If you haven’t followed my blog, I write a lot of life experiences. I write a lot about being a mom and military spouse. I write about my own time in the service, and the things I’ve learned. But I also write about things I believe in. I write about breast cancer awareness, and PTSD. I write about things that matter. This by far has been one of the harder things I’ve written. Why? Because it’s personal. It’s not something that a lot of people know and some people see it as shameful. But it’s my life. It’s what I’ve been through, and what I hope I can help others to never have to experience. It’s made me a stronger person, and after almost eleven years, it’s time to share.
It’s been eleven years since I unintentionally joined a cult. Sometimes the memories are still painful. There is something about broken belief that is humbling.
Eleven years ago I was fresh-faced and eager. I figured that if God asked for 10% tithe on our money, how much more should we give him of our time. I joined a discipleship program. The first year I was so innocent, I didn’t see anything but a desire to grow closer to God. I didn’t see the propaganda and the elaborate productions that convinced you that you weren’t enough, and you would never be enough. It didn’t start out that way. My first year I really did grow closer to God, it wasn’t until I moved that I found myself face to face with the biggest cult I would ever see.
I was asked as a personal favor of the discipleship assistant director to go to one of the struggling programs and help them create their program. I’m fluent on computers, and I have a decent understanding of enrolment forms. It was understood that I would be in a leadership role, and that I would be a staff member. I was to live with the only other girl staff member and that I would continue on. And I did. I found that my job not only entailed creating computer histories and arranging their curriculum into a usable program, but that I was the nanny to their two small children. I didn’t mind. I loved those kids so much it hurt. Still hurts I should say. But that wasn’t the end of my duties. I found that I was to feed 15-20 students. I couldn’t cook. I was only 19. But I learned. The meals may not have been much, but it was the best I could do. Then I was told I would be helping teach music. I couldn’t play an instrument, but I had enough of an understanding that one of the students in the program would show me, so that I could turn around and teach a six year old. Then came the hip hop dance. I hate hip hop. I don’t like that kind of dancing, I don’t like diva girls. Yet I was forced into hours of through the night practices until I could do the dances decently enough to teach it to the little girls.
Get where this is going? Over time, I found that I was not only doing most of the computer work, but I was teaching classes I had no business teaching. I was going over to the school to do tutoring, even if I wasn’t qualified. The schools thought the program was a God send, me I worried what was next. Then came the elderly ministry. I like older people I really do, but I wasn’t asked if I wanted to help, or even had time to help. I was expected to drop everything and go. The lady was bitter. It didn’t matter what I did, it was wrong. And my heart broke. I would come home in tears every day, to find big pots waiting for me to cook or clean, or music practice.
The whole time I was doing this, I was told that God knew my heart. That if I was patient they would help me do the things that were in my heart. I wanted to write…. I wanted to serve, but I didn’t want to be forced to do things that hurt my heart.
It didn’t stop with ministry though. I was continually pushed aside in the name of doing other things. I would be left out from trips watching the directors children. At one point I had bronchitis to the point of pneumonia, and it was all I could do to take care of their active two year old and crying baby. My kids are that age now, I can’t believe I was taking care of those babies in such a sick state. I know one night I held onto their little boy and just cried, while his sister was asleep in the crib. I was so weak, it took all my effort to change the movie for him in the cold church.
I didn’t want to disappoint God.
Over time I was put in charge of a whole house of girls. And even though they were given the guidelines, I felt like I was constantly having to watch them. The weekends they went to one of the girl’s homes, I would borrow a car and drive. Thankfully, there was the Associate Pastor and his wife. They protected me and shielded me, like I was there own. They made it okay to be me, and their oldest son became like my brother. And then one day it hit me.
I looked in the mirror and I didn’t recognize the girl looking back.
I had always been a bit of a wild child with my clothing. As good as gold in behavior, but occasionally the streaks of red in my hair would show up. Or the large funky jewelry, or the ripped jeans and heavy eyeliner. But this girl was too pretty. Large wavy curls, loose flowy skirt, ugg wannabe boots, and an actual sweater top. My hair was one color and the eyeliner gone.
And then it dawned on me.
I hated that pretty face.
Over time I had been asked not to wear this or that. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I felt like parts of me were slowly fading. I was complimented when I matched what they liked, and ignored when I didn’t. The Director’s wife had even taken me clothes shopping, “in thanks for watching their kids.” Yeah right, they just wanted me to fit their image a little better.
The next morning I pulled out some of my clothes from when I first got there. I put on a heavy line of eyeliner, and out came the crazy earrings. They laughed and joked about my clothes and asked if I was okay. I bit my tongue, but I wanted to say I had never felt better. I was tired of the two-faced-ness. I was tired of being told to enforce the rules only to have the other staff members go behind my back and give them permission to do things against the rules. I was tired of the directors turning their head when a staff member got caught smoking weed. So I pulled away.
I started looking at colleges I could attend. I knew it was time to go, but I didn’t know how. I set up appointment after appointment to talk to the directors, only for them to be conveniently busy when the time came. It wasn’t until a month later that the dam burst. My room-mate had gotten pregnant. I didn’t know it at the time, and I feel terrible for the situation now. She, like I was, was trapped. The people who were like second parents to her would have disowned her. And scared, she did the only thing she could think of, told them I was planning on leaving. Like I said, I completely understand what happened. She is still one of my dearest friends, and I’m glad to find that she left not long after I did. But at the time, I was blind-sided.
I was called into the office. I was blamed for not waiting on God’s will, and not having enough faith. It took all of my courage to tell them that they couldn’t possibly know what God’s plan was for me. That was between me and God. Then it got really bad. They started bringing up people I was friends with (people I was trying to introduce to God), a guy I had been talking to (he’d never even asked me on a date), and the clothes I was wearing. It took everything in me to hold my ground.
I called my dad in tears, and I can honestly say, my dad had my back. He called them and found out what was going on. They refused to help me get home, even though they never paid me. My dad bought me a ticket. And that’s when I found out I had been blacklisted. Nobody was allowed to talk to me. The leaders expected me to come to them begging for a ride to the airport. They definitely didn’t expect me to show up at church. I didn’t talk bad about them, I just said good-bye to my friends and told them it was time for me to go… I knew I had lost every friend I had made in the last two years. But I was free.
Or so I thought. I didn’t realize how long it would take me to heal. I didn’t realize it would still hurt eleven years later. I didn’t realize I would shy away from church for a long long time….
Looking back, I can see now, it had turned into a cult. I am thankful I got out when I did. I’m thankful that the scars will heal and I am a stronger person. I am thankful it pushed me to make choices that lead me to here. I am far from who I used to be, and I am grateful.
I looked up the program tonight. They’ve changed their name twice in the last eleven years. Trying to distance themselves from the terrible people they are. They don’t have an official website anymore, they only are listed in the directory of overall programs. The only people still there are the pastors who started it, and one of the people that was in leadership with me. I didn’t look to regret. I wanted to see pictures of the babies I used to watch. They are beautiful. They look happy and healthy. My heart still twinges when I remember the little boy crying for me. Or the girl who replaced me calling desperately trying to figure out what he wanted. No, he won’t remember me now, but I will always remember him.
There is no point in regretting your bad choices, they aren’t really bad choices, after all you wouldn’t be where you are or have what you have without them. Am I more cautious in my future? Sure, who wouldn’t be, but I still know who I am supposed to be, and the streaks of color still find their way into my hair from time to time. I still have the scars from the piercings to my ears and nose, and I wouldn’t mind re-doing them someday. But it’s different now. I don’t do it to stand out, I do it because it’s part of who I am. Part of who I want to be.
I’ve been taking my littles to church lately. Seeing them light up when they get there is so refreshing. Reminds me of why I believed in the first place. I want them to grow, and learn God’s plan for their life. But I will protect them from what I experienced. And heaven help the person who tries to tell MY CHILD God’s plan for THEIR life. That’s between them and God and I will walk beside them every step of the way, even if it’s not mommy’s plan for their life.