When I was twelve, our family experienced a life-altering change. My brother began working for Vision Forum Ministries in San Antonio, Texas. Effective almost immediately, a seriousness and rigidity took over much of his demeanor. Our banter and practical jokes were now frowned upon as foolish and immature, his blithe sense of humor a faint echo of its former self. It saddened my young heart, for I felt that my brother was all but lost to us.
Even more disturbing perhaps, was how eagerly my mother consumed the “teaching tapes” and books released by the “ministry.” Already she was a controlling person, prone to rages and manipulative tactics. But this ushered in an era of even more extreme authoritarian parenting in our household, justified by so-called Scriptural principles.
A telling example of this occurred near my sixteenth birthday, when I fully expected to take the test for my driver’s license. After all, this is what my older siblings had done, with seemingly no hiccups. We were overall good, responsible kids who did our schoolwork voluntarily and kept up with the chores. Not only did my mother drag her proverbial feet about my driving, she accused me of the infuriating sin of an “Independent Spirit,” when I would bring it up. In the end, she did not permit (::whomp whomp::) me to get my license until almost age nineteen, mere months before my wedding.
We lived a few hours away from Vision Forum headquarters and its adjacent in-home church, Boerne Christian Assembly. Sometimes we would drive up for the weekend and attend their Sunday service. I neglect to say Sunday Morning Service, because in reality, church at BCA lasted all day long. I remember one specific time when every father in the congregation was invited to give a prayer, after the long-winded sermon. One by one, each man waxed spiritually eloquent, for several lengthy minutes apiece. The potluck food in the slow cookers simmered deliciously, causing our stomachs to groan, and I thought of the Pharisees in the Bible, who enjoyed praying loudly in public places where they were sure to be overheard. We did not end up eating “lunch” that day until about three o’clock in the afternoon.
A different visit to BCA featured a sermon about the beguiling wickedness of Bathsheba: how she must have purposely set out to seduce King David by doing a little Bath & Body Works striptease on her roof while her husband was away in battle. She must have known His Majesty was in residence at the palace, the speaker surmised; therefore David’s fall may be laid squarely at her beautiful feet. I found it difficult to reconcile this conclusion with Nathan the prophet’s story, wherein he compared David to the cruel villain and Bathsheba to the innocent little lamb–then pointed his finger in the good king’s face and declared “Thou art the man!”
As I finished up the twelfth grade schoolbooks in my eighteenth year (Algebra II, I almost made it. Those last few pages kicked my butt.), I looked forward with relief, anticipation, and questions. What now? Michael W. Smith sang his classic “Place in this World” from my 1998 boom box speakers, as tears ran down my face. I asked my mom and brother, “What should I do with my life?” They handed me one of Doug Phillips’ cassette tapes: “What’s a Girl to Do?” I felt a glimmer of hope. Personally, I found the man pretentious and annoying, but surely he would have at least a few good ideas in his little lecture.
I listened to the entire tape, but never heard a clear, practical answer to the question.
Not to mention, his own girls were still quite small; so he had zero experience raising young women. Mom and my austere sibling were not impressed when I pointed out these facts. They assured me that my place was in my father’s house, and that any thought of leaving other than Dad “giving” me away in marriage, was foolhardy and dangerous.
All these years later, I am embarrassed to admit that it was only a few weeks ago I had this epiphany:
On my eighteenth birthday, I was free -in the eyes of God- to leave my parents’ house.
Practically speaking, it would have been difficult. I had no diploma, no GED, nothing to prove that I actually had a decent high school education.
But just knowing the truth for myself, has been tremendously liberating to my soul.