Dispelled ~ One Girl’s Journey in a Home School Cult ~ Part 6: Growing Pains

Please note: The content contained herein does not necessarily reflect the values and opinions of the NLQ blog and its administrators.

by Chandra

For the last six months, I dreamt of living in Texas and of being free. I knew that I didn’t know Gabe, but just the thought of getting out of the hell that I was currently in was all that I cared about. Everything else paled in comparison to the nightmare that I was living. My optimism still kept me going, and I was confident that even though I had been keeping an enormous secret from my parents, and that I didn’t know who this guy was, I would still find love and freedom. Two things I desperately wanted.

I began to use the babysitting and housecleaning money that I would receive weekly from our neighbors, to buy wedding magazines and collect things for my hope chest. I was truly convinced that the right way of doing things was to go through a betrothal process that would eventually end in a tightly monitored engagement period. I was determined to win the favor of this family by being the perfect example of a good homeschooled girl. My heart, for those six months, sang.

Maybe part of the reason why I am not so enamored with springtime as the majority of the populace is because nothing ever good came out of the months of February, March, and April for me. Our homeschooling conference was to be held in June, and by the time that April had made her entrance, mom and Candi were furiously working around the clock trying to finalize all of the many details that went into planning such a major event. This meant frequent phone conversations with one another that would last for well over six hours in a given day and also numerous phone calls to the speakers and vendors.

I knew from having been raised in this movement, that Candi would be speaking with Gabe’s dad, Mr. New, about his hotel arrangements and the sessions that he would be presenting to the flock. Candi and my mom took very seriously their role as leader, or “Shepard” as they referred to themselves. Much care and endless hours were spent with each convention speaker ensuring that the material they were presenting was exactly what they wanted “their people” to hear. Rather than being a facilitator of information, they felt they had been called by God to teach these “precious families” the way that God wanted them to live: in fear. We lived in fear of government, fear of extended family, fear of neighbors, fear of culture, and fear of the world and these fears dictated our belief system. Our homeschooling group had become an isolationist cult and it was led by two very powerful women: Candi and my mother.

Sometime in April, my mother began to carry around an air of hatred towards me again and I could tell that it was something that I had done, or failed to do. I knew to ask her what the problem was would be asking for unwarranted trouble so I kept my distance from her. I hid in my room to escape my toxic family and listened to Christian cassette tapes that I had bought covertly. My mom was adamantly opposed to Steven Curtis Chapman (too worldly), Michael W. Smith (too worldly), Newsboys (rock music was not Christian music), DC Talk (Christian rappers were wolves in sheep’s clothing), Amy Grant (she had an affair), Sandi Patty (she had an affair too), Rebecca St. James (not only did God hate rock music, Ms. St. James was not a “true homeschooler” and “not one of the flock”)…and of course every CD that I owned in my collection were from these artists. They lifted me up on the wings of hope and helped my heart to feel close to Christ. But I couldn’t sing along with them and I had to hide the tapes well.

We lived in a very tiny home, somewhere around 1200 square feet. The walls were paper thin so I had to turn down the volume very low, so very low that I would lay on the floor with my ear plastered to the speakers just so I could hear something that lifted my heart. I had to keep one hand on the on/off switch the entire time in case my mother barged in my bedroom to check on me. Yes, even at 16 I had no privacy and still no lock on my bedroom door. I eventually got so fed up with this arrangement that I spent three hours one day fixing the old stuck lock on my bedroom door so that I could lock her, and my father, out. The only one welcome in my room was my little brother. To me, he was the only one in the world who cared a rat’s ass about me, and I loved him dearly.

I also spent a lot of time in my bedroom writing. I flew through pen pals, girls that I would meet at various events or homeschool conferences throughout the state, and journals like they were going out of style. The only rule however, was that I could not own a diary that had a lock on it. Looking back, I see how my mom would betray me and read my journals, and then would thwart my hopes and dreams in an attempt to control me. I wish that I had had the guts to keep a diary with a lock. A dear girl that I have spoken to over coffee, who is from the same homeschooling group as I, told me she never keeps a journal. It’s safer in her head, and at least there, her mom can’t read it.

Much of what had filled my journals was about my future plans…my wedding plans, my plans of a home, my plans of marriage, and my plans of getting out of this hellhole. They were also filled with the soulful prayers of a teenage girl who was desperate for God to make her holy, pure, and loveable. Prayers that would break the heart of any caring soul especially in light of the fact that the whole reason she felt so unlovable was because it was her fault. I prayed daily for a friend. I eagerly anticipated June, when I would at last meet Gabe, and gain the companionship and freedom that my heart so longed for. To me, this was God’s answer to my countless prayers.

Then one day all of those hopes and dreams of freedom and a different life were shattered. Deep down, I knew that mom and Candi would thwart them as they had done and would continue to do until I left the movement, but I still wanted to believe the best for myself and believe that maybe this once they wouldn’t win! Mom finally confirmed my deepest fears, when after about a week of scorning and seething hate in April of 1998, she pulled me aside and asked condescendingly if Mr. New had ever mentioned him bringing his son to meet me. She responded that she had found out this information through reading my journals, and then ran this by Candi to see if she knew anything. My stomach churning, I knew that I had to admit that this was the truth. My mom then proceeded to inform me that she had told Candi and Mr. New, of my deceit. She also informed me that she had confiscated my tapes, as she had found them with my journals.

This was the beginning of a brainwashing session where my mom would pound into my head my profound wickedness and deceit. I had deceived her, and deceived the movement by keeping such a secret from them. I was wicked, I was disrespectful, and I was certainly not the godly wife that Mr. New was looking for, for his son. Candi had called my mom when she had first heard from Mr. New that he would be bringing along his son to meet the Hawkins’ daughter and this sent fiery thorns of jealousy and power-mongering arrows into Candi’s heart. She had to destroy this scheme because Hannah was meant to be “the chosen one” to marry into movement royalty. Not me the bastard child. Once again, my mother had no issues with this, recognizing herself that Hannah was indeed the better choice. They proceeded to converse with Mr. New telling them how ungodly, deceitful, ungentle, disrespectful and most importantly, unsubmissive I was. I was crushed and so was my reputation.

I cried for weeks. I would escape to the neighbor’s house, I was free to enter their home whenever, and cry bitter tears of disappointment. My hopes of freedom, love, and companionship were over. Once again, my parents and John and Candi had tried to destroy my hope of freedom. And once again, I was forced to choke on their Kool-aid that I could not utter any of these family scandals to anyone, even grandparents.

June came and the day before the conference I was hesitantly hopeful that maybe I could meet Mr. New once again in private and change his mind about me. I wanted the chance to defend my name, and prove these perpetrators wrong. I believe I was actually successful in doing this, though Gabe and I never met.

Gabe was going through his own hell, I later found out. Having come from equally controlling parents who were enmeshed in the patriarchal and Quiverfull movements, he desired like me to be free. Unlike me, he had been successful just that May in gaining his freedom.

He had met a girl that he loved deeply, more than anything in the world. But his mom and dad did not approve…their choice for him was me (the irony of it!). This girl that Gabe loved was supposedly worldly and did not come from The Movement, therefore not a suitable choice for Gabe. Mr. New had high hopes of taming his son’s wild and “rebellious” heart, and he felt that the way to do this was to control Gabe’s choice in whom he loved. Gabe fled his parents by purchasing a pick-up truck and joined the throng of construction workers. He had moved in with his girlfriend in Dallas in May of 1998 and never returned home.

There was one thing that I learned from his resilience: true love was worth fighting for, and so was freedom. And the way to escape The Movement was to own a car.

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Chandra blogs at Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Homeschool Cult

Chandra Hawkins-Bernat, was homeschooled K-12 (1986-1999), and is currently enrolled to get her Bachelor’s Degrees in Secondary and Art Education. She is also authoring her autobiography, Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Home School Cult and is seeking to have it published in the near future. She is happily married to her best friend and is also the proud mother of three sons, two of which have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Read all posts by Chandra!