One of the great enduring passions of my life has been surfing. I’ve surfed off and on since I was in my teens. My father taught me and we’d scour the weather reports for tidal surges during hurricane season in south Louisiana, waiting till the waves came. The Gulf of Mexico is like a tepid bath, calm, warm and blue-green most of the time. We chased the storms to ride the waves, cruising over to Pensacola or Destin, Florida to ride the wild surf.
I loved surfing. It was by turns like dancing with the ocean and carrying out a battle. I felt powerful, warrior-like when I surfed. There was just nothing else like it.
Years later after I married and had children I stopped surfing for a long stretch. My turns on the board frightened my husband and he made me promise I’d not surf or teach surfing to the kids while they were young. It didn’t help that this is a sport where even the pros sometimes have a ride that ends in death. Add in the disapproval of the church and other believers and I shelved my surfing for about 13 years.
But once my son turned 13 and my baby, my daughter turned 10 years old I started surfing again and undertook teaching them as well. We’d pack the car and head out to Virginia Beach or up to Ocean City for a day or two all summer long. I treasure those days still even if I had to sneak around and not breath a word of my unladylike rebellion to anyone at church.
We spent a week in Florida that first surfing summer, on the Atlantic side, arriving a day or so after a minor hurricane had passed through the area. The rough waters of the Atlantic were a little extra intense that first sunny day, so I cautioned the kids and out we went. I remember I was teaching them about surfing etiquette, how to determine who rides the incoming wave and calling it if you’re going to ride it.
Because of the rough waters, the waves coming in were a little bigger than normal so the first really huge wave I called as mine, paddling rapidly to get on it for a great ride.
Now, there are several determinate factors you need to remember when surfing. Number one, you should be going roughly the same speed as the wave as you paddle into it. Two, you should have yourself securely positioned in the middle of the board and finally, you have to maneuver your board just forward of the wave at the exact angle you wish to go. In my haste to ride this monstrous wave I got overconfident, sloppy even and assumed all of these things.
I realized I was doomed the second I tried to push up on my elbows and stand in one fluid movement. I was not going the same speed as the wave, I was too high up the crest of the wave and I was too far up my board. I stood, I toppled over as soon as I stood and the full weight of the wave tore the board cord from my ankle and pushed me under the water. I kept tumbling over and over underwater, counting silently because I knew I only had a handful of seconds to get to the surface before the odds of my drowning skyrocketed. It was like being in an enormous washing machine, I could not even determine which way was up. I silently begged God not to allow me to die like this in front of my kids.
Eventually I emerged from the ocean’s grip, spitting and sputtering up water as I trudged up to the beach. The kids were all panicked and freaked out, even more so to discover my board broken in two pieces and that the ocean had stripped off my pony tail holder and torn my swimsuit.
When I think about that scary incident I realize it’s almost an allegory for the stew of factors that caused me to leave Quiverful Fundamentalism. Just like that time I fell off the ride and nearly lost my life our family wipeout nearly killed our family. We didn’t end up with sand rash or broken boards, rather strained and bruised bonds that took a long time and therapy to repair.
The lifestyle. It looks deceptively nice from the outside, it doesn’t even look that hard. Big deal. So you’re standing on a board in the waves. Not much harder than boating. You don’t realize that one miscalculation can rob you of your life. At first this never dawns on you. It’s only after you gain a little perspective and knowledge that you realize how dangerous any misstep can be.
It looks like something you want to do so you eagerly embrace everything about fundamentalism, getting excited over all the new things you’re learning and putting to use. But eventually everything combines to form the most imperfect of perfect waves and your life is turned upside down.
I think every single one of us that has left the Quiverful Patriarchal movement can recount the factors that led to the wipeout. That moment when you’re on the wrong part of the board and you are going too fast or too slow to make the ride. It’s not just one thing, it’s a whole jumble of things that have built up.
A few weeks ago my kids, my husband and myself were discussing the ugly church annihilation going on over at Possum Creek Christian Fellowship, which led right into a discussion of why we left. I had to ask each what was the single most harmful thing or belief that happened there to them personally. The two things that kept cropping up were my husband’s failed suicide attempt and the judgementalism of the congregation. Both these things just about split the family, created divisiveness among us and inflicted pain.
My husband’s failed suicide attempt was the beginning of our split from the church even though it took two more years to play out. My health and the many miscarriages were just the very end of things.
Only recently has my husband James been able to tell me what led up to the suicide attempt. While I was struggling to walk with the Lord and fit in enough, he was doing much the same thing. He also had a critical Greek chorus telling him he was doing it all wrong and wasn’t a ‘real man’ for not being able to get with the Patriarchal program. He told me he was ridiculed and belittled at every opportunity by the men of PCCF, finally dismissed as irrelevant at most gatherings. He was told that his family were ‘good believers’ but he wasn’t. He bought into it and after a particularly contentious men’s Sunday School he announced to the pastor privately that he had a gun and was planning on killing himself.
I was out of town that Sunday at an event with my children so this entire time I was clueless about what had gone down. I knew James had been seriously depressed for some time and nothing seemed to help, no drugs, no talk therapy, no faith healer, no positive thinking. He was stuck and that broke my heart. I never dreamed it was dissidence in his heart and mind. He was trying to believe something so wrong for who he was while his heart told him it was wrong.
So what was Pastor Patrick’s response to James announcing suicide plans? He did nothing. At least not until the next day, when he called me at noon to announce that James had threatened suicide. I had to spring into action alone, go to the police station to try and get them to pick up James when he got off the train for a trip to the mental hospital. I brought along the huge full grocery bag stuffed with all the failed psychotropic drugs James had tried and had accomplished nothing. I outlined his history with this depression, the names of the doctors and therapists. The cops took me right on over to the magistrate on duty to get this intake order. The magistrate refused, calling me a ‘hysterical’ woman, saying that since James didn’t make the suicide threat to me personally then there was no real evidence.
Now if I could have gotten Pastor Patrick to come down and tell the magistrate that he’d been told she would have issued the order. But when I called Patrick to ask him to do this for me he told me he was ‘staying out of it’
Ironically Pastor Patrick could not ‘stay out of it’ like he planned. James showed up unannounced at his home behaving like he’d lost his mind. Patrick called me and between the two of us and many hours of talking we convinced James to admit himself to the hospital.
This was our wipeout.
It destroyed my trust in my husband for a long while as well as hurt the kids. Knowing that the congregation knew of it and it was fodder for the gossip hurt too. For me it was the beginning of various congregation members telling me that I should divorce my husband. Others denounced it as ‘Satanic influence’ or ‘demons’ Very helpful. Right.
After we left we were able to heal the hurtful things said to us all only by perseverance and love for one another. Much much therapy. We discovered that James actually had a tumor on his parathyroid gland that was causing the depression. After it was removed he’s been the wonderful upbeat man I fell in love with.
He’s only recently told me about the near harassment that added to his depression from the male members at PCCF. The kids have chimed in with their own incidents. I feel like a fool for not seeing any of this earlier. But mostly I’m grateful that we’ve been able to get past all of this and still be a family.
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