This is my story. In it you will read of love, manipulation, control, lies, and a friendship that has stood the test of time.
I recently learned that my parents are still trying to discredit my husband. A reliable family member recently shared with us the story that’s being told by my parents of when my husband and I met, courted and married. I’d like to set the record straight.
First what really happened, as witnessed by at least four people other than myself. When I was 16 my mom gave birth to her second child, my sister. My parents decided to start over, claiming that they were following God’s word to “be fruitful and multiply”. Which to me meant that they thought they had failed with me (I wasn’t submissive enough), and wanted to try again. Really they didn’t isolate me enough from other families, where I was able to observe how they treated each other.
I must back up a bit to when my parents enrolled us in a homeschool program created by sexual predator and molester, Bill Gothard, when I was 14. (His organization is being sued by 18 women who were abused by him, from sexual harassment to molestation, when most of them were minors. I, too, was sexually harassed by him at age 16, along with two other minors at the same time.) In this program, all children are manipulated through guilt, fear, and sometimes plain old bullying to follow the courtship guidelines, as set by this unmarried sexual predator. The guidelines: child won’t think, look, talk to (in some die-hard followers), or pursue anyone of the opposite sex; child must ask parents’ permission and agree to be guided by them in all decisions (even adult children are expected to follow this); teens, some as young as 13, are manipulated through fear of being out from under father’s protection (visa vi God’s protection) to vow not to kiss or touch the opposite sex before the wedding ceremony; no dating as just a couple, only family or group activities, and only after the boy has asked the girls’ father for permission to court her with the intention to marry her (makes it hard to learn about someone); the courting couple are never to be alone, touch each other in ANY way (think hand holding or hugging), and have to ask permission to talk on the phone, write letters, Skype, FaceBook, etc. And all conversations of any sort will be monitored closely. In general, we’re talking about 14 years old and up, even 20+ years old. Oh, and sex education? In most families, very vague and the child was left with the thought that sexuality and sex was dirty, sinful, and virginity something to be guarded with your life (if virginity was lost, well then, so too was the non-virgin person).
So at age 14 I was pressured to join the ranks of obedient, submissive children to follow God’s word and His prescribed best, protected way to wait for(females), or find(males), my future mate. I was manipulated through fear and control to vow to not kiss my future husband until my wedding day. My father knew best for me and when the time was right he would find my young man for me. Yeah, right! He wanted someone he could bully and control, keep under his thumb. But I digress. For me, my experiences in the world of romance had already occurred, simply because my parents left me to my own devices quite a bit and, as kids will do, I learned about life the hard way. Well, now my parents weren’t neglecting me! For a bit at least, until their other children started arriving quite regularly.
Now, fast forward to the December of 1991 when I met my future husband at church one morning. My mom had given birth a few days previous and stayed home, while my dad and I went to church. We were walking across the parking lot when I glanced around and literally froze as my eyes rested on this mystery man. I felt my insides jump and would have continued standing there, but for my arm wrapped through my dad’s. I wondered who he was, and, more importantly, why did I react to him that way? I hoped an introduction would take place soon, but through my training knew I wasn’t supposed to do anything. If it was meant to be then it would happen without my interference. Later that morning, as I was heading back into the building, I saw him approaching the same door while carrying a tall stack of books. So I opened it for him, hoping to introduce myself. Oh, and help him, of course! After he thanked me, he told me his name, Chris, and said that I reminded him of someone back home. I thought he was even more handsome up close and wanted to know more about him.
Over the next few weeks, I discovered that he was in med school, up from Florida, 23 years old, and that he was helping in the youth group. My parents didn’t really allow me to attend youth group much, so I saw him only occasionally, when I could get permission. In February the youth were to go on a ski trip to North Carolina – I really wanted to go on this trip! I would keep my eyes open for an opportunity to talk with Chris and hopefully get to know him more. The morning arrived to leave and as soon as I knew which vehicle Chris was driving, I quickly put my stuff in the front passenger seat. Boy, did I make some of the girls mad at me! It was so worth it, though! For the next four hours Chris and I talked about all sorts of things, from family to religion to hobbies and pastimes. I found out that we had a lot of common interests, he was a very nice, funny person, and would make an excellent friend. We were never alone, but there were a lot of opportunities to be in company with him and observe how he put everyone around him at ease through humor and kindness. That was a fun trip!
A couple of weeks later the youth pastor’s wife called to let me know that Chris was engaged to marry a young lady back home in Florida. She didn’t want me to get my feelings hurt and thought I should know, since it looked like I really liked Chris. I thanked her and asked why he hadn’t told anyone. She answered that she didn’t really know. At that time, I could honestly say that the news only surprised me, not hurt or disappointed me. I was really curious as to why he hadn’t told anyone though. To my way of thinking, if I was engaged to someone I would be shouting it from the rooftops! So something must not be right.
About a week or so earlier my parents had asked Chris to look at my wrist, since I had hurt it helping my dad do some chores around the house. It was carpal tunnel syndrome and he helped by giving me instructions on taking care of it, as well as giving us his phone number in case it got worse. Well, this wasn’t about my wrist, but I gave him a call.
I was pretty direct, forward even. But I wanted to know if it was true and hear it from him. I asked him if he was engaged to marry someone. He said yes. I wanted to know why he hadn’t told anyone. He said that he hadn’t really talked to anyone outside of the youth pastor and his wife because he wasn’t sure he should be marrying her. It seemed to him that something wasn’t quite right about it. I asked what his parents thought about her and suggested that, when you marry someone, you marry their family too. He didn’t know what his parents thought of his engagement, but thought he might find out. We talked of other things for a bit and then hung up. I truly liked him a lot and thought of him as a friend. (Yes, I wished there could be more, but I was trained to reign in my emotions, stuff them down deep.)
As I set the phone in the cradle (think 1992), I heard an audible voice tell me that I was going to marry him. I quickly looked around the room, but already knew that it wasn’t my mom – she was taking a nap – and my dad was at work. No one else was there. So I answered back, “That will be a miracle, since he’s engaged to marry in November.” My heart pounded as I thought of that declaration. I already liked him as a friend and was certainly attracted to him. I decided I’d really love to be married to him and spend the rest of my life with him. I was so excited that when my mom woke up I told her what had happened and that I was going to marry Chris. She told me that only time would tell. She was very calm about her 16 year old telling her who she was going to marry. Next, after he arrived home, I told my dad, which was a stupid thing to do. He didn’t remain calm.
He about blew up in my face! He forbade me to go to any youth function and see Chris at all, anywhere. He went on raving about how deceitful and underhanded he was to worm his way into our family, and see what happens when a daughter gets out from under her father’s protection, and on, and on. I clamped my mouth shut and wished that I had thought before I opened it! My dad wouldn’t listen to my answers, that Chris had never seen or talked to me alone, that he had always been respectful to me and treated me like everyone else – I was nothing special to him. Within a month, we were scheduled to move to Bill Gothard’s headquarters outside of Chicago, IL.
Meanwhile, further humiliations were about to begin. (My father excels at humiliating people.) The first one came during our family interview with Gothard when we were applying to work at his Institute. This humiliation came with a huge dollop of betrayal. Unbeknownst to me, while I was saying hello to friends (I had just been there the previous fall), my father was pouring out his woes to Gothard. I thought this was a job interview, not a counseling session. (God forbid a counseling session!) Finally I’m called into the office, towards the end of our stay. In fact we got in the car afterwards and left town.
Gothard tells me to have a seat on his infamous couch, while my parents sat across from me and Gothard sat next to me, while holding my hand. I suddenly felt very alone and the hairs on my neck stood up. I knew I wasn’t going to like what came next. Gothard proceeded to accuse Chris of deceiving me, being disrespectful to my father and leading me astray. It was “evil and disobedient of me to get out from under my father’s umbrella of protection” by sneaking out of the house to see Chris, talk to him at any time and not follow my dad’s authority. Didn’t I vow to be led by my father and follow the precepts of courtship? I was made to “confess my sin” and reaffirm my vow to be under my dad’s authority and follow the courtship rules. On my knees. In a position of supplication. I remember looking at my parents when these lies were spoken about Chris and me, and wondering how they could do this to me? Betray my confidence, lie about me and someone they only knew slightly, and watch as I was browbeaten into submission. I did as I was told to end the ordeal, but inside I felt any respect and kindness that I had left for my parents, especially my dad, wither and die.
I was told that I would have no further contact with Chris, wouldn’t be going to any youth function, basically wasn’t allowed out of their sight.
That 12-hour car ride home was the quietest, longest one I’d ever endured. I didn’t trust myself to speak to my dad, so I didn’t. At one point he asked me why I wasn’t talking to him. Really?!
Back home I was once again set up in a humiliating scenario. My dad arranged for me to tell the youth group about courtship and how God designed it for us as the right way to get married. The youth group that I didn’t spend much time in, didn’t know hardly anyone, and only had one or two friends – yeah, that one. How arrogant! I could see the confusion, dislike or humor on most everyone’s faces as I talked. I was glad that was the last time I’d see most of them! (Or so I thought at the time.) As we were leaving my dad made a point to confront Chris about his leading me astray with talking to me privately, going off with me alone and his bad character. I could see the confusion and anger growing on his face. I couldn’t stay and listen to my father falsely accuse him – how embarrassing!! I learned later that my parents had made sure to defame Chris to numerous families in that church, spreading their lies.
The last time I saw Chris was at evening church service, where I was allowed one last time to go to youth service. At the end I couldn’t help myself from hugging Chris and it was hard not to say something to him about why we were leaving. I wasn’t so sure it had to do with a job. I didn’t know if I’d ever see Chris again, but figured that if it was meant to be then it would happen at some point. The person who could fight through the insanity of my family was a keeper!
We moved in April of 1992 and you can read about my sexual harassment here while at Gothard’s Institute. I did my best to put thoughts of Chris to the back of mind and concentrate on mentally surviving where I was expected to be a live in nanny and work full time, never mind finishing high school. (My mom had my first brother while living in IL.)
Months go by. In October I answer the phone to hear Chris on the other end. I had been so successful in keeping thoughts of him away that I had to stop and ask myself, “Chris who?” We had a wonderful talk where I discovered that he was no longer engaged to be married and that he had called to catch up with my dad. Evidently the things my dad had said rankled Chris so much that he wanted to set the record straight, so he had tracked down our phone number from a mutual friend and talked to my dad the previous week. (The friend later said how they were reluctant at first to give Chris our phone number because of what my parents had said about him. But after listening to Chris they realized that something wasn’t right in my parents’ story.)
Needless to say, after talking with Chris I was on cloud 9, ecstatic to hear that he was no longer getting married! I began to hope that I would be marrying him. If we could both make it through the battle ground that was my parents and their ever-changing expectations.
Meanwhile, I had turned 17 and my dad was trying to get me interested in several guys that he picked while we were at the Institute.
By January, Chris had been “instructed” in the art of courtship and had started thinking of me as a possibility. So he asked for permission to call and write me. We were allowed to speak on the phone for an hour at a time, once per week, and all of our letters had to be read by them first. I thought it was amazing that this 24 year old man was interested in me enough to put up with this invasion of privacy! I was willing to do whatever so long as I could continue to further my relationship with him.
In April 1993, we moved back to the south and tried to settle in Atlanta, GA., but by June or so were moving up to Roanoke, VA. Chris and I hatched the plan of getting our families together over the fourth of July holiday so everyone could meet. Towards the end of June Chris went as a chaperone on the youth group missions trip to Mexico. While there during an evening of praise and worship, he heard a voice tell him, “You’re going to marry Alexa.” He looked around, but there wasn’t anyone near him and the music was very loud. Two weeks later our families met.
I instantly fell in love with his family, and, at dinner that night, I enjoyed watching Chris’ mom tell him she liked me by lightly kicking him under the table. I couldn’t wait to get to know his family more! In that three day trip, Chris asked for permission to court me, with the intention of marrying me, and received it. (In a little over a month I would turn 18.) We went on our first date, where he gave me a sweet diamond heart necklace, told me that he would like to court me and hopefully marry soon. It was a beautiful evening!
I rode back to Virginia elated, but deep inside I was waiting for the shoe to drop. I didn’t have long to wait.
Over the month of July he visited me in VA almost every weekend. During his first trip, as Chris and I were sitting together on the couch, my dad came in and demanded to know by what right Chris had to give me the necklace, that we weren’t married yet and he didn’t appreciate Chris not asking first. He ranted some more (which I’ve since forgotten) and behaved like a jealous boyfriend. I felt the usual humiliation wrapped in guilt, that came when I was chastised like a child; the guilt always felt wrong, since I was made to feel responsible for my parents’ emotions and actions. Chris was a gentleman and very gracious about the whole thing, but firm about me keeping the necklace. I wouldn’t have given it up for anything, anyway!
After Chris’ visits with me, there were always “talks” about how Chris and I were moving too fast, we needed to spend more time apart, in prayer, searching ourselves and God’s Word to know how to proceed, and telling them everything that we said and did (when they weren’t with us), as well as getting permission first for anything that we wanted to do. Our phone conversations, letters and any talking we did had to be done either in their presence or when they were near. We went on quite a few walks!
Towards the end of July, Chris suggested a month long trip for me to visit friends and his family. I was surprised (still am to this day!) that my parents said yes – so much alone time! So off I went with him to stay the first week of August with friends in Augusta, his city. Then the following week I had a fabulous time with his family in Florida, where I spent my 18th birthday – Chris sent me 18 roses! I kept pestering his Mama about Chris proposing to me – I was hoping he would do it on my birthday. He had better plans though. After that week, Chris took me to Atlanta to visit some of my friends that I wanted him to meet, where I stayed for another week. The last week of August was spent back in Augusta with friends, where I waited expectantly for our proposal.
During all of our driving that month, Chris introduced me to “The Lord of the Rings”, which I read out loud for us. We also talked about just about everything under the sun, like he wanted kids but wanted to wait for a bit after marriage and I wanted at least 14 kids, but definitely was willing to wait. Thank God Chris didn’t let that 14 put him off! He knew it was just that religious dogma that I’d been raised with talking. By the time we had our first baby after 3 1/2 years of marriage, I was down to around six, and after the second we knew we wanted no more than four. 🙂 Phew!
The day after we returned to Virginia, I was told to take my two young siblings for a walk. So I got out the stroller and I must have walked around the block about four zillion times before I was allowed back in the house. I was so excited – I knew what was coming! When I was allowed back in, I was told we were packing a lunch and going for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In his Mustang, with the top down. Mmmmm. Hurry, hurry!
We drove to the Peaks of Otter on the Parkway, where we parked and hiked down to the falls with our lunch. It was a beautiful day – soft breezes, filtered sunlight through the trees’ canopy and the only other people on the trail were leaving the area. We took our shoes off and waded into the crisply cold, crystal clear water, sitting on rocks to watch the crawdads play. Suddenly Chris was on one knee beside me. Taking my hand, he asked me to marry him. I barely let him finish asking before yelling yes, as I practically bounced on my rock. Finally!! Now I could say that we were getting married!
Chris and I decided that we wanted to get married as soon as possible, so we settled on the first weekend in December. That didn’t leave much time for planning, so my mom and I got right to it. Since we weren’t having an extravagant ceremony or reception, the planning wasn’t too strenuous. Over the next three months my mom and I went to visit Chris for a week at a time so we could finalize wedding details.
During my last months at home my life felt like a horrible roller coaster. I know that the months, weeks and days leading up to a wedding are stressful in and of themselves. But add to that the constant barrage of verbal and emotional browbeating from my parents – “Chris isn’t leading you. We’re concerned he isn’t even a Christian. He won’t be led by us and doesn’t take anything we say seriously. You both aren’t reading the Bible enough, praying together, or seeking God’s wisdom. You didn’t ask for our permission to take birth control. God won’t bless you if you take birth control. If you and Chris won’t be led by us, we’re calling off the wedding.” and so on and so on – it’s a wonder we didn’t elope! We certainly thought about it! The only thing keeping us from it was knowing that it would hurt Chris’ mom.
Every week there seemed to be something else that one or the other of us would do that “concerned” my parents, causing them to say that the wedding should be called off. We never knew what it would be since the rules would change according to my dad’s whims. Things like: I was disrespectful and uncaring when I wanted to talk to Chris so much; I was accused of “clinging to Chris before we were married” – aka spending all my time with him when he was visiting, not helping as much with the kids, fixing food and such; I was thinking about him too much, not spending enough time in meditation of God’s Word; after visiting with Chris I was surly and spent too much time by myself; I could go on, but you probably get the picture.
When my dad confronted me about the birth control, he told me that I wasn’t following God’s principles so we wouldn’t be blessed with children. He piled on the guilt: I was throwing away all my years of training, I wouldn’t be a good witness of God, I didn’t have enough faith in God that He knew best for my life, etc. Maybe the wedding should be called off. These talks always took place when Chris wasn’t around to be with me, support me and back me up. But I stood my ground against this manipulation. However, the seeds of doubt were certainly planted by my dad, which, about nine months later, he would water and cultivate more when he told me that Chris wasn’t a good husband or leader, and that my marriage wouldn’t be blessed, my life unhappy. It took me a little over seven years or so to root out all the nasty, manipulative, unfounded teachings and words that had been heaped on me over my childhood.
Finally in November at the last such family dinner/meeting, where I was once again confronted on our non-conforming ways and told that the wedding would be called off, I told my dad that, “I’m getting married in a few weeks. We’d like for you to be there, but you can come or not. Either way I’m getting married.” His final parting shot at me was on the way home from the family Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt’s house. While my mom took the kids home in the van, my dad and I rode in his truck – just the two of us. It was an hour long ride home. He proceeded to tell me what to expect on my wedding night a week from then – in explicit detail – and what I could do for my husband. I wanted to jump out of the truck so bad! Yuck!
So the wedding day finally came, at last! Chris and I shared our first kiss that morning before the ceremony. Yay! Freedom to be myself, love someone who saw me for who I really was and loved me anyway!
This December we will be celebrating 23 years of marriage. We’ve had our ups and downs, arguments and make-ups, more joys than sorrows, and through it all we’ve stood by each other. We’ve shifted, molded, and compromised our way through all that life has brought us.
Now, if you’ve kept with me this far, you may be wondering what my parents are spreading about our love story. They are still smearing Chris’ name by saying that he was pursuing me when he was engaged to marry someone else, we were meeting secretly and he got me to sneak out of the house. That I changed after meeting Chris. There is a lot more than this, but I think you get the picture. These are ALL untruths. Chris’ engagement came to an end about three months before he called my dad when we lived in Chicago. We never secretly met and I’ve never once snuck out of the house, even when I was battling depression at thirteen and wanted to kill myself. As for me changing, my parents never knew me since I wasn’t allowed to be anyone other than who they wanted. So if they mean I changed by standing up for myself and not giving in to manipulation and control, then yes, I changed. I finally had someone who had my back and recognized the craziness that I saw in my family. I finally had acceptance and unconditional love.