A clergywoman threatened me as a teen, but God had greater power
A clergy member sought to influence my beliefs through anger, threats, guilt, and shame. These things affected my personal spirituality and relationships at church for a long time, until my Savior set me free.
Sometime during sophomore year, I walked into class to teachings from the new church I'd been attending diagrammed on the blackboard. Since these were not the teachings of my religious high school, I was confused. After a brief explanation, the clergied teacher said, motioning toward me, “We know that these are the teachings of a cult.” Everyone looked at me and I thought, Oh no! Everyone thinks I want to join a cult! A few days later, a popular girl at school brought me a packet of information."This is for you," she said. "I don't want you getting involved in something that isn't good for you."
Walking around campus, I envisioned a sign on my forehead, Cult Joiner. Fearing what my classmates thought, I started hiding in the library at lunch.
During that time, meetings with a clergied school administrator began in order to address my "feelings." The meetings were one-on-one, held at various times without warning, and lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours. One lasted six. The six hour meeting had included my mother. Like me, she'd been powerless to say, “Enough, we are leaving.” That further cemented in my mind the power and authority of that administrator, who would continue calling me into private meetings for the next 3 years.
In the meetings, I was asked if “the changes” I wanted to make was because I thought I was "better than everyone else." I was also told that my decisions reflected “irrational behavior,” and that I was “emotionally unstable.” When some of my teachers began making remarks about my beliefs in front of my peers, I became overwhelmed with anxiety, but I didn't know that was the word for what I was feeling. I just knew my chest felt tight and I felt perpetually sick to my stomach.
By Junior year, the meetings had become increasingly aggressive. Yelling, name calling, and cursing were added to the personal attacks. Then, I was threatened that my transcripts could disappear and I wouldn't graduate. I was no longer told that I was irrational or unstable, I was told that I was selfish, "Only a selfish child would allow her parents to waste so much money on her education." If I broke down and cried, I was usually dismissed, but it was humiliating to return to class with my face teary and swollen after being publicly called to the office. Afraid of what my peers thought, I retreated even more.
But, Junior year required taking Biology. This made interaction unavoidable, because I would need a lab partner. That brought a miracle.
On the first day of class, a girl I hardly knew invited me to sit with her. Almost immediately, *Angie and I became friends and she introduced me to her long-time network of club soccer friends. They accepted me completely and didn't care about religion. We filled every weekend with fun and adventure, going to various cities and beaches.
I began to see how God had changed some of my circumstances. He knew my needs and had power to part the Red Sea.
Every weekend, I had dry land to stand on due to the tender mercy of these new friendships.
My perspective began to shift, and my confidence grew. Everyone, did not think I was crazy. I became more social at school, and sometimes responded to a teacher’s snide remark. When things were especially difficult, I’d excuse myself to the bathroom to pray. In the privacy of a bathroom stall, I felt my Father in Heaven’s love pouring over me. Those moments are still sacred to me.
The rest of my Junior year was pretty great. As my social capacity grew, I realized that I had been mistaken about my peers. They didn’t think I was weird; they respected me. “Hey, just wanted you to know, I think what you're doing is cool,” someone would randomly say after class. Or, “I like it when you stick up for yourself. Good Job!” By the end of the year, my yearbook was filled with messages of encouragement and support and references to the meetings I was still constantly called into. Even one of my teachers wrote, “Good luck with your summer ‘mission;’ ” -- a reference to my new church.
Senior year the random meetings continued, only they began including Angie. For months, we were threatened with truancy and not graduating after turning in early dismissal notes for one school day. After seeing so many tactics used, I knew that threatening my friend was just another approach -- this wasn’t really about “truancy.” I began to doubt if I was doing the right thing when my decision to change my faith started affecting my friend. But, Angie exuded confidence. "She can't do that!" she'd say.
Before we knew it, we graduated. After the ceremony, Angie and I went to the highest outdoor tier overlooking the quad. With our arms around each other's shoulders and our diploma's in hand, we shouted to the parents and graduates not yet dispersed below;
“Free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!”
- Martin Luther King
I meant every word.
Now after working to heal from the effects of that time, sometimes I think back on that. It's as if a curse has been lifted. Finally, I feel free. My decisions are my own, I have the capacity to chose my response to situations that before unearthed so much pain. Old hurts are no longer in the driver’s seat.
The emotional triggers in my new normal aren't as intense or frequent, but when I have them I picture going back and talking to myself as that young school girl, “Tell me again how The Lord has power to comfort me?” When too tired or discouraged to take new problems to God, that same girl elbows her way in, “Netflix and ice cream? Are you serious? This is how you’re dealing with your problems? What happened to us?! Remember how He was always there?"
Throughout these experiences, God has shown me what He can do. I know that He has power to consecrate affliction for our gain. He IS a God of miracles, and I believe and trust Him forever.