realization that I was no longer allowed to talk to once-close friends or even to know my neighbors had sunk in just the day before.
“Our graduates have gone on to become homemakers, mothers, fathers, missionaries, military service members, scientists, teachers, and many continue the homeschooling tradition with the next generation.”
“We wish God’s blessings on these students as they go forth into the world, using their God given talents to embark on new careers.”
Mandatory church attendance was required, at 21, after my return and I was once again hailed and praised, this time for becoming saved and healed from drug addiction and the homosexual lifestyle.
I had moved out on my own after two years stuck with no car or license due to a DUI in my patriarch’s house, stuffed the memories of a traumatizing rape and Stephen’s abuse, I could only feel the rage and sorrow and shrieking in my nightmares.
“Ladies in the graduating class, I urge you to remember such qualities as modesty, of headship of your father, the Lord, and your future husband as you embark into the world.”
My sister on my left couldn’t cut her hair or wear pants until age ten. We were all beaten viciously by a mentally ill, narcissist patriarch until our tenth birthday. Graduating today, she wanted to be a flight nurse in the Army. A year later I would find out my parents were seeking to marry her to a much older man so my father, in his words, would be rid of her and have some much needed peace and quiet, and room to focus on his hobbies.
Several of the women graduating weren’t old enough to vote, but ecstatically planned quiet weddings and bought white simple sundresses for early fall weddings, just months after graduating.
“Now let us bow our heads and pray for these graduates”.
“This is a Christian nation….look at those who serve His Holy Name”.
I wanted to shriek, so very loudly, at him, because most of what I heard in the ceremony made no sense, was so erasing of my existence. I did everything right until after graduation, and then I voiced my own opinion and everything fell apart.
Run away, I wanted to say, Run away. Grab that diploma and run as fast as you can. Because everything you remembered today will be shown as nothing but lies years from now. You will one day realize how the real world was sold as a carnal zoo filled with sin-flame breathing monsters.
I had made it a cumulative zero steps in five years, right back where I started.
Someone lied somewhere, and seeing how I got erased from my family and communities for several years, I don’t think it was me. I was truthful once about how I felt and lost everything. The gilded words of the charismatic speaker infuriated me.
Turning to my brother on my right, I whispered: “I don’t remember my graduation ceremony being this creepy. Or yours, for that matter.”
Thrown out of the house six years before me for rebellion, to bounce aimlessly between London and Pittsburgh with his absentee birth father, I could see his jaw set and eyes glare. He felt the same way I did.
Slightly tilting his head towards me he whispered back:
“Perhaps you couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”