Listen for the Singing: My Courtship Story: Part 1

I begged my Mom to let me go to high school when I was 14. She was shocked by my request. How could I fail to appreciate all the time they had invested in homeschooling me, she told me how the school system was filled with evil, and how easy it was for a young girl to get taken advantage of. She promised that if I worked hard to finish my schoolwork, I would be able to go to college anyways, so why bother wasting my time in high school? I gave up.

At the age of almost 16, I was allowed to go to a small “homeschool” college that was holding it’s first ever summer camp for teens. The camp had strict rules about dress code and interaction with the opposite sex, and it was supposed to be very academic. I was squeezed into the Journalism Camp at the last moment. I was gone for one week and I loved it! I wrote and wrote, and attended every class. The articles I wrote were approved and put into the miniature “newpaper” that each group put together. I made a few friends. And since this was still in our pre-church attendance days, I was thrilled to attend the nightly “chapel” time and sing praise songs that I had never heard before. (We were only allowed to listen to instrumental music at home) Those songs fed me so much, I remember I actually went up to the worship leader the last night and asked if I could write down a few of the songs so I would remember the words. They were songs like “In Christ Alone”, and a slower version of “I want to know you”.

I went home full of dreams, showing my parents my writing and talking the advice my teachers had given about getting into the door for journalism. It was no use. My parents continued to criticize my writing like they always had. I was reminded that I was going to be a stay-at-home mom someday, so there was no point in my getting into journalism when I would only have to quit at some point. I was depressed, I pleaded with my dad for alternatives, I promised that I would not make this into a career, I would just explore writing further and see what I could learn from it, maybe I would even write books from home someday! I brought him newspaper clippings of job offers for part-time columnists for our local paper and free workshops offered in our area. The answer didn’t change. Eventually, I gave up.

***************

I had not yet realized that I was never going to be allowed to go to college. My parents still acted as though this was up to me, but it had never truly been an option. My Dad told me I would be allowed to take online courses IF I managed to complete my two years of Latin and Greek, plus Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus, and Biology. He explained that the only way I would be smart enough to keep up with college level courses was if I completed all of my home school and “applied myself for once”. I came up with endless schedules and plans to complete all of my schoolwork, but it was never enough. I couldn’t seem to make any progress. I was working hard around the house, and it was difficult to keep up with any schoolwork, much less complete the list that my Dad had put together. The math and science were way over my head, my homeschooling had not included any formal science or geography, and we had never managed to get past ancient history and what I now realize was some majorly revised American history.

I became more and more depressed. I was never going to get out of there. College was not going to happen,

I just wasn’t smart enough.

************

It was at this point (I was about 16) that I began reading courtship books. I read Josh Harris’s “I kissed Dating Goodbye” and “Boy meets Girl”, I read all of the Eric and Leslie Ludy books. I read many books that my Parents had purchased from Vision Forum on the virtues of “Stay-at-home” daughters and how we women were made to serve men and that I would only find true happiness by submitting to the authority in my life.

I hated myself. I was 17. I was convinced that no man would ever want to marry me. I was never going to complete school, I was stupid. Despite my endless dieting to lose weight, I was ugly. Yes, I was a virgin, I had never even held hands with a guy. Yes I had abilities in housework and childcare, but was that going to be enough to snag someone? I didn’t have anything that made me unique or interesting. I was shy. No boy had ever talked to me, or noticed me. We didn’t even go to church at that point, so how was I even going to meet enough eligible men to potentially be interested in me? What was the point in “waiting” for a guy who might never show up? I made a few half-hearted attempts at suicide, but I was too afraid of going to Hell to go through with it. I thought about death and dying a lot.

My Dad had gotten me a job working 13 hours a week at an insurance company to help me get over my painful shyness. I never particularly loved the job, but it was the one outlet that I was allowed to do something by myself. I even got a pay check of my own that I put into the joint account my Dad opened for me. I was not allowed to go very many places, so I rarely used the money, and most of the time it was used for family expenses. But still, I got a check every 2 weeks for the work that I did. After 18 months or so, my Dad decided that I was sufficiently over my shyness and told me to give my 2 weeks notice. My 8th sibling was on the way, and I had to make more time to be able to help out. The 13 hours away each week was detracting from where I was truly needed.

I wrote in my journal over and over about how my biggest fear was being an old maid of 27 and still living at home, caring for the house and the kids, and trying to finish enough school work to make it in college.

At 15 or so, I had read a book that I had picked up in the clearance section at our local library called “Listen for the singing”. The story was about a family finding hope in a new country after moving out of Nazi Germany, nothing that really applied to me. But in the middle of the book there was an excerpt from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.

“In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and we were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”

Then the book talked about how the poem had been written in the middle of a battle, and how strange it was that despite the noise of the guns, the author had somehow noticed the larks singing; and then explained how important it was to keep faith in something in the midst of war. The thought was summarized in this quote.

“Faith is when you hear the bird singing before the egg is hatched. It is up to you to keep the faith… and listen for the singing.”
For some reason, that quote stuck with me. I kept that book tucked in a special place and read that chapter of the book many times.
*************

I was at a home school convention, and almost 18 years old, when a book fairly leapt off the vendor’s shelf at me. The title read “Gift Wrapped by God: Secret answers to the question Why wait?” I sat in the corner of that gym and read through almost the whole book that day. Yes, the book glorified virginity, but it was something more this time. Somewhere in those pages, I found hope that maybe, just maybe, I was worth loving.

Shortly after that, I read the Bible book of Song of Solomon, and a section in chapter two made my heart leap.

“My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.”
After the winter, and the rain, came the time of the singing. It was just like the poem that I loved. I was filled with hope once more. I became convinced that this was going to be my escape. The winter felt long and bleak, but at some point, the rain had to end. “My Beloved” would come, and then the time of the singing would be here.
I just had to have faith… and listen for the singing.

To be continued…

  • http://www.quicksilverqueen.com Anne

    I hated myself. I was 17. I was convinced that no man would ever want to marry me. I was never going to complete school, I was stupid. Despite my endless dieting to lose weight, I was ugly. Yes, I was a virgin, I had never even held hands with a guy. Yes I had abilities in housework and childcare, but was that going to be enough to snag someone? I didn’t have anything that made me unique or interesting. I was shy. No boy had ever talked to me, or noticed me. We didn’t even go to church at that point, so how was I even going to meet enough eligible men to potentially be interested in me? What was the point in “waiting” for a guy who might never show up? I made a few half-hearted attempts at suicide, but I was too afraid of going to Hell to go through with it.

    I felt just like this too!! I never attempted suicide but as the years went on I thought about it more and more and didn't at first because of the threat of hell, and then later because it would break my then-fiancee's heart.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06183119594503669882 Whitney

    Wondering if you went to PHC's journalism camps. You'd be surprised how many normal, non-fundie people have come out of there, despite the school's reputation. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    Every time I read about your upbringing, i find myself shaking my head. Surely your parents believed they were doing the best thing for you at the time and trying to protect you and make sure you were equipped and ready for the life they figured was ahead of you. But all the deciding for you…all the restriction placed on you…all the responsibility delegated to you…it just flabbergasts me.

    I was put into position of responsibility at an early age with my parents' divorce…but I almost had an opposite situation where no one was guiding me, helping me, I was left to my own devices…and that led to my feeling worthless and unimportant and unloved, too.

    I guess what your writing helps me to realize is that there are extremes to everything. what a challenge it is to raise children to embrace who THEY are and not who WE want them to be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13165168699541078649 Ashleigh (Heart and Home)

    Chills. How have we not talked one on one? I'm half thinking we probably knew each other back then, what with the conventions, VF, and the fact that I read every book you mentioned at the same ages and could relate to nearly every experience you mention here.

    Sigh. What a (non)life it was…

  • http://www.flatheadmama.blogspot.com Rebecca

    Your writing is just so riveting…can't wait to read the next part. It makes me so sad to see the twisted aspects of faith that were imposed on you…it's so powerful watching your journey now…thank you for sharing your experiences…God bless…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15864953064301451142 Arual

    I clearly need to read backwards a bit to fully understand your history… but I must admit to feeling shock. And shame. And horror. I am glad you have been able to move on with your life… but I can't fathom complaining about what I thought was an over-zealous religious upbringing when I compare it to what you went through. I

    You are an amazing person and I hope you realize that now.

  • http://becomingthekindofwomaniwantmydaughtertobe.wordpress.com Alisa

    Oh wow… Keep it coming!

    I wish I could say I didn't know what you were talking about, but the fact is my teen years transpired much the same way. The only difference is, is that I had a few key people that spoke the truth into my life and heart that God loved me, had created me for a good purpose, and that He would fulfill it despite the seeming dead end in front of me. That was the hope I clung to during those years…

    So enjoying reading the rays of hope left for you…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Ann- Suicide was a constant thread of thought in my mind for about 2 years. I’ve been reading a bit of your story over at your blog. I was so sad to read about your Dad’s reactions to your independence. Separation from siblings that you love (and helped to raise) would be so hard.

    Whitney- Yep, I was there for the first ever Journalism Camp, I loved it!

    Michelle- So agree! Extremes on both ends are so damaging. I cannot imagine coming through your own history of abuse. It is a never ending challenge to raise children to be who they want to be instead of forcing our goals onto them, and you are an inspiration in that regard. : )

    Ashleigh- I so agree! What a non-life. It’s very possible that we have bumped into each other, emailing you!

    Rebecca- Thanks so much! I’ve been wanting to write about this for some time, it has felt good to get it out on paper.

    Arual- Thanks, I’m just learning to love myself in the last 2 years, and it’s been quite a journey. Every person has things to work through, I think that the most important part is being able to recognize them (even when other people call it “complaining”) I spent a long time telling myself that “it could have been worse” and refusing to deal with my issues. So good for you for recognizing the ways your parents were over-zealous!

    Alisa- Interesting! Yes, my big escape and encouragement was always books, it’s always fascinating to hear how other people learned to cope.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08406123702074969712 Jaime

    “Faith is when you hear the bird singing before the egg is hatched. It is up to you to keep the faith… and listen for the singing.”

    ::THIS:: stunningly beautiful… making it my fb status…

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    I suppose my childhood was rather outside the ordinary. (My wife normally expresses amazement I'm as intact as I am. [g]) It's the childhood I had, though, and it's hard to imagine a different one.

    Still, stories like this are so outside my experience I find them difficult to truly comprehend. It sounds much worse to me than anything I experienced and there were definitely some crazy-making times for me growing up. It's beyond my ken.

    Peace.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09723067016206324874 Claire

    My heart hurts to realize that you were going through such a painful time back when I saw you regularly and I had no clue then…if I was ever insensitive or not a support for you when I could have/should have been, please forgive me.

    (Actually, I do want to say thank you for introducing me to the Ludy's books way-back-when; they were/are an inspiration to me and I was always grateful to you for that!)

    I look forward to reading the rest of your courtship story. The title "Listen for the Singing" is so beautiful…and the pictures too!

  • http://nowealthbutlife.com Rae

    I went with my father to an information session on a certain small “homeschool” college (which may or may not be located in Purcellville) before the college had even started. My father asked questions and concluded that since their focus was on liberal arts they would provide nothing I could not get at home. I am so thankful that I was somehow under the impression that I could go to college without my parents' consent, even though I also thought of myself as stupid.

    In other fun similarities, I memorized In Flanders Fields thanks to A Beka. And in fun proof that I am not smart enough for college, I only now realized that "A Beka" is two words.

    Anyway, it is easier for me to make silly remarks about similarities than to comment on the substance of this post, because I think that I really understand it. We're not all that alike, but I saw my older sister live through so much of what you write. And it aches.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Jaime- Writing this in the early morning hours when I couldn’t sleep, I was reminded just how much that quote had encouraged me.

    Scott- I know what you mean about it being hard to imagine a different childhood. I struggle sometimes to give my children different experiences than I did, because I hardly know anything else. I am seriously considering not homeschooling, and the thought of sending them to school is scary, because I have no idea what school is actually like.

    Claire- You have always been a great friend. : ) Violin group was the one outing in my week for a long time, I always looked forward to it.

    Rae- Exactly, what was the point of paying for me to get a piece of paper “for other people”, when I could learn any of those things at home, if only I applied myself of course. I had no need to experience anything much out of the home, since the plan was for me to be at home the rest of my life. The memories do ache, but it feels good to write about it, and claim the good and name the bad for myself.

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