"Go to Oregon and build an ark"

by Journey

sad-woman-silhouette

Mark said we were going to move to Oregon.  I didn’t want to move to Oregon (I hated the rain), and I told him so, but that didn’t matter.  He had heard from God.  More specifically, he had heard God tell him to, “Go to Oregon and build an ark.”  What that meant, we did not know, but Mark had heard it quite clearly.  I wasn’t about to argue with God.  The strange thing was that Mark regularly mocked people who “heard from God” about things.  He felt that spiritual gifts were generally abused, and that God didn’t speak as much as people thought He did.  It bothered him how our mildly-charismatic church used spiritual gifts.  He thought it was indecent and uncontrolled, that the use of spiritual gifts was dangerous because anybody could come in off the street and say that God said something.  He prefered moderating the use of spiritual gifts and only allowing approved people and leaders to openly use them, if that.  When Mark heard from God, though, we knew it was really God, because, well, it was Mark.  Mark was amazing.   

We moved to Oregon, driving there.  It was actually a very fun drive.  I had solely given my heart to Mark, and he knew it, and we had a wonderful time driving through the states.  He shared with me many things that he’d never shared with anybody before, and I felt so special, like I was getting to see inside of this man of God’s heart.  I was truly awed by how wise he was, and so thankful that I had made the godly choice to submit my will to his.  At one point on the trip, we stayed for a week in the home of Mark’s old Bible College dean and his wife.  There we watched the marital interactions between this professor and his wife, interactions where she had an opinion and wasn’t afraid to voice it.  We discussed how sorry we felt for this man, that he had to put up with a wife who didn’t live to serve him—and what a greater man he could have been if only his wife had laid down her wants and desires and worked to please him only. 

Mark shared with me that she was the perfect example of a, “hard woman.”  To Mark, there was little that was worse than a hard women.  Hard women weren’t soft and vulnerable.  They had strong minds and strong opinions and they didn’t feel guilty about it or try to hide it.  In the Bible, the word, “hard,” is used to describe the evil Pharoah’s heart, or the hearts of the Pharisees who would not listen to Christ, and so Mark’s definition was not lost on me.  I knew that before I met Mark, I, too, was a hard woman, and I resolved to do my best to never be one again.  The fun and light-heartedness we experienced as a married couple on our trip confirmed to me that I was obeying Mark to the glory of God.  What a blessing God was shining on my marriage.  He was showing me that I was on the right path.  

We arrived in Oregon and rented a little apartment, and it was only a matter of weeks before the lightheartedness and joyful air left and life was as it was before.  It was in Oregon that I become a full time stay at home mom.  This was a delight to me, as I loved being with my then almost-year-old baby, and it wasn’t long, thanks to the belief that birth control was sinful, before another baby was on the way. 

Mark decided we were going to go to a little Bible church about a half an hour’s drive away from us.  It was a nice church with nice people, but I didn’t want to go there for a couple reasons that were important to me, and I told that to Mark. It didn’t matter, of course, because he was sure that God said we were supposed to go to this little Bible church.  We went, and quickly became involved in helping out with the children’s programs, the youth programs, and the music.  At first, I was allowed to help, and so I threw myself into things with my usual gusto. 

I bothered Mark, though.  He hated the way I spoke, the way I taught, the way I was.  Something inate in me was wrong; something about the way I did things in the church was horrible.  I would be speaking at a function and would look across the room at Mark and he would be glaring at me.  Other people would come over and compliment me for the comment I’d made in adult Sunday School or the lesson I’d taught to the kids during a family night get-together, but not Mark.  Sometimes I wouldn’t even know it until we got in the car to ride home, only to be greeted by a stony-faced driver who refused to talk to me.   

When Mark was displeased, it would mostly come out in silence.  He would rarely say he was angry or explain why, not unless I pressed him, and often not even then.  He would just be tight and quiet and cold for a long time.  I could never figure out exactly what I was doing wrong, even after asking him, but it was obviously awful.  Soon, Mark made a rule that I was not allowed to speak in church unless I recieved his permission.  I was just embarrassing to him, he said.  When I had reached a certain level of spiritual maturity, I would be allowed to speak, but not until then. 

So I went to the adult Sunday School classes every week and discussions would ensue and I would sit there, chafing, forcing myself to keep my mouth shut when I really wanted to join in so badly.  It became too painful to deal with, so I soon volunteered to run the nursery during Sunday School time.  Sitting in the nursery, caring for the babies (one of which was always mine) and visiting with other mother’s was so much better than sitting there in the middle of the one actual adult conversation I had the chance to be in all week long, and yet not being allowed to open my mouth during it.   

The cleaning lists continued.  I thought I was free of being given chores, but it didn’t take long for me to show Mark that I still wasn’t able to keep up his standards of perfection unless he provided strict oversight.  Mark sat me down and explained to me that I still needed his help.  This time, the cleaning list wasn’t just for the bathroom.  It was for the bathroom and the kitchen.  Mark led me through the step by step requirements he had for me this time, including daily mopping of all floors, wiping down the stove, wiping down the sinks, and otherwise making sure everything was absolutely spotless.  I was humiliated, just as before, especially when he added that I wasn’t allowed to go to bed at night until the kitchen and bathroom were spotless as per his instructions.  

It never occurred to me that Mark’s requirements for me were abuse.  After all, the marriages books I’d purchased from the conservative Christian bookstore all taught that a wife’s role was to submit to her husband.  The only time a wife was allowed to disobey was when her husband commanded her to sin.  Cleaning the kitchen spotlessly was certainly no sin.  No, no, the problem must be me.  I was so ashamed that I was such a defective wife that I required cleaning rules.  It was embarrassing.   

I remember my daughter, as a baby, waking up too early for Mark’s liking, so he made a rule that I couldn’t pick her up out of her crib until 7am.  She would wake up at 6:50am and cry for me, and I would lay there in sheer misery, Mark glaring at my lack of obedience (since I was laying there tensely instead of going back to sleep obediently) making sure I didn’t go get her until the clock said 7am.  If I went at 6:58, I was on Satan’s side, because I was in rebellion to the authority the Lord had placed over me.  He would lay there in bed, watching me, making sure I didn’t move until the clock said I could.  Sometimes I just couldn’t stand it and I would go anyway, feeling like a traitor to my God for answering the cries of my baby.  Out of all the memories during that time, that one is probably the most difficult one to think about and write down.  Those ten minutes seemed to take hours, and it went against every bone in my body to lay there, but I had to.  To disobey my husband was to disobey God.   

Mark would get home from working a twelve hour day, go down to the basement to read his Bible until far into the night (since God had “called him to the Word”, he had to do this in order to be obedient), and I would clean and play with the baby, alone, trying not to cry, so starved for adult interaction.  We only had one car, an old beat-up van, and Mark took that to work everyday, so the baby and I were home alone all day in our quiet apartment, then home alone at night when Mark was reading through his Bibles.  I was so starved for other human beings, but there was none.  I was starved for something to do, for some outlet for my talents and gifts, but there was none. 

So I studied my Bible with gusto, through the lens of patriarchy that Mark had shown me was God’s way, of course.  I wrote articles in a notebook for an imaginary women’s magazine, articles that emphasized the joys and duty of wifely submission and other things that were on my mind as I strove to fully obey God.  I worked hard to keep our apartment completely spotless, hoping that someday I would be able to be perfect enough to have Mark’s rules lifted and be able to keep my apartment spotless all by myself.  I played with my little daughter and tried hard to find total fulfillment in her.  I loved that girl with every breath, and yet total fulfillment was not found in changing diapers and singing clean-up songs…  Still, I tried.   

We were given a computer and purchased dial-up internet and, at last, interaction with adults.  When my daughter was napping, I would get online and have, gasp, actual conversations.  I joined a conservative discussion board for mothers and looked forward to logging onto it every single day.  People!  Through the delights of search engines, I researched various Bible topics I was studying and, lo and behold, discovered the world of Biblical patriarchy online.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Here were all the things that Mark believed—right there in black and white.  Others had recieved these same revelations from God about how marriage ought to work.  Finding such groups and ministries deeply impressed upon me that Mark was right.  I read the articles I found there with eagerness, seeking to learn how to be a better wife, a true godly woman. 

Mark rarely looked at such articles.  He was already convinced he had heard accurately from God, and didn’t need anyone to confirm that for him, though he was more than happy to hear that I was learning more about how to serve him submissively.  Besides, Mark was, “called to the Word,” so he didn’t have time to read anything else.  God wanted Mark to know the Bible backwards and forwards, Mark said.  He had a collection of translations, and would read through one chapter at a time, in all 26 translations.  Ephesians 1, in 26 translations.  Then Ephesians 2, in 26 translations.  When Mark wasn’t at work, he was downstairs in a study he’d made for himself, reading.  Going down there felt almost like going to the principal’s office.  It was a holy place.  I knew that when Mark was down there, I’d better have a really good reason to interrupt him, as he was doing God’s work.  As before, I fought feelings of anger has he came home and then disappeared downstairs, so starved I was to talk to an adult in real life, but I knew those were rebellious thoughts and I shoved them down and tried my best to smile and be a good helper to my husband.  Obviously, God had great plans for him, given that he was to, “build an ark,” so who was I to get in the way with my silly fleshly need for companionship?

Then Mark would go to bed.  When he did, that was my signal to go through the list of things I had to do before I was allowed to go to bed, finally climbing the stairs to our bedroom, often fighting the waves of humiliation, knowing my husband would be waiting up there for sex.  Before I had become a Christian, I had thoroughly enjoyed my sex life.  Now, as a Christian wife, I would often dread that long walk up those stairs.  I felt so guilty for not wanting to be intimate with my husband.  What was wrong with me?  These things only confirmed to me that something was wrong deep inside of me.  Sex with Mark was hard to describe, because there wasn’t actually anything wrong with it.  It was just that it was him.  I regularly had to fight feelings of revulsion (which I, of course, hid, as a godly wife should).  I wondered what was so wrong with me that I would find my own husband revolting.   

“God, change me!” was my constant cry.  Many journal entries from that time period are filled with things like, “Lord, please change my heart!  I am desperate to know you.  Please form your Son in me.  I cannot stand this ugliness inside of me any longer.”  Surely God would change me.  I was such a mess.  How thankful I was that I had such a good and kind husband, so patient with me as I stumbled through trying to become perfect.  I desperately pleaded with God to make me into something beautiful, because I felt anything but that.     

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A Tale of a Passionate Housewife Desperate for God by Journey:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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