Friday, October 29, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

My husband sometimes thinks up ideas for us "getting away from it all" together. Often his suggestions have not been possible for a wide variety of reasons. And that bums him out. "You never say yes when I try to take you on a trip."

So this time when he asked me, I said yes. Right away.

The plan didn't have any of the usual hiccups. All of my usual reservations were already taken care of.

"Yes, darling! Let's go! And not only that....I'll raise your offer and suggest that we go for two days, not just one!"

The guy was pretty darn excited.

So we made our reservations and waited three weeks til the appointed time to go.

Bye kids! See you in a few days! Be good!

And then we got there.

We knew it was going to be a cabin in the woods. We knew it was a short hike to get to it. What we didn't know:

-the hike was up a steep mountainside and the trudging up there made my thighs feel like jello

-the photos showed two loveseats, but when we got there, there was only one. And it wasn't that comfy.

-we knew there was a loft for sleeping. What we didn't know is that you had to access it by ladder. Which isn't all that nice for someone like me that often gets up in the night to go to the bathroom, and has back troubles that make regular walking a challenge, let alone scaling a ladder while also trying to balance an iphone to use as a flashlight. (if I had dropped my iphone, boy oh boy that would have added severe insult to injury!)

-we hadn't realized there would be No Phone Service. No WiFi. No TV. We had brought books. We forgot to bring playing cards. We made a camp fire. We had some good conversations and went out to eat. But then 9pm came and we had done everything and for the first time in my life I was living what it means when they say "bored to tears." I cried. Literally.

-we hadn't realized that the bathroom would be of the bare essentials variety. Shower so narrow you can't bend to shave your legs. World's smallest toilet. No sink in there. You had to go out to the kitchenette for that. And the bathroom was stocked with toilet paper so thin, you might as well not bother. Oh. and the bathroom was, of course, located about 4 feet away from the single loveseat in the place. "Attention please! I am about to use the bathroom! Please be sure to hear every noise!" ugh.

-the water temperature was also ridiculously low, so no hot showers were possible

-we were not given enough towels to live on, but the trudge down the mountainside to ask for more was so unattractive that we just dealt with it

-we didn't know that the little dorm-sized fridge would actually turn out to be a freezer and make the food that we brought rather difficult to eat. Guacamole cubes, anyone?

-we didn't know how dependent we have become on the white noise of a fan in our bedroom. The dripping sink, 3 varieties of special noise from the ceiling fan, weird noises from the cabin itself, and of course the coyote howling outside the cabin (yes, seriously) would make it very, very hard to sleep. I am sure that I spent about 9 hours through the night with my face stuck in expressions that I would *not* want it to freeze in.

-we didn't know that the heater for this place would be utterly inadequate.

-we didn't know that simply using the coffee maker would short out the electrical circuits in the place.

-we didn't know that the water would taste weird and make the coffee taste horrible

-we didn't know that the utensils drawer was not very deep, and had no stopper to help you not pull it out all the way, sending all of the contents onto the floor. Then I got to hand wash every. single. item. Yay!

What we had really been hoping for on this trip was some time for serious rest and relaxation and of course some good time together as a couple. With just one not-very-comfortable place to sit, not enough heat, the ladder leading to and from the bed, and everything else, it definitely wasn't cutting it. The only thing keeping us there through the night was the fact that it would have been too treacherous for us to try to get down the mountainside in the dark. It was probably the longest night of my life.

It wasn't that it was a totally bad place. It was clean and didn't smell too weird and there were no bugs or mice in the cabin (that I saw). So, by most cabin standards, I guess pretty good. This place had been recommended to us, and we had heard glowing reports about other cabins there. What we learned was that the one we got was the one that hasn't been renovated in a super-nice way like the bigger ones have. Lucky us.

We ditched the place as soon as we could in the morning, but came up with a way to turn it into a win: My husband went back this afternoon with two of our boys, who have been wishing for a camping opportunity. I hope they have fun.

As for me, I was reminded all through the night of what I should have already remembered about myself:

-I do not like contrivances. (I even hate picnics because I think it's a stupid pain in the rear to take my food someplace else instead of just eating it at home.) I like real life much better.

-Taking a bunch of my stuff from the place where it normally is, to another place that I am unfamiliar with, rarely (if ever) results in a relaxing thing for me. I like to be home. I would have been happier using the money to improve something on the house, or pay someone to come do some deep cleaning. I like to spend time doing home improvement and then enjoying it forevermore. Trips to other places don't usually excite me. I have no travel bug whatsoever. Hopefully we can save ourselves some money and some frustration and remember this for the next time when one of us gets some crazy idea that we need to "get away" from our regular life.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This one's for you, Alana :)

My we-go-back-a-long-way, real-life-friend Alana left a comment after my last post. Part of it said:

As someone who is no longer part of the protestant world, phenomena such as Vision Forum and the patriocentric movement are things I'm just now learning about and quite frankly, from where I sit, they astonish me. Part of what astonishes me is how very very fringe and "out there" these movements are when they are compared with 2000 years of Christian history. Same definitely can be said for the Pearls and the Above Rubies stuff. I'm glad I got out of where I was when I did.

I have been turning this comment over in my mind for a few days since first reading it. I'm surprised to hear you say this. Our time getting familiar with conservative Mennonites certainly gave us a new perspective on both a heavily patriocentric form of Christianity, as well as fringe beliefs and practices.

Since you're the one that has done all the heavy lifting in terms of learning the ins and outs of church history, I'd be interested to hear more about what your perspective is on how the historic Christian church has handled issues such as women's rights and family dynamics. When I read what you had to say in your comments, what I thought of was this video and all of the quotes from history about the attitudes and beliefs about women in Christianity. Knowing that it was even a matter of debate at one point in history as to whether or not women had souls is enough to shake me from thinking that there has been some excellent, fair-minded perspective on women in 2000 years of church history. I believe there was serious tinkering going on with the translation for the King James Bible as well, thanks to people with an agenda that wasn't exactly God's word.

From my perspective, it seems like Jesus was a revolutionary feminist, but once he was off the scene, women were treated like crap for most of the last 2000 years, and in many cases still are today. So, tell me what you know, girlfriend. :) I could use some good news.

I have seen this video many times, and it grips me each time. What woman would want to sign up to follow a religion like this? (clickety-click on the video to go watch it in the right width at youtube. Much better.)

**Post Edit: Alana generously shared her response in the comments. Please check them out! Thank you, Alana. I appreciate you taking the time to share. I'm going to look all of this over and think about it. Maybe it will result in a future blog post. :)

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Escape, FLDS, and some parallels

Today I finished reading Escape by Carolyn Jessop. This is her story of living in the FLDS and finally escaping it with her 8 children. It is a compelling story that kept my attention even though it wasn't as well-written as it might have been. Carolyn does a good job of telling stories that explain the extremely unhealthy situations she was in, including abuses that are truly mind-blowing.

When I finished reading today I spent some time thinking about the many parallels I saw between some of the FLDS beliefs, and that of things being taught by people like Michael and Debi Pearl, Above Rubies magazine, Vision Forum, and others.

The greatest parallel I saw was the one about a woman's place of total submission, total turning-off-her-brain-in-all-ways-not-approved-by-her-husband, and for the man, complete control along with lack of accountability. I think that any system that requires total submission by one person and total control by the other person is a situation inviting abuse. While not all men would turn abusive in a situation like this, many will, and even in the more mainstream Christian community, the message to women is that they aren't doing enough of the right things:

Debi Pearl is quite vocal in teaching women that they are the cause of all of their unhappiness. Her book Created to Be His Help Meet drives home the point, letting women know that putting on a happy face and having sex with her husband as often as possible are the answers to a happy life. In Debi's world, like the FDLS situation described in the book, sex is the main currency that a wife has in a marriage.

I watched a video by Debi Pearl the other day. She was talking about how it is important for a couple to discuss all of their differences before getting married, because once you are married, there is no more give and take; the husband's way will be the only way after that point. In a nice relationship with a benevolent man this might turn out ok. But what about the guy who takes advantage of knowing how his future wife has been raised, so he tells her what she wants to hear before the wedding, and then goes his own way after the deal is sealed? I can't help but think that must happen at least some of the time. According to Debi's teachings, the wife is stuck, and that's ok. Smile! More sex. Accept. The end.

Nancy Campbell uses her magazine Above Rubies to encourage women to embrace even the worst situations for health, sanity, and safety with faith that God will come through for them. The magazine is often filled with stories of the fortunate minority that survived extreme circumstances related to childbirth or their marriage, held up as encouraging examples for the rest of the world. What about the great majority who will not survive their similar circumstances? We do not read about those in Above Rubies.

Doug Philips of Vision Forum decided to take a strong stand earlier this year against women getting medical attention for tubal pregnancies. Yes, that's right. According to Doug it would be better for a mother to die from having her fallopian tube rupture than to have the tubal pregnancy removed. Considering that his followers are commonly not using birth control and having lots and lots of kids, I fear for the many women who will find themselves in a life-threatening situation and feel that they must give up their life for a child that will not be able to live regardless. And what about the faithful men who will feel pressured to encourage their wives to sacrifice their own lives? He gets left with no wife and a house full of young children without a mother. Easy for Doug to say. What an abominable person he is.

Tonite I re-read my posts from April-June 2008 (you can find them through the Current Events category) about the FLDS situation where the YFZ ranch was raided and the children taken into foster care for months. After reading in Escape about the grievous situation that this group was in, I wondered if I would feel differently about anything I said then.

Well, I don't.

I still think it is very complex. I think it is not a good idea to try to prosecute cults based on their religious beliefs. Yes, I am in favor of getting after them for illegal behavior (and it seems that wackos usually have illegal behavior going on in addition to their religious teachings), but I think it is mighty subjective to start saying that the government has the right to interfere with whatever people think is the right way to live. I can think of so many groups that have "survivors" who would say they were damaged by the teachings of their religion. Most are considered pretty mainstream and normal. In a nation where we have religious freedom, unfortunately, that sometimes results in groups that believe and practice things that we do not like or think are healthy. I would still prefer religious freedom over the alternative.

I think that if anyone really wanted to help those people at the YFZ ranch, they should have made efforts to get helpful information to the women and children about resources for escape, options for education or birth control or whatever else they may have felt they needed. In a raid situation, this group had to stick together even tighter than ever, no matter how bad their situation might really have been.

Escape is worth a read if you have an interest in the subject or just like a compelling story. It certainly gives some interesting things to think about. If you are a fan of Big Love, you will see many similarities to the Juniper Creek group. And if you are watching TLC's new show Sister Wives, Escape will be quite a contrast.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I come from strong women

Once upon a time in the late 1940s there were two families.

One family, a husband and wife, were childless. Unable to have babies of their own.

The other family had a husband with tuberculosis who was living at a sanitarium for his health, two toddlers having to live with relatives in order to keep them cared for, and a hard-working wife working as a nurse and trying to keep her family together as best she could under the dire financial circumstances she was in.

Oh. And she was pregnant.

An extremely tough situation. Ill husband. Living with a mean-spirited mother. Unable to even care for the two small children she already had. Tough pregnancy. Still having to work. Back up against a wall.

They made the decision to allow their baby to be adopted by the childless couple, who they knew and worked with.

This was during a time when open adoptions were not done. Often children grew up not even knowing they were adopted. Yet these two couples were brave. They had to trust each other.

The baby was my mother.


My mom grew up knowing she was adopted. When she was married she found out more about the unique circumstances surrounding her adoption. She was offered the opportunity to meet her birth mother, but due to the various family dynamics and so on, she didn't do it.

Over the years my mom kept thinking about the few details she knew. A last name. Names of her two siblings. General areas where they might live. Remember when the library had a bunch of phone books from all over the country? Yeah. Sometimes she would look up the names she knew to see if she could find her sister or brother.

This spring she got onto and did a little casual digging, which turned up a jackpot of information. Her birth mother Emily passed away several years ago. The obituary listed not only my mom's two full siblings, but six *more* half siblings, plus step-siblings!

Through the winding road of the wonderful world of google and facebook, my mom did her research, and has been in contact with several of her siblings for awhile now. Her mother spoke of my mom often as a part of their family life, so all of the siblings knew about her. My grandparents had sent photos of my mom as she was growing up, so they were familiar with those and compared themselves to her and wondered what she was like.

It has been really interesting to learn more about my mom's birth mother and their life. I am so proud of the two strong women that my grandmothers were. To dare to make an open adoption work in a time when it just was not! For my mom's birth mother to make such a tough choice in the face of extreme! For her to hand pick a couple that she knew to be good people that she could trust to take good care of her! I admire these couples so much.

I've written about my Gram several times. She was such a wonderful grandmother. I still miss her so much. How thankful I am that my mom made her way to the arms that she did. And I'm thankful to her birth mom Emily for choosing well.

We are quite pleased to have a DVD of a serious of interviews with Emily from a few years before she died. She was a spirited lady who loved adventure. I am enjoying getting to know her a bit. What a great thing that one of my mom's sisters could send us a copy of the recording. Each sibling that she has been in touch with has been so welcoming and happy to get to know her. It has been a very positive experience so far.

It is really amazing to think of all the twists and turns that happen in life to get us to where we end up. Isn't it?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

I wrote a difficult email the other day. It was to my father. It contained some hard things that I felt needed to be said, and the worst was that I felt I had to decline his offer/request to come visit us.

My relationship with my father has been a difficult one. We went without any communication for over ten years. Since I made the effort to reconnect with him 7 years ago it has been ok, though odd and uncomfortable at times. In the last few months he had told me things that have been downright disturbing. And then he wanted to come visit us.

There is no way I can do that right now.

It is hard to explain a lifetime dysfunctional relationship in a single blog post. And I am certainly not going to attempt it in multiple posts. So, you will have to realize that there are a whole lot of things that are being left out of this story right now.

I am not the only one with issues with my father. Neither of my siblings have any contact with him, and for them it is going on 18 years or so.

My father was not a child molester. We never saw him beat my mom. He was not an alcoholic. I believe he tried to do better for us than his parents did for him. He did many good things for us and with us. He was proud of his kids and enjoyed watching us grow and accomplish things.

But he also brought a lot of pain, sadness, and other negatives into our lives.

Over the years I have asked myself what exactly it was that has kept us all at a distance from him. I know that there are lots of people in the world with crappy fathers, and they still talk on the phone, go help him mow his lawn, and invite him for Thanksgiving. So what was different for us? I could not put a label on it. Recently my brother said the perfect word:


My father's behavior is inherently toxic. He would choose revenge and bitterness over forgiveness, even to the point of his own destruction. The past 18 years of his life are a perfect example. He went from not consistently paying child support, to not paying it at all (for my two dependent, minor siblings at the time), to saying that he would rather go to jail than pay one red cent to my mother, and then he got his wish and spent about six months in jail for non-payment. And from there he proceeded to live a hard life of trying to exist without a driver's license, and with under-the-table jobs so that he could avoid having his wages garnished by the state to pay the child support. He has been homeless, jobless,penniless, and hungry. All to keep "winning" at his game of revenge.

My siblings got to see that there was no unconditional fatherly love available for them. He prized his anger over everything else.

In the meantime my mother was struggling as a single parent of two teens, trying to get through nursing school so she could support herself and her kids, and having a pretty hard time financially. My younger sister actually put herself through our Christian school for her senior year thanks to her part time after-school job, because she didn't want to have to switch schools for her senior year.

Both of my siblings went on to college without the benefit of any fatherly support, either financial or otherwise. They went without cars, worked a lot, saved a lot, and in short basically had a tough row to hoe for everything they ever achieved, which was a lot. (1 degree for my brother plus world travel and more, and 2 master's degrees for my sister)

It is interesting to me that even back in the 1980s and early 1990s, although there was no mention (that I recall) in popular media about 'eliminating negative people from your life' like there is today, each of his children (and his wife) instinctively knew that this toxic relationship could not be maintained. He played a role in this, too. His toxic behavior worked to distance himself and alienate those that were close to him. In the end his own (toxic) mother did not even want him mentioned in her obituary, and the (toxic) extended family went on to "honor" that wish.

It's some baaaad joojoo. That's what.

My father has told me several times since we have been back in contact, that he is not the man he used to be; that he is damaged badly; that he is mentally damaged from the years of hardship he has endured.

I believed him. I really did.

But recently I have seen and experienced some examples of this that really drove the point home for me.

So now I see a little more clearly. And I can't have him visit us.

I don't want to deal with the severe drain of stress that an extended visit with him would surely bring.
I don't want him spending an extended period of time around my children.
I have serious concerns that he might not even be safe to have staying with us.

And although I know those things clearly, it is still very hard. Hard to think it, hard to tell him, and hard to live it.

When I have had to witness his toxicity, it really shakes me up. It is deeply sad. My father is a man who had a lot of potential at one point. Seeing his life wasted as it has been these past 18 years is a real shame.

Some people got great dads that dote on the grandchildren and give wise advice and help out when times are hard.

Not me.

There was a certain amount of peace for the years that there was no contact. I had no idea where he was or if he was alive. I was busy. Life flew by as I was raising six children.

But I never felt completely at ease with the way things were. What kind of example was I setting for my own children, to have no relationship with my own father? How could I live out the command to honor your parents with a decade of silence for one of them? I could never reconcile those things. So I took a chance and reached out. Some of the results have been positive. Much has been neutral. And recently, quite a bit of hard stuff.

So here I am.

One of these days I will get a return email from him with his response to what I had to say. I did my best to be kind, but honest, about how shaken I have been by his recent behavior, and how I feel unable to handle having him come visit us.

I feel sorry for him getting an email like that. He seems to not have much positive in his life, and I hate to take away his dream of coming to visit us. It makes me feel ill, really, to deal with this, even though it is clear to me what I needed to say.

Every time I check my email I am bracing myself. This is one of those heavy stress items that gets dragged around behind me all day and all night, wearing on me, poking holes in my energy and causing it to leak out.

It stinks.