I grew up hearing about my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ deep faith. Religiosity was, for my family, an important family heritage that was carefully handed down to us children. Christianity was the most important thing my parents and grandparents thought that they could pass down to us. On my dad’s side, my great grandfather was a minister. On my mom’s side, my grandparents served on the mission field in Latin America for a few years after they got married. There was no escaping religion—it was instilled in us from before we could grasp it.
I can’t really say much about how things got to be as “bad” as they did. I know my family has always been conservative, Bible-Believing, Calvinist Christians. But my parents weren’t homeschooled. When my grandparents were raising them, Michael and Debi Pearl had yet to write any books. There were no Botkin sisters for my mother to read when she was growing up. My family was conservative, yes. Fundamentalist, definitely. But not quiverfull, not homeschooling, and not rigidly Patriarchal. I have seen photographs of my grandmothers wearing pants, after all. I don’t know when it all changed. I don’t know why it changed. But it did.
My parents, both the eldest children in their families, seem to have been the ones to lead the charge into more extreme versions of Christianity. They discovered Michael Pearl by the time I was 3. And, while at first they put me in a Christian preschool, that lasted less than a month. The decision to homeschool came almost immediately. If any of my relatives had any misgivings, they didn’t act upon them. When my sister and the first of my cousins were born, 4 years after me, they were brought into a family that had gone from “normal” fundamentalism, if there is such a thing, to one that was already enmeshed in the quiverfull movement and was quickly becoming more enmeshed. We didn’t just have one set of parents to read and study and discover new ideas about how to raise godly children. We had 5 and this I think, pushed collective movement forward much faster than if it had just been my mother and father.
That’s really hypothetical of course. I don’t know what might have been different if it were just my parents. I don’t know what my life might have been like if my parents had never discovered quiverfull or if they hadn’t homeschooled me. I can only say how things actually were. The best way to explain that seems to be to share some of my earliest memories. I don’t know when most of these happened or when they happened in relationship to one another. I know they happened before my sister and cousin were born; while I was still the only child of my generation.
However, I do know the date of the first memory I want to share. February 9, 1991; right after I turned three. This date was written in my first Bible—and subsequent Bibles as well. My parents reminded me, with each passing year of the fact that I had had my “second birthday.” “Second Birthday” sounds so happy—but I never got any gifts for it. Instead, my parents came up with some character trait that needed improvement, or something that needed to change, if I was to live my life fully committed to the Lord. But, on to the description of the night I got “saved!”
My mother reminded me that I’m not supposed to sleep like that, telling me, something along the lines of ” I’ve already moved you once tonight. I shouldn’t have to move you at all, actually. When you get in bed, you should just lie in the middle part on your own. You’ve disobeyed. So, we’re going to have to do something about that. I’m going to go get your father, and when I come back you should be in the middle of your bed.”
I moved to the middle of my bed.
My parents came in. I was spanked.
I cried—resistance—more spanking.
After this my parents left and I lie in bed, afraid and hurting, trying not to cry. And then, I made a connection: I had done something bad. I was going to go to hell. If I was afraid of the tree in the window, I was ten times more afraid of hell. And not only would it be wrong to push myself back against the wall—thus disobeying and making me more deserving of hell—it wouldn’t help. Being away from the window might protect me from the tree, but not from hell.
I don’t know what I thought hell would be like then. Probably fiery and painful and full of dark scary shadows. But whatever I thought hell was it was enough to make me sit up in bed and call for my parents, crying—even though I knew I might get in trouble for crying and making them come in. My mom came, and as soon as she entered my room, I started telling her, through tears, that I didn’t want to go to hell. I knew I wasn’t a good girl, but I didn’t want to go to hell.
My mother held me and hugged me and told me that I didn’t have to go to hell. If I just trusted Jesus and asked him into my heart, God would forgive me—just like she and daddy did. God might still have to discipline me—like she and daddy did—but I wouldn’t have to go to hell. I prayed and asked Jesus into my heart that night and my parents were happy and excited. We talked about God for a little bit longer, then I had to return to bed. I eventually fell asleep in the middle of my bed, still very much afraid of the tree.
A few weeks later, I started crying in the night again. I was scared. I had disobeyed my parents that day, maybe I was going to go to hell. My mother came in; I told her my fears. The first time, she reminded me that I was saved and that I could pray and ask for forgiveness. But when this happened again, a while later, I was “being manipulative” and trying to get out of sleeping.
I learned to keep my fear of hell to myself.