Saturday, September 24, 2016

Close to the Bone: KA

Hi, folks, I've been writing a series all about  a time in my twenties when I was part of religious cult. Last week I wrote a heart-breaking story from my past about G and his sad demise. This is my version of the Valley of Dry Bones from the Book of Ezekiel. I'm calling it Close to the Bone. This is the final in the series.

Toward the end of the dark days of the cult, I was failing around for purpose. A teacher from college, Dr. Van Riper, ran into me at the supermarket and demanded to know why I had three children instead of writing books for children. I had no answer. She'd told me what to do, and I'd ignored her.

I was slowly waking up in these days. God's chosen people were now looking like a bunch of uneducated country folk, plus a bunch of kids that had choked on embracing the future after college. That's when I saw the ad in the newspaper about some group called SCBWI.

Fellow-shipping outside the church was forbidden in a manipulative, oblique way, but this was business. I figured God would give me a pass. I remember heading to that first meeting and feeling so welcome. There were 8 or 9 women and they were so gracious and kind.  I remember the first conversation in a long time without having to say praise the Lord or how God was directing me every third word. I also remember KA. She was a real author and the leader of the SCBWI group. Her first picture book had come out but she talked to me like I was a colleague. Bam, I was in the inner circle.

I can not tell you  how much KA's leadership meant to me. I tried to keep secret from the church my fraternizing with the world.  KA was a Unitarian. That was something I was supposed to fear. Of course, by now, I understood that I was supposed to fear everything, and it was sort of ridiculous and tiring. KA believed in me as a creative person. She never let me feel like I was a little off with my long dresses and three kids in three years. She accepted me just as I was. It was the most Christian thing I'd ever experienced.

I remember being invited to another SCBWI member's house called DC. I had friends outside the church for the first time in almost eight years.  I was hanging out with a group of women, totally normal women with varied backgrounds. It was sort of dizzying. I was supposed to have left the world behind, but now I sneaking back into it. Oh, and the big problem? I loved it.

SCBWI became an island of normal in my life. Like Phoenix, I was rising from my ashes. KA tried to convince me to go to Los Angeles for the annual conference. I chickened out, but her encouragement planted a seed in me.  KA convinced me to volunteer for events, write letters to editors, and even submit my drawings to the SCBWI Bulletin.  My first credit was as an illustrator in the Bulletin. I was so proud. I was engaged in the pursuit of liberty. I had expressed myself.  I made $50. It was mind-blowing.

When Tim and I decided to move away the place we had known such tragedy, KA continued to encourage me until I left town. I have no idea if she had any idea of how lost I was, and how much I needed help to become a normal person again. She never said anything when the sorry story of my entire life was reported in the local newspaper. KA encouraged me creatively, commenting on my work and giving me suggestions, and once she sent me a card stating there would be a day when she said she knew me when. She bridged the way for me to absolutely normal. I turned into the funky person I had been before all the religious nonsense. I came to my senses.

Well, this is end of these posts and also time for big news. My blog is moving over to  I hope you consider following me an my content there.  You will receive updates of posts if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or tumbler.

One of those early drawings. I sent to the Bulletin on a notepad paper, a big no-no. SM bought them anyway.

A quote for your pocket:

My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.

Ezekiel 37: 12b-14

Friday, September 16, 2016

Close to the Bone: G

The last two weeks, I've written of heart-breaking stories from my past, of lights-lost Barbara and Jan. I was part of a cult for almost eight years. There was something invincible about this cult's belief. The arrogance of believing that you cannot be wrong is like a kiln of heat for the bones. Dry, dry, bones. It leads to this kind of thinking: anyone in the Ship of Safety was free from Death, regardless of what they had done. Enter stage left, G, a close relative to my husband. G was intelligent, quick-witted, a doctor, he was also a drug addict and molester of children. He attended the cult with us sporadically.

My husband and I believed whole-heartedly that G was redeemable. With much repentance, G would receive forgiveness of sins and live an abundant life. We shared the good news with him again and again. My dear Tim believed that God would heal G's heart and set him right. G did not take the meds he needed for stability of mind. He refused them and instead chose to believe God for his healing. Tim and I supported this because the Brother had intimated many times that medicine was not God's way. On one hand we understood that G was dangerous, but we also believed that God had placed a hedge of safety around us and that God would heal G.

It was a couple of years after Barbara and Jan's death that the day of reckoning came. Tim and I continued to be part of the faithful, but the cult had almost crumbled apart by this time. People were bleeding out of the Ship of Safety except for me and Tim. We were still hoping that perhaps we could enter the INNER CIRCLE. Most people in that circle had left it. Only the Brother remained really. G had dropped off attending the cult and had returned to the narrow-minded faith communities he'd attended all his life. He'd been warped by the fear filled doctrines taught by these communities.

A stranger called Tim one day and asked if G had ever been involved in activities that hurt children. My husband began to investigate and found G was grooming a young boy for his purposes. (I am feeling sick again.) This seemed like the kind of thing you need wise counsel for. We called the Brother and explained the situation. The Brother offered his advice. Children should honor their parents. Tim should do nothing. 

I remember staring at Tim and he at me. Then he called the police. The next thing that happened was G called Tim and told him he was coming to kill him: I drove away with the kids, fearing for our lives, and didn't tell Tim where I was going. When we talked to the Brother about the situation, he poured on the innuendo, implications, and insinuation. I'm not sure the Brother even knew these words. He did not have much education. He did not know that indirectly intimating something actually counts as saying the thing. He did not know that this kind of stuff is the heart and soul of being an accuser.

G was caught on a nearby campus a gun-filled trunk. He had been driving through town shooting at houses. He was arrested but soon after released. Tim confronted G. G squirmed but had to admit what he had done. He was released to his home but lost his job, his house, and faced prison time for his violent actions. We went out to dinner with G one night, days before he was to lose his house. It was a fun night against all odds. G was oddly happy. Tim and I were ever believing, God could redeem anything, even this new wave of sins. We were grateful to see a turn.

A day or so later Tim and I both had a terrible feeling about G. Tim went over to G's house to talk to him. He was sitting in chair where he had committed suicide. He had left neat, organized notes of madness for Tim all over the house. I thought I had been going through the motions before this day. G's death was the end of many things. There was to be no Inner Circle for us, thank God. The cult dissolved. The Brother decided to move away, and Tim and I began the slow work of figuring out how to live, how to treasure our days, and how to love one another.

I'm not posting a doodle but a picture I love of Tim with our first son Jo back from those days.  My hero, best friend, and love.. 

Next week I'm going an upbeat story.  This one will be positive. It's funny, sweet, and miraculous and also one of the great moments of my life.  It happened during these dark days.   

Here is a quote for your pocket. 

Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37: 11b-12

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Close to the Bone: Jan

Last week I wrote a heart-breaking story from my past, of a light lost, Barbara. I was part of a cult for almost eight years in my twenties. This is my version of the Valley of Dry Bones from the Book of Ezekiel. I'm calling it Close to the Bone

This week I'm going to write about one of my closest friends in the cult. She was one of the Sisters. Sister Jan. Jan and I were roommates for about two years. We shared a room in The Duplex. I had the bottom bunk. Jan had the top one. Jan loved to pray, and often times I fell asleep to her murmured prayers. My favorite Jan moment—I was a having a tough day and had gone into our room and locked the door. I was bawling. (Funny thing, I can't remember about what.) I just know I felt worthless. Jan sat on the other side of the door and spoke quietly to me. She assured me that whatever I was upset about wasn't important and that I was someone of worth who was going to do amazing things. She let me know that she would hold the true me in her heart until I was ready. She could see who I would be, so no worries about right now.

How precious is a friend like that?

So, let's wade into the deep waters. In this terrible, messed up cult, I met the love of my life, Tim, and married. He reluctantly joined the church. Jan was not so lucky in love. Remember, if you got out of the Ship of Safety, terrible things happened to you. We had to marry inside the church. The Brother assured us that we were safe in the flock, but outside, there was utter darkness. Only a very few would be saved, and all the rest of the church was lost. If you left the only true church, you could lose your salvation. Anyway, this basically set up most of us young girls for any kind of predator who was willing to go to the church. Jan married one. Days after her wedding, it was clear that she was in an abusive, hateful relationship. She left the predator and the Church. She would not be spoken of again. The Brother did not address the fact that we could be ripped to shreds inside the church as easily as in that terrible outer darkness. He did release Jan to outer darkness.

So Jan was outside the flock and in the outer darkness! She went home to her parents. (Uh, I totally noticed that inside the flock had been a horrible place for her.)  I could only imagine what Jan felt as she preceded to dissolve her relationship with the predator. I didn't ask her about it because you just didn't talk to someone outside the flock. She may have dragged me into the darkness. Jan came to my house one day to talk to me. She believed she had lost her salvation because she had to leave the church and divorce. (I am feeling sick writing this.) I didn't know what to say; maybe she was right. I said nothing. I hugged her and told her I loved her.

I prayed for her salvation every day after that. I saw her a few more times. Each time she came to see me, she was more haunted than the last.  I remember one day she came to visit me. I did the unthinkable. Finally, I went against all that I knew. I disobeyed. I told Jan God was happy for where she was. That he wanted her with her parents. That it was Okay with God and he wanted her to know he loved her just as much as he ever did.  We both knew my words were blasphemous.
She hugged me, but we both knew outside the flock was outer darkness. I even wondered if I was in outer darkness, too, because I so wanted to see Jan happy again I told her God was happy with her.  When alone, I also shouted at God for being unhappy with Jan when he should be happy.   

After that, I saw Jan a few more times. Each time she'd grown more haunted, more upset.
Months later, after Barbara's death, I was praying for Jan. I had not heard from Jan in a while. My babies were asleep, and I was hanging out clothes on the line. I prayed for Jan. I remember falling to my knees praying for her. It was soon after that I learned that she had gotten out of her car and jumped off a high bridge into the turbid water below. Part of me is always flying off that bridge with her. I can feel her body as it's crushed against the water. I'm with her as water fills her lungs, and she never breathes again. 

I did not go to Jan's funeral. I didn't say goodbye. Dry bones. Dry, dry bones. I think I sort of lost my mind some after this. I did my work, but I didn't think. I went through the motions of living. There was no counselling. No comforting. Everything became an endless grind of church services, diapers, cleaning house, playing with my children, prayer, even sex was part of the grind. I retreated deep inside myself. I felt sadness. I felt pain. I felt grief. I just stopped feeling anything like love, happiness, or joy after Jan's death. It would be a few years before I did again.

I'd like to say this end, but there will be more next week. If you can bear it, come back.  

No doodle. Here is lovely Jan.

Here is a quote for you.

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” Ezekiel 37: 9b

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Close to the Bone: Barbara

Hi, folks, this week I'm going to write my version of The Valley of Dry Bones in the first of a series called Close to the Bone.

When I was in my twenties, I joined a cult. It was a short-lived thing that was all about religious propaganda to control others. This propaganda was wrapped up in a big quilt called the ABSOLUTE TRUTH. Of course, there was a booming preacher (a modern day apostle) called Brother because we would not want to be too familiar. He had a direct line to God; everyone needed to hear his message to be part of the true church. He answered to no one but God.

Under his guidance, we learned important truths. Church had to be attended at least four times a week. Friends outside the Church weren't a good idea. Birth control wasn't a good idea. Sending your children to public school wasn't a good idea. God had big plans, and you needed to be in the Ship of Safety.  Demonic forces were roaming around out there that would take you down...Trying to live up to this holy propaganda was sort of like having all the flesh ripped from your body and leaving you as a pile of dry bones.

So I stuck to this mess for almost eight years. I never did leave; the cult imploded around me. I wish I had left, but I was shredded instead. There is nothing noble or redeeming about my story. Toward the end, my friend Barbara was losing weight. Too much. She was probably under a hundred pounds. I'd found it all. I had gained three children and seventy pounds in three and a half years. Barbara, like me, would give large chunks of her money to the church. We didn't need anything; God was on our side. I'd saved up some extra money from collecting aluminum cans (five dollars) and took the money over to her house to help her meet her rent.  I also wrote a little poem about how on the other side of life we would find peace. Barbara took the money. I hugged her and said goodbye.

A few hours later, I was at church when I was told Barbara drove her car onto a train track and stopped. Beautiful Barbara was crushed by a screaming train on her way to pay the rent. I cannot express the panic that I felt when I learned how she had died.  We were God's chosen people. Weren't we? I was numb and bleeding inside. I kept saying the same old religious propaganda but my belief in the ABSOLUTE TRUTH died with Barbara. I am crying while writing this. It was 25 years ago, but part of me always lives in that moment. My friend took her life and where was I?

I had my part in it. I'd tied myself in knots trying to support an unsupportable vision of God brought to me by an uneducated self-styled apostle who I should have declared as wrong.  Who knew there was so much power in just standing up and saying something is wrong? Everyone but me. Here is my message. If there is something you need to stand up for, please do. Please. Please. Please. Even if it sets the world on fire. I am standing here, handing you the torch.

Thanks for dropping by. I will continue with Close to the Bone.  I hope that my story will inform yours.

Instead of a doodle I'm posting a picture of Barbara.  A light lost.

Paraphrase from the book of Ezekiel 37: 2a-3:

I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. The Lord asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”