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My Long and Winding Road

By Lizardlady ~

Oh, how I wish I had found this site sooner!

I've been reading many of your testimonies. It means so much to me to know I am not alone in having allowed myself to be deceived by the cult of Christianity, and then gone through a life-changing struggle to break free.

My story starts almost as soon as I was born in 1963. My mother was, and is, a fundamentalist christian and my dad is an ex-catholic atheist. Mom did not get her way in many things while they were married, but she succeeded in nagging dad to take her, my younger brother and me to church. She never learned to drive so he performed chauffeur duty and went through the motions in church. That was my first lesson in hypocrisy - I learned every curse word in the English language (and some in Hungarian) from him, but he would decry cursing in front of "christian" people.

We went to a variety of churches because invariably the minister would say or do something to offend dad and he would refuse to go back. From the time I was 10 until I was 19, I lived with my family in a town of 300 people. We attended services in every church in that town except the Witness Hall and the Mormon Temple. Dad took us, without mom, to a catholic mass one Christmas eve. It was the only time. I think he was fulfilling a promise to his parents. Mom hated Catholics and one of her favorite sayings was "Poop on the pope".

My mom was not too picky about doctrine, just that it was protestant, and always said (still does) that if you "believe in jesus Christ and god" you will "be saved and go to heaven". As a child, I did believe. I loved going to Sunday School, especially the arts and crafts part. I thought Jesus was lovely and wanted to be with him in heaven. I was afraid of hell and satan, and wanted to avoid them at all costs. I even made up a "salvation kit" from scavenged bits and pieces that I found around the house and kept in an old shoebox: a broken cross pendant, a tiny Gideon new testament, a little bottle of a mixture of mom's perfume and dad's aftershave to "anoint" with, and tissues for the inevitable tears of grief over "sin". I tried to convert all the neighbor kids with it. Don't remember the results.

I guess I was a fairly independent young child. I didn't like being told what to do, had my own ideas about everything, was active and talked a lot. I also didn't necessarily like being restricted because I was a girl. In kindergarten, (1969) there were "girl" toys (dishes, dolls) and "boy" toys (blocks, trucks). I liked the boy toys better, so I played with them. Maybe it was due to the fact that I had a brother, or that my dad didn't want a daughter and expected me to be a boy, or that the boy toys were active instead of passive. Whatever the reason, the kindergarten teacher caught me and punished me by not allowing me any toys that day. (There's a point to all this later).

When I was 10, we moved to the aforementioned small town after living in a fairly large suburb of Dayton, OH. Talk about culture shock! I was a fairly sensitive, artistic, already acne-prone kid and did not fit in with small-town kids at all. I remember crying myself to sleep at night because of their bullying, and praying to Jesus to clear up my skin, give me some fashionable clothes, make me a different person so the other kids would like me. I had been told that Jesus would provide me with anything I needed as long as I had enough faith. It didn't work.

I was so determined to be a christian that I read the KJV Pentateuch at age 11, sent my tiny allowance in money orders to some Rev. Al who advertised in the back of tabloids and sent me a little leather cross to wear on a string, prayed earnestly every night, etc. Still nothing.

Finally, by high school I had made some good friends who were "outsiders" like me. We went through the normal teenage rebellion and I informed my mother that I was no longer going to church. My brother felt similarly inclined. I think dad was relieved to get a day off, and though mom gave him a season of hell for it, we prevailed. The only time I went to church during that period was when one of my friends' parents' churches had a party for teens, and I only went because they allowed me to play my Beatles records.

When I was 19 I had saved enough money from working at my first job to get my own apartment and finally escaped from my parents' fighting and my dad's constant emotional abuse. I had my first boyfriend and life became so busy, fun and exciting that I forgot all about religion. I had a brief relapse when I broke up with my boyfriend and dated a very religious guy. He told me things like "It's better for a man to kill his wife than divorce her" and "Women can't get to heaven unless they have a man to help them". These statements gave me cold chills down the back of my neck. We didn't date for long. Went back to the previous boyfriend.

This boyfriend and I had a sexual relationship, we watched pornography together, cursed constantly, drank LOTS of beer, and went to heavy metal rock concerts. In other words, we did everything Christians condemn. Except murder. Didn't do that. We thought that religion was for weaklings. I was the least likely candidate to become a raving bible-thumper, right? Well....

After 8 years, my relationship with my then-fiance was unraveling. I had started to feel guilty about the things we were doing and was dissatisfied with my dissipation. A friend invited me to go to church with her. She was someone I had partied with and the invitation surprised me. But I thought, why not? If I don't want to, I don't have to go back.

So I went to the church of the Nazarene and heard a sermon about sin and conviction. The preacher said that if we were feeling bad about our lives (and I was), it was god telling us that we were sinners and outside his grace, and we needed to accept Jesus into our lives and be saved. Then he gave an altar call and invited people to come and pray to be saved. I didn't go up that first Sunday, but it wasn't long before I did.

It was hard for me to walk up to that altar and admit publicly that I was a filthy sinner, but I did it. There were kindly people waiting to pray with us and counsel us, and I wept as I confessed and prayed for forgiveness. Afterward I felt a tremendous sense of relief. I had finally found what was missing in my life! Mom and all those preachers she had dragged me to were right!

I began my new life as a born-again christian with great zeal. Rediscovering my childhood love for Jesus, I devoured the new testament and memorized huge chunks of scripture. I vowed never to sin and "re-crucify Christ" again. This naturally caused problems with my fiance. By this time he was an admitted alcoholic and could not perform sexually unless he was stimulated by pornography. My refusal to participate in drinking and porn-fueled sex enraged him. He began to verbally abuse me. I saw in this the beginnings of the abuse that my dad had heaped on my mom, my brother and me. I gave him a deadline to move out of my house. He begged and promised to change, but I stood firm and he finally left.

As I write these words, it seems I have left out all emotion. I think it is because I haven't thought about those times for many years, and have purposely kept them in a dark closet in my mind. Truth is, I sobbed for days. I was physically sick, throwing up, diarrhea, not sleeping or eating.

I felt I was giving up everything I had ever known and might not ever find anyone to love me again. The only comfort I had was the church, reading the bible and feeling that Jesus loved me and I loved him. I imagined his arms around me as I lay awake at night, reassuring me that everything would be OK.

It was hard to tell my friends, except the one I went to church with, that I wouldn't be partying with them any more. The church discouraged "baby Christians" from being tempted by association with non-believers. I also learned that historically, the Nazarene church did not allow dancing, movie-going, the wearing of jewelry - even wedding rings, or the wearing of slacks or make-up by women. I was lucky that they had become more "permissive" by the time I joined. I also heard again about the policy of women being submissive to their husbands. I figured I wouldn't have to worry about that since I had broken my engagement!

Before long, a longtime guy friend and I discovered we wanted to be more than friends. We actually fell madly in love. He was in the military so part of our romance was conducted long-distance. I was working at a graphics job that I enjoyed and going to art school at night.

We decided to marry when his current tour was over. Which meant I would have to leave my job, school and of course, my church that I so depended on. The pastor was dead-set against it. He was sure my new fiance was not a christian, which truthfully he wasn't. I told my dearest about this and he said he would convert. We were planning our wedding through correspondence and the pastor wouldn't agree to perform the ceremony in the church until he was convinced my fiance was christian. So I reserved a banquet hall for the ceremony and reception.

We were submitted to very uncomfortable premarital counseling which amounted to the pastor trying to convince us not to get married. He trotted out statistics about the divorce rate of military couples and children of divorced parents (both of us by then). He also harped on that bible verse about not being unequally yoked together. Somehow my fiance managed to convince him that he had gotten saved in chapel while he was deployed. I had known him for about 10 years by then and was skeptical, but preacher bought it and the wedding was on. Of course due to the timing it was too late to move it to the church. Banquet hall it was. It was actually a beautiful old mansion rented out for special occasions. My mom expressed bitter disappointment that I wasn't married in a church. The pastor mispronounced our name when he announced us as husband and wife.

Fast-forward to 7 years later. Hubby and I had faithfully attended church "every time the doors were open". We had tithed, taught and trembled in awe of the lord. We were so deeply involved in church and religion that it really was our only life outside of work. We "witnessed" to friends, family and co-workers (I cringe now), prayed together before meals, even at restaurants (re-cringe), studied the bible and worked every church job the preachers could hand us. We taught Sunday school, directed the nursery, led worship sessions, participated in and led bible studies, did cleaning, maintenance and repairs on the parsonage and church, you name it.

The military life was a nomadic one. We lived in various place around the US and spent some time overseas. Every time we moved, one of our first actions was to seek out the nearest Nazarene church. Hubby had grown up in a non-churched home, so he had no preference of denomination. All the churches were fairly consistent in their doctrine. One thing they emphasized was "being filled with the holy spirit". You couldn't grow as a christian unless you were "infilled". I wanted to badly to be filled with h.s.; I prayed at the altar nearly every Sunday, asking it to come into my heart. Other church members testified of it. Finally I had an experience that I convinced myself was the real thing. I'm not sure that I even completely believed it, but others did. That got me to wondering if anybody else was "faking it".

There were other cracks in the facade. I had observed women bickering over who would get what parts in a Christmas play; a man whose children were in my Sunday school class called to say he suspected his wife was having an affair with her cousin; when I was nursery director, a father whose toddler daughter's pants were wet accused me of assigning irresponsible people to volunteer in the nursery (we later found out she sat in spilled water).

I tried to put this down to people being imperfect and focus on god and Jesus and the bible. But I was having problems there, too. The bible's misogyny was really starting to disturb me, especially Paul's admonition to women to be quiet in church. It was like kindergarten all over again. Speaking in church was the boys' toy, working in the kitchen was the girls' toy. And there were so many more examples. I found I couldn't swallow the whole creation thing at all.

Periodically, some crank would announce that he had cracked the secret code of the biblical prediction of apocalypse and that xx/xx/xxxx was that last day. Each time, the pastor wherever we were would tell us to get ready. Of course, we still had to put money in the collection plate 'cause you never know. But, no rapture.

It was around this time, when we were stationed in Utah, that our daughter was born. I was over 30 and had no personal experience with babies, except to be told by the church that children were a blessing and a joy and we should all be multiple like fruit flies - oops, sorry, "be fruitful and multiply".

Well, we got a colicky baby who cried all the time. And I had postpartum depression in spades. And my husband was being sent on a 3-month unaccompanied tour of duty. All the church ladies promised to help. But interest in me and my screaming baby soon fizzled. If it weren't for my grandmotherly Mormon neighbor lady, I don't know how I would have made it. Whatever her motivation, I am grateful to this day.

My difficult delivery took a long time to recover from, and then it was problematic to bring a constantly wailing infant to church. Our attendance, and contributions, dropped off. The pastor and several members tried to get us back. One of their methods was to assign us jobs. I remember the pastor assigning me to draw a picture of the church for the cover of the sunday bulletins. He didn't ASK me to do it, he TOLD me to do it. I did, resentfully. That was the real beginning of the end.

I struggled with what I wanted to FEEL from religion in comparison with what I EXPERIENCED in the church. Intellectually I had a lot of reservations about creation vs. evolution, young earth, contradictions in the bible, and the so-called role of christian women. I tried to tell myself that all that stuff didn't matter if you had faith and a personal relationship with jesus and were filled with the holy spirit.

But it did matter to me. I wanted my beliefs to square with my knowledge of reality. I didn't want to feel as if I were being used to further the aims of a social club, or that my emotions were being manipulated to motivate others to subscribe to a membership. And I was starting to feel as if my prayers were hitting the ceiling and bouncing back. I prayed to be relieved of my depression. The church discouraged getting mental health treatment - mental health issues were a "sin problem". For the sake of my family, I finally got counseling and meds. They worked.

Around this time, I was journaling to work out my confusion. Sometimes I would write poems. One line I remember is: "God is just your parents in dime store drag". That summed up my disillusion.

Love is what is really important, love between REAL people, and doing work that has meaning and is satisfying.The very last straw came when we moved back to the States. There wasn't a Nazarene church nearby, so we went to an independent church. I was asked to help the church women's group prepare flyers to distribute for an event the church was hosting to try to reach the "lost". We were chatting as we worked, and the subject turned to persuading husbands to be better Christians. One woman shared that her husband was improving, but that he still listened to AC/DC when the kids were in the car. I almost chirped out that I liked some of their songs, when all the other women instantly chorused an "ewwwww!" of disapproval. I thought "Girl, you are in the wrong place".

I never went back. AND I finally realized, admitted to myself, that my husband had been going through the motions all those years. Our daughter was only 5, and we were fortunate that she had not been deeply programmed yet.

The main feeling I experienced upon leaving the church was tremendous relief! I had already been through the turmoil of letting go of my belief in god and Jesus and heaven and hell. It was so freeing to stop pretending to be someone I no longer was. Our church friends dropped us like hot rocks. It was OK; I knew their smiles were fake anyway. We made new friends and reconnected with old, pre-church ones. I appreciate that they waited for us to come back to our senses.

An interesting phenomenon of my de-conversion is that I have lost nearly all the bible verses I memorized. I can remember the gist of what some of them said, but not the word-for-word or book, chapter and verse. They're just gone.

My life now is joy in reality. One thing I observed about Christians is that they have to have an answer for everything set in stone. They can't stand uncertainty. I am OK with it. We don't have to have an answer for everything right now. Maybe one day we will discover answers to questions that mystify us in the present. Mystery make life interesting.

Love is what is really important, love between REAL people, and doing work that has meaning and is satisfying. The way that I choose to live is my choice now. I am the same person whether there is a god or not, and it doesn't make any difference to me. I don't know what will happen to me after I die, and that's ok too. I'm determined to make the most of the life I do have.


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