The Aftermath of Friendship Lost

After the initial shock of being kicked out of Debbie’s life, I spent a few weeks feeling deeply wounded. After a while, the hurt turned to a bitter anger. How dare she take away her friendship, and by default, my connection with her entire family!

She had three young nieces who I’d known since they were babies. I’d attended birthday parties and countless Sunday dinners, after which we’d sit on the floor and play, or snuggle on the couch while watching Disney movies. I had a pile of construction paper cards they’d made for me with markers and glitter.

It broke my heart to think that I wouldn’t get to see them anymore. They would grow up thinking I was a bad person for deliberately turning my back on the Truth. I knew this, because I’d once had their perspective – I’d seen adults leave the Truth and never be heard from again. I always thought they had just wandered off into darkness and I couldn’t imagine why they’d do such a thing.

A few months later was the wedding of a Christadelphian couple we both knew. I had been looking forward to the wedding simply because I’d get to reunite with friends from afar. Plus, the bride and I had a long history (even longer than my history with Debbie) and we had been very close friends.  After Debbie’s ultimatum, however, I began dreading the event because I knew I’d have to interact with her at least a little.

At the wedding, Debbie greeted me as if nothing had happened. I politely commented on her dress and then quickly excused myself. Fortunately there were so many people there that I hadn’t seen in a long time, I had plenty of others to talk to and I was able to avoid interacting with her the rest of the night. That would be the last time I saw her… for a few years, anyway.

That fall, I went off to UConn to start a new chapter in my life. I formed a nice circle of friends there, although I discovered that my emotional wounds kept me from fully connecting with them. I had this fear that if I revealed my true self, they would find something to not like about me. I never told any of them about my weird religious past, and I never talked about my hands, or my scars. I pretended none of that stuff existed.

In my final year of school, Debbie tracked me down on Facebook. By then it had been 3 years since I’d had any kind of contact with her. Oh, I’d spent plenty of time thinking about her, and I’d written multiple rage-filled letters, but I never mailed any of them.

She was very cheery in her message and lamented about how long it had been since we’d talked and how she was so happy to have found me on Facebook. I held back from pointing out that I still had the same cell phone number and email address that I’d had three years before, so it was entirely possible for her to reach me if she’d really wanted to. Instead, I gave myself a day to contemplate how to respond before replying to her.

I had a sneaking suspicion that she was contacting me because she wanted to tell me something. Something awesome about herself. Lo and behold, in her next message she excitedly proclaimed that she was pregnant. She was hoping I would come to her baby shower, because she would love to see me again.

Now you’re probably hoping for me to have responded with a resounding “Go &@#$ yourself!” but that is not what I did. No. My tender heart still ached for her friendship, so I agreed to reunite at her baby shower. Luckily for me, I was still friends with the aforementioned bride, so I met up with her to carpool to the shower. I was glad to have someone with me when I walked through that door into a room of women I hadn’t seen in over 3 years.

It was actually a pretty good day. Debbie was happy to see me, and the other women all greeted me warmly. The only awkward moment came towards the end, when my long ago ex-boyfriend’s mother pinned me against a wall, and proclaimed “Jesus will be back soon!” She looked at me fiercely, her eyes mere inches from mine. I had to control myself to keep from laughing nervously in her face. I couldn’t think of any response, other than “Okay!”

Afterward, I relayed the story to Debbie and a few other women, expecting laughs, but they just looked at me seriously and one said, “Well, she’s got a point!”  I’d forgotten what a tough crowd they could be.

A few months later, after Debbie had her baby, I actually did darken her doorstep once again so I could meet the little one. In fact, we made some effort to rekindle our friendship then. I joined them for dinner a few times, and we walked that old familiar route, this time with a baby carriage, but, as she had so ominously predicted years before, without that Christadelphian connection, we had nothing in common.

We remained Facebook friends and got together occasionally for lunch, but it finally became obvious to me that I didn’t even want to be friends with her anymore. There were so many off-limits topics during our lunch conversations – mainly, because I couldn’t trust her.

I knew anything I told her would be reported back to her family, who would lament about how far I’d fallen (in their opinion). What with my nontraditional living arrangements, a transgender sibling, a gay brother, divorcing parents and major depression all being hot topics at the time. I couldn’t even talk to her without blatantly lying, and I am a terrible liar. What kind of a friendship is that?

I didn’t give her the courtesy of taking a long walk and listing my gripes with her.  I just stopped reaching out. I removed her from my Facebook friends, along with everyone in her family, and most of the Christadelphians I had long ago been friends with but who I no longer felt comfortable sharing with. It was hard to do this, but I hoped it would help me finally close the door on the painful, long-drawn-out process.

Years later – I think it was 2015, but I can’t even remember now – Dave and I went to the local mall the weekend before Christmas. We ran into several people we knew, mostly co-workers past and present. I said a silent thank you to the universe that we hadn’t run into any Christadelphians, and marvelled about this once it was time to leave.

As we were walking out the door to the parking lot, I saw a couple with two kids on their way in. Without giving it a second thought, I held the door for them. “Thank you!”, the woman said laughingly, as their group ambled through. Our eyes met and we instantly recognized each other. It was Debbie.

Of course we stopped and said hello. Her daughters both eyed me shyly. The older one wouldn’t have remembered that I’d held her as a baby. Jason was holding the younger one and said to her, “This used to be Mommy’s friend.” After we exchanged niceties, we stood for an awkward moment before, “Well, we’ll let you get on with your shopping”, and then farewell.

As Dave and I walked toward the car, I was thrilled to note that I hadn’t felt any pangs of emotion at seeing them. It was almost like we’d just had a pleasant conversation with complete strangers. Just as Jason had said – I used to be mommy’s friend. And now I wasn’t. And that was okay.

Losing My Religion – Part 5, The Bitter End

How she wishes it was different
She prays to God most every night
And though she swears it doesn’t listen
There’s still a hope in her it might
She says, “I pray
But they fall on deaf ears,
Am I supposed to take it on myself?
To get out of this place”

Dave Matthews Band,  Grey Street

During that year following Jonathan’s disfellowshipping, Debbie and I did a lot of walking. I’ve long felt that walking with someone is a good way to talk intimately – kind of like when you’re in the car and one of you is driving. You’re both looking straight ahead, with maybe some occasional glances at each other, but no need to hold eye contact during moments where you may be nervous about saying something.

I desperately wanted Debbie to understand what I was feeling during that time. Even though we’d been friends for nearly a decade at that point, our friendship maintained a level of casualness that I found frustrating. We hid a lot of our true feelings behind humor. It was hard to talk about anything really serious, because one of us would burst out in awkward laughter if it became too heavy.

Eventually I worked up the courage to tell Debbie I wanted take a break from the Christadelphians. To have some space to think. Aunt Jenny had told me that sometimes it was helpful to step away from something when your feelings on it weren’t clear. Being away from it could help you see things better, and in a different light.

In August, I wrote up a resignation letter to send to the Arranging Brethren. I didn’t have to do it, but I wanted to make an official statement. I wanted them to know I wasn’t being flaky anymore – that I really meant it. I was out.

Mom proofread my letter for me and encouraged me to mail it, rather than email it, since it would be more official. I mailed it on a Friday and on Saturday night, my phone lit up with calls from Debbie’s father and a few others. I nervously let the calls go to voicemail. I wasn’t sure what I would say. Hadn’t my letter said it all?

I did end up having a series of dinners and discussions at Debbie’s parents’ house in the weeks that followed. As I recall, I didn’t get to say much. I would bring up an issue and her father would go off on a series of tangents. Her mom would sit, smiling sweetly and adding a few thoughts here and there.

Debbie’s parents were much older than mine and they had always reminded me of a 1950’s couple. More like my grandparent’s generation, where the woman did all the housework and child-rearing, while the man spent much of his time away at work or in his study doing important manly things and coming out only to eat supper and relax in the evenings.

While I loved them and jokingly referred to them as my second parents, I found it hard to relate to them sometimes – especially her dad. And while I enjoyed the one-on-one time with them during these dinners and discussions, I began to feel a void growing between us. I was no longer buying what they were peddling.

Debbie and I continued our walking routine, and I spent a lot of time socializing with her family. It seemed like a good compromise to me – I would still hang out with these people who were like family to me, and I would just avoid the boring parts I didn’t like.

This went on for about 6 months. I was thinking that this whole resignation thing wasn’t so bad after all. I was making it work. As time went on though, Debbie and I began to see each other less and less, and I was spending more and more time with Dave.

That spring, I was accepted into the Landscape Architecture program at UConn. I’d finally realized that I was nuts about Dave, and planned to move back in with him and start over. I was feeling pretty good about things.

In early spring of 2005, Debbie and I got together for an evening walk. We hadn’t been spending much time around each other at that point, but I was busy planning my next steps in life, and I figured she was busy too.

We walked and caught up on recent news as usual, and then, just as we were at the farthest point from the house, she turned to me and said, “We need to talk.”

Oh crap.

I could tell by the tone of her voice that it was not going to be good. I crossed my fingers and hoped that she was having marital problems, or was struggling to get pregnant and needed a listening ear. I was good at being a listening ear.

The topic of choice was my lack of interest in going to meeting, that I was no longer breaking bread, coupled with the fact that I was a fornicator. Oh, and by the way, every time I mentioned Dave’s name it made her cringe with disgust.

She told me that our friendship had crumbled because the foundation of it had been that we were both Christadelphian and once I decided I didn’t want to be one anymore, we no longer had anything in common. (Totally disregarding our mutual love of Dave Matthews Band, scrapbooking, laughing hysterically over anything, and clearly, taking long walks together… but I didn’t think of that then.)

I didn’t know what to say in response. I was stunned. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. While I’d noticed she’d become more distant over the months prior, I hadn’t even thought that this was the reason. I’d been giddy with the prospects of my new life – of finishing my degree, of playing house with Dave, of seeing where my life would take me.

The entire walk back to her house consisted of me struggling to think of something valid to say, while she spewed forth the appropriate bible verses to support her case. When we reached her house, we sat together in her living room and tearfully continued the conversation.

Her solution to all the problems she saw with my life was for me to break up with Dave, stop spending time with my family or the Tebbs, stop befriending non-Christadelphians, come back to meeting, and be happy about it.

She understood it wouldn’t be easy, but ultimately, I would have to choose between my relationships with Dave and my family (aka, “the world”) and my relationship with Christ. If I wanted to continue being friends with her and being part of her family, I would have to do this.

I wept bitterly as I drove home. (Luckily it was a short drive.) I felt like I had been dumped. My best friend of nearly 10 years had given me an ultimatum I couldn’t meet.

I knew that her family had put her up to it. I knew she’d been coached on what to say, and my possible reactions. I felt bad for her. She didn’t have much confidence in her own thoughts and was always afraid of doing the wrong thing. She did whatever her father or her brother, or by then, her own husband told her was right.

I don’t know if she really understood that as I stepped out of her house that day, I would not return again.

Losing My Religion – Part 4

Dark Days

In the late winter of 2004, the arranging brethren (the group of baptized men who’d been elected to govern the ecclesia) determined that my friend Jonathan had become too influenced by worldly affairs. He’d been dating a woman I’d introduced him to (she was one of the “worldly” influences) and now it had come out that they were going to get married. She wasn’t interested in becoming a Christadelphian, and this was the last straw.

The ecclesia had a special meeting to vote on whether Jonathan should be disfellowshipped. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever been involved in. It was on a Saturday afternoon. Debbie’s father, who was a pillar of the ecclesia, gravely read a statement about how Jonathan had been falling away, and that although the brethren had reached out to counsel him, he didn’t agree that his actions were wrong. He hadn’t repented or changed his ways.

Jonathan wasn’t at the meeting, nor was anyone from his family, that I can recall. We were all given little slips of paper that had a statement regarding disfellowshipping him on them and then little checkboxes for yes or no. I checked a box and folded my paper and put it into the collection box.

My head was buzzing the entire time. It was surreal to vote on something like this, especially when I was guilty of nearly all the same things Jonathan was being accused of, and especially since he was my friend. I hadn’t voted or gambled at that point (yes, those were some of his offenses), but I’d been shacked up with Dave for nearly three years and somehow everyone had just looked the other way.

After the votes had been tallied, Debbie’s father announced the results – the majority had agreed that Jonathan should be disfellowshipped. I wasn’t surprised, but I also felt like, at this point, why would the guy want to come back anyway?

I can imagine that Jonathan was hurt by this rejection. It was clear his father was enraged. I forgot to explain this earlier, but in Christadelphian ecclesias, the baptized men (brethren) would take turns giving the exhortation (sermon) each week. A few weeks after the disfellowshipment, Jonathan’s father gave a scathing exhortation about the hypocrisy in the ecclesia, all while glaring at Debbie and I. I don’t remember the exact time frame of events, but they withdrew their fellowship shortly after that. Now we were down an entire family.

I was heartbroken about losing Jonathan as a member of the ecclesia, but more so as a friend. His soon-to-be wife was furious and kicked me out of their wedding party and out of their life for that time. I felt horribly guilty, because we’d previously been on the same wavelength about these things, and I hadn’t defended him or joined him in solidarity.

I didn’t know what to do. In the interest of self-preservation, I slipped into my Good Sister role and kept quiet. I was too afraid to do anything else, although secretly, I was questioning like mad.

Next up… I persevere a bit longer before trying to negotiate my leave…

Losing my Religion – Part 3

Continued from Part 2

At the tender age of 21, I spent a lot of time being ruled by fear. I worried about making poor decisions (though by this point I’d already made a few). I cared a lot about what people thought of me, and I feared judgement. I was afraid of letting my family down in some way.  I was afraid I’d run out of time, that Jesus would return before I’d had a chance to live my life to the fullest. I was afraid he’d catch me at a bad time, and I wouldn’t be welcomed into the Kingdom. I was afraid to think for myself.

When my friend Sarah asked me to join her on a trip to Oregon to visit her family, I said yes, because I had always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean and to have a travel adventure with a friend. But even so, I was scared. I was nervous about flying. I’d only flown a couple of times before, but always with my parents or with Gram. It would be my first time navigating a big airport all alone, and flying across the country. What if something went wrong?

Well, things did go wrong in a major way.  When I got back to Connecticut afterwards, I was a wreck. I cried every time we watched the news. I constantly suffered from headaches and felt physically ill from worry. Nights were restless, my dreams filled with people screaming in terror as they leapt from burning, crumbling buildings. I dreamt of thick, black smoke obscuring the skies, and being far away from my family, with no way to get to them.

I really didn’t know what to make of the terrible events that had happened on 9/11. Were they signs that the world was about to come to an end? Many Christadelphians I knew were sure it was the End of Days. Did I need to break up with Dave and go back to the Christadelphians and beg for forgiveness before it was too late?

That fall, I started going back to meeting, motivated by fear. Being back in the fold after “living in sin” for a time was awkward. Some people treated me like the prodigal son, while others basically ignored me. I continued this tenuous relationship with the local meeting for the next couple of years, while secretly still living with Dave. I would often escape to Vermont on the weekends, so that gave me an excuse for not being at meeting every Sunday.

Debbie and I attempted to rekindle our friendship. By this time, she was engaged to be married, and asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. I was hurt that she hadn’t asked me to be her maid of honor, since we had spent the most of our teenage years devoted to each other and I had expected to continue our best friend status to infinity and beyond.

Instead, she asked her sister-in-law to be the matron of honor. After her sister in law, was her actual sister, and then Jason’s sisters. I was number 5 or 6. (I don’t remember how many sisters there were!) Looking back, I wish I’d just politely declined, because it turned into a year of awkward social engagements and feeling like the odd one out most of the time. And let’s be honest, I would have been a horrible maid of honor, because I wouldn’t have even known about all the duties I would have been expected to perform.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dave and I were having major issues with our relationship. It’s not surprising, since I was dealing with so much internal struggle over figuring out what was right and wrong, and feeling frustrated because Debbie’s life seemed to be going along just as she had planned.

I would beg Dave to go to meeting with me, because, if could just become a Christadelphian, all our problems would be solved! I could stop living a lie. Being a sensible man, he politely declined these requests. He told me over and over that he was not interested in joining any religious groups and that I was free to do what I wanted, but to stop asking him. I would get mad at him for being so stubborn, and I would cry because I didn’t know how else to respond to conflict.

I kept trying to hold on to some semblance of life within the Christadelphians, which meant I had to pretend that Dave didn’t exist when I was with them. It was like I had two personas – the holy churchgoer, and the day-to-day me. I don’t know how Dave put up with me for so long. I really needed to just make a decision, but decision-making was extremely difficult for me in those days.

Instead of talking or addressing our issues, we just tried to ignore them, and we certainly did not have a civilized discussion about them. It got to a point where we were just living together sort of icily, and not enjoying each other’s company anymore. I wish I could go back to those days and bestow some of my current wisdom on my then self… though I guess I had to go through it all to gain that wisdom.

That summer Dave and I broke up, I quit my job and moved back to Vermont (Yes…  again.) You may notice the pattern of me literally running away from everything that was difficult to deal with. Retreat to Vermont!

While I was in Vermont, I was happy to be close to my family again, especially my youngest brother Nick, who was 11 at the time. Leaving him behind the first time I’d moved out (when he was 8!) was very tough, so I was glad to be able to be close to him again. I don’t remember much about that summer except that I listened to Dar Williams’ The Beauty of the Rain album on repeat for most of it and I cried a lot.

Debbie and I had signed up to teach a children’s class (obviously – they wouldn’t let women teach a grown-up class!) at a bible school in August, so once again, I packed up my bible and my head covering and hit the road. I had a brief fling with an Australian guy (a long story, but I’ll spare you) and thought that perhaps I could settle into the Christadelphian lifestyle with Mr. Australia.

However, I missed Dave with my whole heart. We would talk on the phone and it was like coming home for my soul. Mr. Australia and I really did not connect in the way that I would have liked. It turned out that he liked me a lot more than I liked him, which was a new experience for me.

At the end of that summer I moved back to Connecticut, this time renting a room from Debbie’s sister and her husband while I looked for my own apartment. I continued to try to press myself into the Christadelphian mold. I tried my hand as a Sunday School teacher. I did scrapbooking nights with the other sisters.

Despite these efforts, I really couldn’t take it. I couldn’t do it. My soul was screaming for freedom. I hated having to be careful what I said, for fear that I would say something wrong and be judged for it. I longed to have conversations where someone wouldn’t toss back a bible verse in response to a thought or question I had.

I hated feeling like a second-class citizen. Women were not allowed to do much other than teach Sunday School or play the organ on Sundays. Oh, and prepare food, and clean up afterwards, of course. While I’d never had ambitions about standing behind the pulpit myself, the more I saw the old-timey roles of men and women in the meeting, the less I could bear it.

I felt myself growing closer to people at work – people of “the world.” Dave and I were still friends and I had found an art center in town where I began spending more and more time. I even dated other guys, thinking perhaps I could rope someone else into Christadelphia, though I was getting more and more comfortable with the idea of life outside of that bubble.

One Sunday morning after I’d moved into my own apartment, an intense feeling of dread came over me as I got ready for meeting. I did not want to go. Every fiber of my being was resisting. Yet my head was telling me I had to go. If I didn’t go, people would say negative things about me and judge me.

I was hyperventilating and sweating. I called Dave to ask him what to do. I couldn’t make a decision for myself. He told me that if it was important to me to read the bible or to commune with God, that I could do that by myself. He suggested that I go for a hike, as it was a gorgeous sunny day. The thought of climbing up Chauncy Peak and being able to overlook the whole town calmed me. I changed out of my Sunday clothes and put on hiking clothes and hit the trail instead. I felt a thousand times better being out in that sunshine.

Inside, I knew it was time to make a big decision. For real this time.

Part 4 is when it gets real serious.

Losing My Religion – Part 2

Continued from Part 1

In early 2000, Debbie and I dropped out of college and got an apartment together in CT. My parents were less than thrilled that I was giving up on college after just 3 semesters, but I was antsy and eager to get out and get a real job and get on with my life! (Dumb!)

College wasn’t really encouraged for Christadelphian kids in my circle – especially the female ones. We were just going to get married and start popping out kids anyway, so what would be the point?

That’s something I should mention here – as young Christadelphian women, we really did eagerly anticipate getting married and starting families. Debbie was definitely more excited about this than I was – she’d been ready to meet her match since she was about 15. Personally I was more interested in just finding a man who would sweep me off my feet and take care of me. I figured I’d have kids, because that’s just what you did.

Neither one of us had career ambitions. I vaguely wanted to be an artist or a writer, but saw myself doing that later on in life, after I’d raised a brood of children. It seems so silly to look back on it now, but at the time it was all we knew.  We were aware that women could work and have successful careers – it wasn’t forbidden – but the majority of Christadelphian women we knew were full-time mothers. It was seen as a sad and even  shameful thing to be single, or to be married but childless.

The apartment we rented was part of a huge house owned by an older Christadelphian couple. The first few months living there were a lot of fun. We’d have CYC on Friday night and then go to the bowling alley, or to Friendly’s and hang out with our friends for hours. The house had a big attic with extra beds, where we’d have the guys spend the night. The girls would have to sleep on our futon (girls and boys had to sleep separately, of course), and then in the morning we’d make breakfast and hang out some more.

My social life was at its peak – I was hardly ever alone (it was a one-bedroom apartment, so there was really nowhere to escape to!)  Despite being near my friends, it wasn’t all fun and games. One of those friends was my previously mentioned boyfriend. We’d broken up by then, but continued to have a very intense love/hate relationship, which was emotionally exhausting.

Meanwhile, I was working at a daycare for $6.25 an hour, living paycheck to paycheck, with occasional supplementation from my parents. I was sick almost all the time, thanks to the runny noses and other bodily fluids I encountered on the job. Plus, I really missed my family. Once springtime rolled around, I decided to move back home.

Debbie’s and my friendship had become a little strained from living on top of each other, so she wasn’t terribly upset to see me go. We would still talk on the phone and get together over the summer anyway.

I spent that summer and fall living at home with my family. I worked at Staples and tried to figure out my next move. My mom hoped it would be something smart, like going back to college, or joining the peace corps, or, just staying Vermont and saving money!

But, no. The pull of life in CT, and the hope that my future love was waiting for me there enticed me to return once again. Through an employment agency, I was able to get a real, grown-up job as a customer service rep at a dental supply manufacturing company.

I eagerly returned to CT right after Thanksgiving. Debbie and I had discussed me moving back in with her and she’d said it would be fine. I naively assumed that it would be just like before, but I was very wrong.

While I had been away, she’d begun dating a guy she met at work. Somehow, she convinced him to join the Christadelphians and he was all for it. They were crazy about each other to the point where I felt like I was in the way any time I was around them. Which was often, because he ended up sharing our apartment. In fact, that very first night I was back, I had to sleep on the futon, because he was sleeping in the bedroom!

It was very awkward. In hindsight I really should have put up more of a fight about the whole situation but as it was, the moment I suggested that we start splitting the rent and the bills three ways, you would have thought I had been an extortionist. (Ultimately, we did come to an agreement… I mean, was that not fair?)

Being back in CT, I was more involved with the Christadelphians than ever. Since we lived five minutes from the ecclesia, so there was no excuse for missing Sunday services, Wednesday bible class, Friday CYC, and whatever else may have come up. Going to bible study weekends was easy too, because there were many within driving distance, and always at least one other person to carpool with.

I despised the midweek bible class. The chapel smelled especially musty and was cold on the dark winter evenings. The older men who gave the talks seemed out of touch with the real world. Each one had their favorite topics that they loved to delve into and discuss at length regardless of whether or not the audience was engaged or interested. I passed the time by drawing elaborate doodles on my notepad and contemplating my life choices as they expounded on the possible meanings of a particularly cryptic bible passage.

The level of unhappiness and discomfort of my living situation, with the person who had once been my best friend but suddenly no longer had much use for me, was soul crushing. I really began to doubt I belonged there. Even her family had stopped inviting me over for dinners because now she had a future husband to bring instead.

Fortunately, my friend Jonathan moved to the area for an internship. He and I began to spend a lot of free time together, which made up for the lack of love I was getting from Debbie. Many nights I dreaded going back to the apartment so much that I would spend the night on Jonathan’s futon.

Although it was a sad time to see the demise of my friendship with Debbie, it was nice to cultivate the friendship with Jonathan. He and I could openly discuss our feelings and misgivings about being Christadelphian. We talked about things that I never would have been able to admit to Debbie.

That spring, after only 3 months at work, I was promoted to an export sales position. I was making friends and gaining confidence in myself. I was learning a lot about how people functioned in the real world.

That June, I turned 21 and Dave and I began dating. By then, Jonathan’s internship had finished and he moved away, so I was stuck back at the dreaded apartment full-time.

In July, I went to Shippensburg bible school, which was the bible school my family had gone to every year while I was growing up. I’d always loved it there, and felt very at home. However, that year it was the worst bible school experience of my life.

My roommate was a girl from Texas that I’d never met before, and she ended up having some kind of breakdown and leaving after the first day. I don’t even remember her name or anything. For all I know, we were going through the same struggle, but she left before I could get to know her.

A lot of my old friends were there, and I was happy to see them, but by this time, many people had paired off. It wasn’t the same as hanging out when we were teenagers. Now it felt serious, and I found myself being shamed for some of my silly behavior during the week.

For example, I’d gotten a card for a friend’s birthday and was passing it around for everyone to sign. It had a buff, bare-chested man posing sexily on the front, for which I was reprimanded for it being inappropriate. Some people even refused to sign it. I had not thought it was anything other than silly when I bought it, but suddenly I felt like a whore.

I felt an incredible loneliness and feeling like I did not belong there anymore, even as I was sitting among people I once felt a deep kinship with. Fortunately, I did have good company with Jonathan and my longtime friend Kristina. The three of us had talked a lot about our distaste for Christadelphian life, so at least I knew I wasn’t totally alone.

Another thing that made me feel yucky was that many people were asking me about my parents and cooing sympathetic words about how sad it was that they’d “fallen away.” It was like, instead of genuinely inquiring about their wellbeing, they had already come to a conclusion about them. Meanwhile, I was about ready to fall away myself.

It wasn’t long after bible school that I hastily packed up all my stuff from the apartment and moved in with Dave. It was too soon, of course – we’d only been dating for a month – but at the time I felt like he was my only refuge, unless I wanted to move back to Vermont again.

Of course, moving in with a guy that I’d basically just met was cause for uproar from everyone. Even my own mother wouldn’t speak to me at first. I got letters from other women in the meeting telling me I was “casting my pearls before swine” and that I was setting a bad example for their daughters, who had looked up to me. The shaming was intense. It was a terrible feeling, yet it did not motivate me to change my ways – in fact, it just made me want to get farther away.

At that point I stopped going to meeting. I worried that I was making a horrible mistake, but Dave was so kind to me and supportive through it all. From a young age, he’d decided not to put up with any religious b.s. His family had been strict evangelicals, attending church even more often than I ever did, forbidding him from listening to heavy metal (the devil’s music), and basically never having any fun at all. As soon as he was old enough to avoid going to church, he did. I really admired that he’d had that kind of sense so early on in life.

Even as I was desperately wanting to break away from Christadelphia, I still had this fear that I would face eternal damnation for my choice.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – when damnation comes a little too close for comfort.

Losing My Religion – Part 1

Finally – The first post a series about my process of leaving the Christadelphians. I’ve referred to it for years, and have always had it simmering on the back burner. Every time I’d edit it, I’d end up adding more, or taking something away. It’s become quite massive, so it will be broken down into parts. As I’ve set a new goal to publish two blog posts per week, you will see parts 2 and 3 within the next week! Hold me to it!

I heard REM’s hit Losing my Religion for the first time when I was about 11 years old. Although I’d hear it again many times over the next decade, the Sunday in 2004 when it played as I drove to meeting for the last time, it felt as if it had been written for me.

As I wrote in growing up Christadelphian, life as a Christo hadn’t been all that bad. At least not for a little child. But over the years it soured until I just couldn’t do it anymore.

There wasn’t one exact moment that I can pinpoint and say this is why I left, although this is what everyone wanted to know. “What happened?” they’d ask, with looks of mortal concern. I toyed with the idea of inventing some dramatic scandal, but the truth is, it was many instances and realizations that accumulated over time. Like anything else in life – your experiences change your perceptions – if you let them.

The cracks began to form in my mid-teens. I got baptized, thinking that this would somehow open a mystical door to greater knowledge and spiritual growth. Instead, I felt more pressured to always be doing the right thing, keeping myself pure and avoiding worldly temptations. I was a prim 85-year-old woman in a 15-year-old body.

Not long after I was baptized, we moved to Vermont. When we first arrived, we made efforts to do Sunday morning meetings with the few other Christadelphian families in Vermont. This often meant driving an hour or more to meet in someone else’s home, or hosting those folks in our home. At first we did this pretty regularly, and as time passed and some of those people moved away, we did it less and less.

We basically lived in isolation. This was considered a very bad thing among Christadelphians, because without the constant stimulation of Sunday School, Meeting, Bible Class, CYC, etc, it would be easy for a person to get drawn into the world and fall away from the “Truth”.

I continued to be very reserved at school, and made no effort to befriend anyone there. However, the kids at my new high school were friendly and they went out of their way to interact with me. The first week there, I got a ride from one of these new friends. We stopped in a run-down section of town to pick up another friend of hers (in hindsight – he may have been her dealer) before heading back to her house. Up in her room, they immediately packed a bowl and began to pass it around. I nearly fainted dead away. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers as they passed it to me and I tried to look nonchalant as I politely declined. Welcome to Vermont!

After a few years of living in there, my parents bought a piece of land even further away from civilization and began building a house. It was then that we stopped doing anything religious on Sunday mornings. Once the house was complete, there was no mention of returning to the fold, so to speak. There wasn’t any fanfare about it or even a formal declaration, but it was pretty clear that my parents had opted out of Christadelphia by then.

I kept on with it though, mainly because it was a huge part of my social life. I met my best friend Debbie at bible school when I was 15, and we had formed a core group of friends with whom we socialized almost exclusively. Once I got old enough to drive, I would go down to Massachusetts or Connecticut for the weekends and attend meeting there. I started going to more bible schools. Once, I went to three in one summer.

I didn’t think I was falling away, but when I was at home in Vermont, I was not devoting any time to bible study. I wouldn’t even unzip my bible case, until right before I was to attend another meeting, when I would quickly move my bible reading bookmarks to the proper place so it wouldn’t be obvious I hadn’t been doing my daily readings. I felt really bad about it, though not bad enough to change my behavior. At that point, leaving the Christadelphian faith was not even on my radar. I figured things would get easier when I got older and I had found myself a devoted spiritual partner to help keep me in line.

I started dating a Christadelphian guy when I was 18. He was 24. I thought he was interested in me for my maturity and intellect (LOL!). Our relationship was short-lived and tumultuous. Yet it opened my eyes and snapped me out of my comfort zone on several levels.

It was then that my thinking really began to change. My whole life I had assumed that my Christadelphian peers were all trying as hard as I to remain obedient to the rules, and to keep sinless and pure. I even assumed that everyone else was more successful at it than me, because that’s how I felt around Debbie, who was more pious than I ever was. But my older, wiser boyfriend assured me that it wasn’t true. I soon began asking around some of my friends and found out that pretty much everyone else had been breaking all sorts of rules and getting away with it. People had been doing drugs, drinking and having sex like normal teenagers! I was so late to that party.

Another, less illicit thing that had been troubling me was divisiveness within the Christadelphians. There were actually several divisions within the Christadelphian group. The two major groups that I was aware of were the Amended and the Unamended. The titles were based on a clause in the statement of faith. My side – the Amended – had amended their statement of faith whereas the Unamended had refused to do so. If you’re curious – it’s clause #24 in the  Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith.

At all the meetings and bible schools I’d ever been to, they would always make an announcement that we were breaking bread under the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (aka BASF – but not the chemical company). If you weren’t a baptized and law-abiding member, you weren’t welcome to partake. Apparently some people would get into extremely heated arguments about clause 24, though I’d never been privy to these conversations. I guess, if you really believed in it, it was literally a matter of life and death. Or life, and a second death, if you want to get technical about it.

In the course of our wanderings, Debbie and I met some Unamended young people and become friends with them. We went to some of their bible weekends and to their meetings on occasion. We broke bread and drank from the cup with them. Then we’d return to our regular haunts and break bread there, feeling extremely rebellious. When I was not immediately struck by lightning for doing this, a little more of my faith waned.

Just how many rules could one get away with breaking? I wondered.

Part 2

15 Years Ago…

In September 2001, my friend Sarah and I took a trip to Oregon to visit her family, who had just relocated there. It was my first time traveling further west than the Mississippi River, and my first time on a plane since I was 16. Dave and I had only recently started dating, and I cried when he dropped me off for the shuttle to the Newark Airport. I was nervous about flying and being so far from home.

I don’t remember what it was like to go through security, or if there even was security. I just remember meeting Sarah at the gate and commencing the trip. We kept joking about the scene in Meet the Parents where Greg Focker has an altercation with a stewardess over his luggage and keeps saying the word “bomb” over and over. Bomb bomb bomb. You gonna arrest me? Bomb bomb bomb bomb! During the war I was a BOMBadier! Hilarious, right?

As the plane took off, the pilot pointed out how we’d be able to see Manhattan and the Twin Towers as we flew over New York City. The flight seemed like it took forever. We had a layover in Minneapolis which was foreign and weird to my young self. When we finally got to Portland, it was dark and felt like it must have been 2 am, though it was probably more like 7 pm. Sarah’s parents met us at the gate – you could do that then – and drove us another 2+ hours to Newport.

The Oregon coast did not disappoint. We spent the trip exploring the beaches and various scenic overlooks along Route 101. We hung out with Sarah’s family and met other Christadelphians in their area. I played Nintendo with her little brothers. We visited the Tillamook Cheese Factory. It felt a lot like Vermont, if Vermont had been plopped next to the ocean.


Celebrating Sarah’s birthday!

Jet lag hit me hard out there. I was always one for staying up half the night and sleeping in late the next morning, and every night we were staying up so late, it was getting to be early morning at home. My internal clock had no idea what was going on. The day before our flight home, I woke up to one of Sarah’s brothers shaking me and saying my name. I rolled over groggily and somewhat confused. He quickly told me how planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, and another one had crashed in a field in PA.

I didn’t really comprehend what he was telling me – I thought maybe he was just pulling my leg to get me to wake up. When I headed into the living room, I saw Sarah’s whole family was gathered there, eyes fixed to the TV. On the screen, black smoke billowed from the towers. It was surreal. It looked like something from a movie, but from the emotions in the reporters voices, it was clearly real and happening live.

The shock of something like this happening in our country was immense. Our plans for that day fell to the wayside. Our flight home the next day was cancelled. The jolly mood we’d been enjoying came to a screeching halt. Personally, I was absolutely terrified.

If you are a Christadelphian, or ever were one, you will get what I am about to say. There was excitement in the air among the group. Christadelphians are constantly on the watch for “signs of the times” pointing to the return of Christ. Usually, to read these signs you needed to be a dedicated student of bible prophecy and have a keen understanding of foreign politics (neither of which I was interested in doing). Well, this particular sign was written in smoke and flames, so even the lowliest among us would see it.

That night, we went to a bible study group at the home of a Christadelphian family nearby. I sat silently as the others chatted excitedly about the possibility of these attacks meaning that the end was near. Maybe this would be the beginning of World War III? Christ’s return was just around the corner! Christadelphians love to fantasize about the Kingdom. “It will be just like being at Bible school!” they always say.

Well, I certainly hoped that wasn’t true that Christ was about to make his way down through the clouds. I had already been questioning my faith and thinking about leaving the Christadelphians, although it would take me several years before I would finally cut the cord. I was still very much afraid of the wrath of the Lord Jesus Himself if he returned.

Since our return flight was cancelled, along with every other flight in the nation, we weren’t sure how we were going to get back to the east coast. No one knew when flights would resume, or if we we’d be able to get on one right away once they did. We looked into renting a car, thinking we could make it a cross-country adventure. But we were too young to drive a rental car across state lines.

I emailed my family and Dave, and my friends back home. I wished I could transport myself through the phone lines somehow. Not knowing what was going to happen was stressful. My mom told me that my Uncle Bill was stuck in Alaska, and my Uncle Brian was stuck in Boston. He had actually been scheduled to fly out the next day on the same flight as the one that hit the north tower.

We were able to get a flight home on the 16th. We left Sarah’s parents house at 12:30 am. We had to arrive at the airport really early because security was expected to be extremely tight. We got there at 2am and got in line. I can’t remember how long it took to get through security – I wrote surprisingly little about it all in my journal. I do remember that once we got through, we bought bagels and they wouldn’t even give us plastic knives to spread the cream cheese. We had to use spoons. And of course there was no joking about bombs this time. Everyone was on edge, but at the same time, it felt like we were all in this together. People actually looked at each other and made small talk.

The flight was direct to Newark. One thing I did write in my journal was that they let us watch movies for free, so we saw Dr. Doolittle and Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I was glad that there was something to keep my mind occupied. As the plane descended into Newark, the scene in lower Manhattan was visible. Smoke was still rising from the rubble.

Sarah and I parted ways and I took a shuttle back up to Connecticut. It was a somber scene as we drove across the George Washington Bridge and looked towards where the towers had been. There was a haze of smoke and dust where just a week before, I had seen the two towers standing. Again, the feeling was surreal.

I was so glad to be home again. I held so tightly to Dave in the days thereafter. We watched so much news coverage and cried so much in those days. I had nightmares about it being the end of the world. I felt sick with grief and worry, even though no one I knew had been directly impacted. The following weekend I drove up to Vermont so I could see my family and hug them all tightly. Everyone was so emotionally raw at that time. It really made you think about what was important, and what wasn’t.

Of course I am grateful that nobody close to me was directly impacted by the events that day. Inconvenienced, maybe. Frightened, definitely. My still heart aches for all the families who lost loved ones that day. In reflecting on the past 15 years, it saddens me to think that we really haven’t come very far, in terms of feeling safe, or unified as a nation. In fact, it seems that we are more divided than ever, and that animosity towards “the others” is growing stronger every day.

Next week, I fly out west again. This time for a business trip. I think I will make more of an effort to keep my head up and look people in the eye. It is so easy to pretend to be occupied on the phone, or so busy with responding to emails that you can’t possibly make small talk. But it helps to remember that we are all just fragile human beings. You never know what difference one small, kind gesture can make.

The F Word

I’m talking about fear, of course. In going through a stack of paper shoved on a shelf, I found what’s written below. I wrote it a little over 4 years ago, when I was underemployed, drowning in student loans and generally feeling like a loser. You don’t always realize how far you’ve come until you look back at where you once were. Of course I have made mistakes and stumbled in the 4 years since I wrote this, and I am constantly thinking about what I can do to grow and become a better person. In some aspects, I have come a very long way. I now have a job that requires me to keep a grip on my fear and plunge forward, whether I am ready or not.

Feb 13, 2012

It’s weird how fear can hold you back so much. Frustrating, too. When logic and reason tell you that you can do whatever you put your mind to – that you could be a great success with lots of effort and perseverance. Yet those beasts within – fear and self doubt and the inner critic – all come thrashing out to put a stop to any ideas of self improvement or attempts to get somewhere in life.

I have spent the last 4 years of my life battling this trinity of self-destruction. Battling is probably an overstatement. More like, being battered by. It’s not like I’ve never felt these feelings before. In fact, much of my life I have struggled to feel “good enough” for society. But most of my life I’ve had structures in place that kept me moving along the stream of progression.

School: growing up and progressing from grade to grade, completing milestones like “get driver’s license”, “take SAT’s” and “graduate high school” kept me occupied during my formative years.

College: I blindly rolled right on to college right after high school. This is where the beginnings of my “grown up” issues really began. Suddenly it hit me that I was an adult and things from here on out were pretty much up to me. I felt seriously unprepared for this.

Religion: Having grown up with religious guidelines and expectations (Be good. Pray. Find a good man to marry. Have babies. Keep the faith). I was able to keep the self-doubt monster at bay for most of my early life.

Job: During my early 20’s I had a “real” job where I was expected to show up on time every day, dress professionally and perform my duties. In turn, I was rewarded with steady pay, good health insurance and a schedule for my days.

The two pillars of Job + Religion kept me safely enclosed in a box for a few years. Many people (I assume) must feel content in such a box because it seems they spend their entire lives inside the parameters set by religion and their careers. This concept didn’t appeal to me though. I knew there must be more to life and I wanted to experience it.

First, I had to get out of the religion. It wasn’t as simple as ceasing to attend church. My whole social life was that church. My family had been part of it for generations. I’d never even chosen to be part of it. I’d been born into it. Until my 20’s it never even occurred to me that I could leave. Even when I left, I had no intention of finding another church. I wanted out of religion, period. In doing this, I essentially said goodbye to a whole community of friends and ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’. I don’t think I knew just then how brutal that would actually be. Perhaps naively, I had not entirely thought it through. I think I envisioned myself being “not religious” yet somehow continuing to socialize and be welcomed into these people’s homes.

Leaving Christadelphia was like stepping off the edge of a cliff. It was the craziest thing I have ever done, but also the most important decision I made in my life. It took a ton of courage and swallowing my fear to take that step. It took me years to find my footing, and in some ways I am still reeling from the repercussions of that decision, but I do not regret it for one second.

You would think that after making such a bold decision, the rest of my life decisions would have come easy. I would have overcome my fear of failure or rejection or disappointment. Nope. It seems to be one of those things you have to keep pushing.

Just the other day I wrote a list of the things I am afraid of when it comes to writing and sharing my writing publicly. Here goes:

Fear of:

  • failure
  • judgement
  • success
  • looking silly
  • looking dumb
  • being wrong
  • getting ridiculed
  • getting criticized
  • being mocked
  • not being liked
  • being liked too much
  • being seen as arrogant
  • oversharing

Hah – I just threw that last one in there. I don’t want to overshare, but I also am trying to take Brene Brown’s advice of letting oneself be vulnerable. I am going to show up and let myself be seen, as she says.

I am not going to let my fear cockblock my dreams.

Will you come along for the ride?




Major Life Influence #1: Being Raised Christadelphian

This is the first in a 5-part series of my major life influences. Of course having EEC is a big influence, but since this whole blog is pretty much dedicated to that, I figured I’d choose 5 other things to talk about.

The first major influence on my life (aside from being born with EEC, of course) was the religion and associated culture that I was raised in. The group was called the Christadelphians. The name means Brethren in Christ. We also referred to it as The Truth. 

My parents, their parents and their grandparents before them had all been born and raised in Christadelphian families. It was more a part of our identity than our Scottish or English heritage. It was the default setting on our religion meter.

Being a Christadelphian was a good thing during my young life. My first friends were the ones I made at Sunday School. We had a community of people whom we trusted and cared about and that gave me a real sense of security and belonging.

My very first friends, Becky and Joanna

Whenever I was recovering from surgery, I got tons of get-well cards from all over. Some were from people I didn’t even know, but who knew my parents or my grandparents or had heard through a Sunday morning announcement that I’d had surgery. We were all family in Christ.

Every Sunday we would go to Meeting, which was what we called our Sunday morning service. Sometimes there would be a luncheon and an afternoon program, called a lecture. These were supposed to be preaching or recruiting efforts but we almost never had visitors who weren’t Christadelphian. On Saturdays before lectures, we would go campaigning, which involved walking around apartment complexes and sticking flyers announcing the upcoming lecture into people’s mail slots. Flyers we had stayed up late folding the night before. I really didn’t like campaigning because I was always afraid I would have to actually talk to someone.

I did enjoy the long Sundays though, because it meant I could spend more time with my Sunday School friends. I was too young to be made to sit still and listen to the speaker, so instead I got to sit on the floor and play with toys and when I got older I was allowed to sit and read books quietly. We also had Wednesday night bible class and Thursday afternoon Sisters’ class, which was for the ladies only.

The highlight of each year was bible school. There were multiple bible schools held throughout the summer but we were loyal to the one nearest to us. It was held at Shippensburg University every July. It was basically a week of playtime with friends I only got to see once or twice a year.

On stage during a talent night at bible school.

There were drawbacks to being Christadelphian. I wasn’t allowed to be in Brownies or Girl Scouts, though I was never exactly sure why. I was taught not to recite the pledge of allegiance at school because my allegiance should be to God only. I couldn’t participate in any sports or extra-curricular activities because it would have conflicted with our worship schedule.

Because of these religious limitations, plus the fact that EEC made me look different, I often felt like an outsider. I was a little afraid to make friends with people at school because they weren’t my religion and I guess I sort of thought they weren’t as special as me.

My early teenage years were especially lonely at school. I really believed that I had been chosen by God and that my classmates were all hopelessly lost sinners. I made absolutely no effort to make friends with anyone. I didn’t even consider trying. In hindsight, I was a total snob! I realize that now but at the time I really felt like I was the persecuted one having to expose myself to the vulgarities of high school. I literally couldn’t deal.

14-Year-Old me at bible school. This wasn’t long before I got baptized.

I spent my time after school drawing, writing letters to my friends from bible school, practicing hymns on the piano and doing bible marking. I actually hated bible marking – it consisted of highlighting passages and writing a series of notes in the margins of my bible. All of it was just copied from a packet that you could buy through the mail. It was supposed to help us understand prophecies and be a guide when we went out preaching, which was an idea I dreaded. I just  wanted it to look like I was a good bible scholar, with colorful pages and microscopic handwritten notes everywhere.

Just a snippet of one of my bible markings.


Growing up as a Christadelphian child, you anticipated getting baptized once you were old enough. Being ready for baptism meant that you had reached spiritual maturity and understood the principles of the Christadelphian faith. When I was 14, my friend Jay announced he was going to prepare for baptism. He was almost a year younger than me! I suddenly felt that I must hurry up and get baptized too. I told my parents I was ready, even though I really was just doing what I thought was expected of me. We immediately began preparing, with a series of study guides and classes. Just like with bible marking, I was quite bored but I wanted to do the right thing, so I pushed forward

I got baptized on September 3, 1995, barely 15 years old. I was nervous and excited that morning. I knew deep down that I’d never really had a deep spiritual experience, even though I really wanted to. I hoped that being baptized would change all that. As I let myself be pushed beneath the water, I anticipated the magic that would happen. I would rise from the water a changed woman! I would be washed of my sins, pure as snow, and I would start my life anew. When I emerged from the water, I opened my eyes and saw the entire congregation giving me their full attention. I was suddenly embarrassed and began to giggle like a little girl. I didn’t feel special or changed at all. I felt the same as I ever did. Confused, unsure and unworthy. It was a special day, of course. Gram gave me a beautiful lace head covering. My friends were there with me. Everyone was nice and paid extra attention to me. But nothing inside me changed.

BIble school… the one place I was popular!

For a long time, I would have said that growing up Christadelphian was similar to growing up with EEC in the sense that I could not imagine life without it. But eventually, I would get to experience life without it. I’ll write about that in the Losing My Religion post.

Now that so many years have passed and my emotions have cooled, I can see both the positive and negative aspects of life in a Christadelphian family. I am grateful for the experience of growing up and feeling a part of something so special, even if I would later turn and run from it. I’m glad I got to go to summer bible schools, and learn about the bible inside and out. It comes in handy sometimes. I had a lot of happy times and I have a lot of happy memories from my young life. I got to meet a lot of people as a Christadelphian that I might not have met otherwise. Some of these people I am still friends with today.

Growing up this way made me an odd mix of mature and ridiculously naïve. I could always read at an advanced level, thanks to the King James Bible being part of my early reading lessons. I think it gave me a good foundation for becoming a good and kind person. I was quite sheltered from a lot of the harsh realities of the world, which was good, but of course I would end up learning about these things eventually.

The negative aspects were that I grew up with a bit of a superior attitude, having always been told that we had THE TRUTH, and that everyone else was foolish for not figuring it out like our forefathers had. There was a constant need to try to prove everyone else wrong, rather than genuinely listening and considering other views.

Growing up so sheltered meant that once I did finally reach adulthood, I had a bit of catching up to do. I learned some lessons the hard way. I had to learn to stand up for myself and to take action with my life, rather than just accepting everything that came to me as being “God’s will.”

I’m not saying my experience is the same for all former Christadelphians. This is just my recollection of life as one. It really wasn’t terrible, just kind of odd once I look back at it.

All that being said, it was definitely a huge part of who I was as a child and young adult. Feel free to ask me questions if you want to know more. There is plenty of content on the internet about Christadelphians if you’re interested in knowing more about what they actually believe.

Major Life Influence #2: Moving to Vermont at 16