We started to publish this delightful testimony as a serial, and then belatedly realized that the narrative flow was lost in breaking the story into parts every other day. Here now is the full version with just one page break. The piece is much longer than our usual fare, so you may want to print it or save it to your favorite online reader after you've read for a bit. It is still organized by the phases that Samantha describes. Enjoy. –The Editors.
The Formation Phase
There was a life, phase after phase,
Which oft felt like running a maze
But no matter how odd, ‘twas all planned out by God,
to Whom be all glory and praise.
One of my earliest memories is of my five-year-old self, coming home from school a few months after my parents divorced. There was a goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter, with a note saying something like, “I thought you might like this. Love, Dad.”
I hadn’t seen my dad for weeks, and I don’t think the slimy little guy or gal was much consolation. I remember having to flush it down the toilet a few weeks later. I watched the dead orange body spin in the whirlpool as it was consigned to its watery grave. I’m sure that must symbolize something deep, because I’m using it to begin this memoir.
Within the next year or so, my dad remarried and moved to Florida, and so I was shipped off on a plane alone to spend summers with his new wife; my dad was a workaholic and I usually saw him only on Sundays.
Upon returning from one of these grand vacations, I was picked up at the airport by my mother, and with her, a man I didn’t know. The first thing I said to her was, “He’s ugly.” Little did I know that this ugliness was more than skin-deep. What I also didn’t know was that this man had been her first husband—and was soon to become her third. And so, he was my first stepfather.
The hardest thing about having a stepfather is not so much the man himself (although that can certainly be unpleasant) but the new way your mother relates to you. She loves this new person and assumes you should love him too. Even if he is actually a complete jerk, it gets downplayed while she tells you he really, really cares about you.
As you can imagine, for an eight-year-old, this was a goldmine for curiosity. It was also a landmine that blew up anything left of an innocent childhood, and the shrapnel exploded far into the future. There are still shards of it stuck in me today, 35 years later.
In a way, I have Playboy to thank for inspiring me to create my very first self-published zine. In between the centerfolds and all those scholarly articles that men often use to justify their subscriptions, there are comics depicting fun sexual escapades between folks like Santa and one of his sexier elves—while saggy-bosomed Mrs. Claus looks on with pursed-lipped disapproval. I tried my hand at a little soft-porny booklet and mailed it off to some boy I liked who lived in another state. Understandably, his mother sent the thing back to my mother, who then proceeded to get angry with me for “doing something like that.”
I am sure my mother was embarrassed and mortified, but I don’t remember any worried questions or concerns about why her little nine-year-old girl had already begun a career in adult publishing. I am not sure if she knew I had discovered The Basement, but the current issues of The Magazine were always left on the coffee table in plain sight, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. But still, I don’t remember there being any indication that it was anything, outside of something bad in me, that brought that cute little comic into the world. This was my most shameful secret for many, many years.
This happened not long after Mom, Stepdad, and I packed up and moved from New Jersey to Southern California. Yes, I spent a lot of my childhood at Disneyland.
One day, when I was in fourth grade, I was pulled out of class without any explanation and given all these weird tests. They turned out to be IQ tests, and I found myself in a program called “Mentally Gifted Minors.” But being mentally gifted did not help me much.
My mother’s marriage was already disintegrating, and I remember sitting outside her bedroom door, listening to her beat a pillow with a baseball bat. This was a technique she’d learned in therapy that was supposed to help her deal with anger. It obviously didn’t work very well, because soon she read something called the Modern Witch’s Spellbook, and tried to kill my stepfather using honest-to-goodness magic. A dead spider impaled on a pin sat in this glass jar on our kitchen counter for a while. I’ll never understand why Stepdad didn’t ask about this strange addition to the decor. He didn’t die, but they did get divorced. Maybe the full-dress “black death spell” would have been more effective. That way my mother could have collected the life insurance, and I might have been spared being a latchkey kid when I was tossed into the Institution of Public Evil known as junior high school.
I guess it was good to be without a “father figure” for a while. I was considered weird in school, and was actually booed when chosen to be a cheerleader. I didn’t have many friends, and my so-called “best friend” was a person I now consider to have been a literal psychopath.
She was even more hyper-sexualized than I was: she did actual sexual things at a young age, instead of just reading about them in her mother’s copy of Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). During the summer between seventh and eighth grade, my mother worked, and my friend and I were left alone in the apartment with a plumber who was doing some work in the bathroom. One of those days, he took my friend in my mother’s bedroom and did some work on her, if you know what I mean. She was very proud of this, but I never told my mother. I figured she wasn’t quite ready for My Daughter’s Inappropriate Sexual Debacles, The Sequel. Besides, I thought I could have somehow prevented that from happening; that it was my fault it had happened at all.
I don’t blame my mother for all this, but I admit that I was always confused regarding my moral agency and where my worth (if I had any) came from. When I look back I can see that my “conscience also [bore] witness,” and my “conflicting thoughts” both accused and excused me, but I didn’t understand how or what was happening (Romans 2:15, ESV). My incoherent childhood made it impossible for me to tell whether something really was wrong, or I’d just developed a phobia or “hang-up” about it that kept me from doing it. I knew all about hang-ups at the tender age of eleven, but now I see them as little seedlings of grace that prevented me from making some choices that would have taken my situation from bad to worse.
The Psychology Phase
There once was a gal whose psychology,
She liked to expound chronologically.
Her ego, her id, all the things that she did...
Could they be explained theologically?
In 1984 I was a sophomore in high school, and I found myself in the psychology and philosophy classes of a certain middle-aged anti-war Deadhead. I was madly in love with this teacher and would regularly leave roses on his doorstep and even occasionally write him love letters. All his classes were exactly the same. Even though they were ostensibly different subjects, their most accurate name would be Self-Centeredness 101, which led seamlessly into Advanced Self-Centeredness. I aced all those classes, and in fact have gone on to take a doctorate in that subject.
Everyone sat together in a big circle with the teacher and rapped about things—not like, Yo, We’re Rappers—but in that good ol’ fashioned consciousness-raising sense; we Shared What We Felt. If we actually were rapping about it in today’s meaning, it would go something like this:
Let me tell you people what I feelin’ today,
I got my fat jeans on and it give me dismay.
No one understand me, not my mom or my dad,
I hate this dumb stupid school cuz it make me feel bad.
I ain’t got no love and my life is a bore,
I got this big huge zit no one gonna ignore.
Now, maybe some other people were deeper than that, but even though I have always been considered highly intelligent (remember those IQ tests?) that was more or less my mindset.
Despite those shallow tendencies, I read books like The Primal Scream. Primal therapy is a kind of psychotherapy that assumes we can get past our neuroses by facing up to the pain in our childhood and seeking cathartic release from it. Sometimes I feel like my life has been One Big Primal Scream, and it hasn’t cured me yet. I’ve recently been contemplating a big piece of really dark chocolate instead.
One of the hallmarks of these classes was the use of The Hot Seat, where one person would be called to sit in the center of the circle, silently listening while others told them “honestly” anything they thought about them. This was certainly nerve-wracking when you were the one in The Seat, but when not, our young and cruel natures reveled in it, our smug cattiness clothed in the guise of constructive criticism.
Once the teacher told me I was “grounded” but did not explain what that meant. I took it as a positive statement about not being flighty, but a friend thought it meant I was “stagnating.” I’d never considered the word “grounded” in relation to myself, except when my parents had announced, “You’re grounded!”
During this period. I also studied Orthodox Judaism in some depth. When I visited my father in the summers, I would get books at the library about Jewish laws and rituals, and fantasize about keeping kosher and lighting the Sabbath candles. It was all very Fiddler on the Roof in my little fantasy. I came from a secular Jewish family whose Judaism consisted of (1) not going to work on the High Holy Days and (2) talking, quite loudly, about how We Were The Chosen People.
That didn’t have much religious significance except to signify that we had chosen not to believe in Jesus as anything but That Man Who Caused Us All These Problems. We also felt some sense of superiority to other people in general, which usually manifested in conversations like this:
“Did you see that guy doing X (insert just about anything that annoys you here)?”
“Yeah, he’s an idiot. Obviously not one of the Chosen People.”
So, most likely, we thought we were superior to you. And you. And especially to you, Christian.
Any Christian symbol was really frightening to me, especially a crucifix. I had no idea there was any link between the Jews and That Man, other than the vague idea that his followers were always trying to kill us and/or forcibly convert us by torture and then make us eat ham as proof of our conversion.
The only contact that I had with actual Christianity was this guy in high school who looked like the stereotypical Christian—clean cut, carrying a Bible, and constantly telling any unbeliever in his path that they were going to hell unless they accepted Jesus as their personal savior Right Now. He also carried an awl just in case he convinced you to say the Sinner’s Prayer, in which case, he then had divine permission to poke another hole in his soul-winning belt.
But seriously, I thought he was nuts, and I felt as if he was speaking to me in another language. Sin and salvation were just not in my vocabulary. He was certainly not properly “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” nor did he “do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).
Oddly, during this time I had crushes on celebrities who had The Jesus Look—you know, the one in all the films and paintings. Think Barry Gibb in all his 70s, white, satiny glory.
Despite things like humiliating Hot Seats and annoying, moralistic Christians, high school was a big improvement over junior high. I had somehow managed to ditch the psychopath friend and found a few nerdy, yet otherwise normal companions. We discovered the joys of truancy and would spend early mornings drinking bad coffee in various breakfast joints, or sitting in the back of a red El Camino driving down the 101 Freeway until we reached the fabled Sunset Grill, made famous in song by that former Eagle, Don Henley. We saw Bruce Springsteen in concert during the Born In the USA tour, and endured all kinds of youthful traumas caused by overly dramatic love affairs that never managed to fill that void caused by the Absent Father.
I went with a friend and her enlightened hippie-ish dad to hear Indian guru Paramahansa Yogananda speak in a clearing that was probably like those used by Jesus when he spoke to people. I lay with my head in my friend’s lap and tried to Become One With The Universe. The Universe obviously did not want to merge with me, because I continued on as my separate little self. That was okay, because I really liked listening to “Breakfast With the Beatles” on KMET radio every Sunday, after late Saturday nights running around in my bra and underwear at the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
When I got into junior college, there was another teacher almost exactly like the one in high school, only shorter. I was madly in love with him, too. His favorite phrase was “Be here now.” I ignored this dictum, and would daydream and write lyrics to Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue“ while in class, but my 18-year-old pseudo-Bohemian Self thought the phrase was oh, so deep (and my middle-aged, jaded-Bohemian self agrees, and is always hoping to live by that philosophy one day).
At that time, a friend and I were trying to experience the cool Starving Artist Life by living in these studios that were actually not supposed to be lived in. A bunch of other minor rebels lived there, too, and since we didn’t have enough money for real food, we all felt appropriately hip while we tried to cook ramen noodles in our microwaves. Plus there were no kitchens, no hot water in the single sink, and just one bathroom at the end of the hall.
One of the most interesting pieces of bad art I created at that time was a black, white, and red ink drawing of flames licking up, with reaching hands at the end of each flame. Definitely trying to make some deep statement about Hell, that place in which I absolutely did not believe. But I digress.
There were some real writing assignments in that teacher’s class (no Hot Seat or equivalent to take up time), but there was still a lot of focus on psychology and “finding your own truth.” For one assignment, I wrote part of a short story about a woman who places a personal ad, looking for a man who would like to conceive the Messiah with her.
But why in the world did I have such a fascination with The Messiah anyway? Of course, I knew that we Jews were still waiting for him/her/it, but the majority of us saw the whole thing as an evolutionary concept rather than as a person—a kind of societal enlightenment, Hundredth Monkey thing. The Hundredth Monkey Effect is the theory that if enough people start believing an idea (or, more literally, enough monkeys learn to wash their sweet potatoes), then there will be a spontaneous consciousness-shift and everyone will suddenly start wearing Birkenstocks or Occupying Something or (insert your favorite possible utopian situation here). I was a good flower-child type and believed that if we just gave peace a chance, everything would be great and that would be the Messianic Age.
Of course, I tried to convince myself that I was already peaceful and enlightened. It was Those Other Folks—probably Christians—messing with the utopian energy.
I Am Woman Phase
There once was a gal with a theory,
That life as a woman was dreary.
Because of a plot that those cruel men had wrought,
But now of that theory she’s leery.
My psychology phase overlaps with this one, but I consider this to be a distinct phase, which lasted about four years, from the time I was 20 or so, until some time after my first child was born. During this phase, I considered myself a feminist; I was intrigued with the differences I saw between the sexes and the diverse kinds of lives women led. I read magazines that were Woman-Focused, like Mothering and Lilith.
Mothering promotes natural birth and parenting, while Lilthis a Jewish feminist journal. In some Jewish folklore, Lilith was the first woman God made to be with Adam, but she refused to be subordinate to him and hightailed it right out of the Garden. After she went off to seek her own destiny, God fell back on Plan B—which involved performing some minor surgery on Adam so he could create barefoot, pregnant, use-me-as-a-footstool Eve.
I found the whole thing inspiring, and in fact had a real fascination with the Creation story as told from weird, humanistic, and feminist perspectives. I even made some mixed-media art based on this theme. I was intrigued with knowing exactly what it meant to be “like God,” to know good and evil, and then to eat from the Tree of Life. Of course, I thought it was all metaphor, but I’m sure I saw it the same way Eve did. I was excited. I wanted to be God, myself, and I especially wanted to escape the grave.
I instinctively understood the Fall and felt the yearning the Apostle Paul writes about, the groaning to live in the world as it could have been. But I thought all that was metaphor too, so I just listened to Joni Mitchell sing about going back to the garden. Of course, her garden was the creepy, LSD-dusted field of Woodstock, which didn’t appeal to me even then, but this song still managed to float me up into a warm-fuzzy, Messianic-Age bubble.
Around this time, I became interested in publishing my own zine. I wanted to have some kind of collaborative women’s journal that would be A Forum for Various Viewpoints and Lifestyles. The title was Of Woman, but the publication never materialized. I still have the original cover design I made, pre-personal computer. The image is attached to a board with real adhesive, covered by a clear overlay with the title in rub-on lettering. It looked pretty good for my very first layout, if I do say so myself. I circulated over 100 detailed questionnaires as pre-publication research, and I received interesting replies from mostly liberal, feminist women. These still reside in my Box of Important Papers to Grab in the Event of a Fire.
With this project I was trying to be all things to all women, and I assumed that because I was a woman, personally, I had to focus on women, generally. I was also young and insecure and uncomfortable looking at my own life in comparison to the lives of other women. I had so little life experience; I was trying to do great things and be wise before my time. I had not yet learned to start small and be faithful in little things.
I was caught up, as usual, in seeking Personal Fulfillment, and I often thought any lack I was experiencing in that area was because I was “not getting my needs met” in my marriage. At the tail end of this phase, I moved out for a few months and lived in a little studio apartment, trying to be the self-supporting artsy type who only needed to look within to find fulfillment. Of course, that failed. I always figured that when I looked within, I’d find a warm and inviting loft or something—a little bit funky, a few candles, some wall-hangings. But it was more dank and dungeony; not the kind of place where you really want to hang out.
People did like to hang out at my real home, though. Not that studio, but the little house in Pasadena I shared with my husband. I had a few groups of friends, and several times I hosted discussion salons, which I had read about in the Reader’s Digest of progressive thought, The Utne Reader. I mailed out invitations with questions to be discussed. Young and old, stodgy and eccentric came together to debate such issues as whether animals have rights. A tall, somber conservative stood and said with a straight face, “If animals have rights, let them petition for themselves.” The vegan goddess-worshipper audibly gasped. But after the talk, we all gathered to break bread, and it seemed like, like a community—until everyone left and I fell into a depression because I felt like a fraud in my intellectual posturing.
I read The Mists of Avalonfor the first time. It’s a wonderful novel; a retelling of the Arthurian legend from a feminist viewpoint. In books like this, it is usually assumed that the true experiences and strengths of women have been deliberately suppressed by patriarchal cultures and religions, with the Biggest Bad being—you guessed it—the Church. In this kind of thinking, there is a big focus on sexuality being a divine manifestation in people. It’s a big turn-on to think that every time you jump in the sack with someone you’re being a god or goddess and participating in the co-creation of the universe! So as you can imagine, a faith that sets limits on sexual expression is considered oppressive. I assented to this intellectually, but always felt like something must be wrong with me because I wasn’t exactly the poster child for the sexually uninhibited.
Still, I bought into the Divine Feminine stuff to some extent, looking for “meaning” in archetypal women’s roles like “Maiden, Mother, and Crone,” or the three fates in Greek mythology—a trinity in which one woman spun the thread of life, another measured it, and a third cut it off. I thought that was really cool. I never seriously pursued any pagan religious practices, although I dabbled in tarot cards, even attempting to make my own deck with images from my psyche. These are also in the Box of Important Papers.
I belonged to a Reform synagogue, complete with female cantor. My husband and I also attended the University of Judaism in Los Angeles for a few semesters. We took the class that was intended to aid in conversion to Judaism. This was during the time when I swore I would never be a Christian, although my husband sometimes said he wanted to be one. Neither of us had any idea what Christianity meant. My husband didn’t really want to be Jewish, but we had a real desire for religion, or rather, the belonging that came with religion.
Of course, I still thought that all paths led to God, but Judaism was my heritage and it was where I was comfortable—plus, there was this cool alternative side to it that spoke to my Inner Radical. I loved the Passover Seders that likened the Exodus to various modern liberation movements, but I had no idea of the true meaning of the Passover, and certainly no inkling that it had anything to do with That Man.
I Am Natural Mother/ Libertarian Phases
My next two phases began when I was pregnant with my first baby. There was still a lot of feminist/Mother Goddess stuff in my childbirth preparation class, and still quite a bit of complaining on my part towards my husband after the baby was born. I was convinced he was not sharing “equally” in the childrearing and housekeeping, and once I even made a chart that tracked how much each of us did. Of course, I conveniently left out the fact that I did nothing to earn money. I wish I still had that chart in my Box of Important Papers. I could look at it and remind myself that I used to be even more self-centered than I am now.
However, the true focus of this phase wasn’t my egalitarian marriage (or lack thereof) but the world of natural birth, breastfeeding, and alternative parenting. I even did coursework to become a Certified Childbirth Educator and taught one full class and one private class.
I was not a good teacher. I don’t think I ever fully grasped the material, and I didn’t have the strength to bear burdens for my students. I let one of the women down when her husband abandoned her during her pregnancy. She expected emotional support from me, but because of things going on in my own life, I’d spent most of my energy trying to keep myself out of a padded room. That experience taught me a lot about my weaknesses and personal limits, and I am still learning how to say “no” to things (even stuff I wish I could do) because I know I won’t be able to handle the demands.
I also learned that everything that interests me is not necessarily a vocation. There are only so many hours in a day and so many minutes in a year—525,600, to be exact—a trivial but somewhat moving fact I recently learned while watching the musical Rent. But even though I had no moneymaking future in that field, home births and homeschooling have been foundational bedrocks in my life for almost 20 years. When I first learned about government intervention in these private areas, I took the next step in my journey. This opened the door for me to trip and land face-first in the next phase.
There once was a thing called The State,
That filled a young woman with hate.
“Liberty! Rights!” she would shout through the nights,
Till the Lord caused her fear to abate.
This phase has two distinct parts: the Constitutionalist/Conspiracy Theorist and the Libertarian/Anarchist. I am not out of this phase, and don’t think I ever will be. There were a lot of other psychological and experiential things going on at this time, and remnants of past phases were being refined or “phased out,” but the one constant between the previous two phases and this one was my regular consumption of The Dennis Prager Show on KABC radio in Los Angeles.
The first hint I had that a religious person need not be an idiot came from Dennis. He is an observant Jew, and long before he had his popular national show, he hosted a little Sunday evening program called Religion on the Line. Every week a Jewish rabbi, a Protestant minister, and a Catholic priest would join Dennis on the air and spend two hours answering religious questions from callers. Sometimes they would throw a Muslim imam or Mormon clergyman into this mix for added interest. I wish I could hear this show now that I know something about theology; I’m sure I would find it enjoyably annoying. The clergy on that program agreed much more often than they should have, considering the very real differences in the actual doctrines of those faiths.
I remember there was a lot of what Francis Schaeffer called “God Words” being bandied about. God Words are things people say that sound spiritual but actually have no real content about God at all—basically, a lot of ephemeral stuff that allows folks to cobble together the kind of God they want to hang with. I was beginning to understand that all paths couldn’t possibly lead to the same God, but I was also cooking up my own weird spiritual stew: Start out by putting some Underdeveloped Libertarian Philosophy in a pot with so-called Judeo-Christian-American-Moral-Values; add a dash of Know-It-All, toss in a few God-Words to spice it up, and voila, you have the meal I lived on for the next few years. Needless to say, I now find it pretty unappetizing, like the last thing you eat before a bout of the stomach flu.
Dennis was the first non-liberal person I was ever exposed to at any great length. He was also my initial exposure to logic—not that I’m an impressive logician today. It was on his radio show that I first heard the assertion that the existence of objective morality depended on the existence of a moral God, a theme I picked up again later, in my reading as a baby Christian. Listening to his show also forced me to face the cracks in my feminist facade. Dennis is big on the fact that men and women are different and that those differences are not societal. I also believed that but was not sure how to square it with my enlightened ideas about gender.
Listening to him was like waking up, or getting my memory back after someone bashed me on the head and stole my purse. Of course, there was the time that he compared nursing in public to urinating in public, and the time he talked about the widespread need for cesarean sections. I was a bold Public Breast-Feeder, a Homebirth Mama, and an in-your-face Tasmanian Devil, so both those assertions made smoke come out my ears. I called him on air to disagree with him. This was terrifying, but I gained valuable experience from expressing myself in a public forum. I don’t think I did it very well, but it was the first time I faced the mournful truth that someone I deeply admired could be wrong, and it hurt.
Those years with Dennis were an extremely important and formative period. My very first zine (a single page, printed on both sides) was dedicated to him. I mailed him a copy, and he called me on the phone and invited me to sit in on his show one day. In my Box of Important Papers is a photo of me, looking all smug while Dennis and I stand with arms around each other, like we’re good buds. I never listen to talk radio anymore, and in fact would rather scrub bathtubs than listen to Dennis today. But at that time I thought I’d arrived, and that my 15 minutes of fame was right around the corner.
During this time, I became reacquainted with an old friend from high school who was a libertarian. He lent me his videos of Milton Friedman’s PBS series, Free to Choose, and I was hooked! Who knew that it was possible to have roads, mail delivery, and even schools without the government providing those things! I would watch these videos with a friend while nursing the baby in the middle of the afternoon, a time when most stereotypical mothers were watching their soap operas.
The next segment of this phase blends together in my mind. I somehow became interested in the fringe liberty crowd—the militias, the conspiracy theorists, the get-back-to-the-land-with-yerr-guns-cuz-the-government’s-comin’-after-you types. I subscribed to the New American, the conspiracy publication of the John Birch Society. My husband and I even tried to opt out of the tax system—as a matter of fact, we’ve only been back in the tax system for about eight years.
My zines during this period were nothing but ranting propaganda for my limited understanding of liberty issues. The letters I wrote to friends were equally obnoxious. Those zines and letters are in my Box of Important Papers, and when I re-read that stuff, I find it amazing and humbling that I still have any friends left from that time. My articles had titles like “Why the State Cannot Prevent Men From Being Schmucks Through Legislation.” This was a rebuttal to a friend’s article about what a man’s legal responsibilities should be to a child he fathers out of wedlock. I still agree with my own conclusions, but am grateful that I’m a bit less bombastic now. I was totally paranoid—not that I was imagining things that weren’t actually happening, but rather in having no faith in a power greater than that of the Totalitarian State.
After this, I was most fascinated by The Voluntaryist, a small publication that is totally anti-statist and for a completely free market society, to be brought about by “neither bullets nor ballots.” So yes, anarchist, although not of a socialist bent. Editor Carl Watner does an awesome job writing well-documented articles about non-government solutions to everything from the postal service to criminal justice. Even the Constitution is too much government for Mr. Watner, and I tend to agree with him. After reading years of The Voluntaryist, I’ve never been the same, and in some ways it has informed my understanding of the Christian faith, even though it’s a secular publication.
We lived in Southern California during all these phases, and in the summer of 1996 we left our rental house, my husband left his job, and we traveled across the country in our bumper-stickered Volkswagen bus. If you saw us on the road, you definitely knew that we were against the New World Order. We thought we were looking for a place to buy land where we could have a generator, a well, and an arsenal of assault weapons, but we never found it. Instead, we returned to the LA area and lived with my mother and stepfather for about nine months. If you’ve ever lived with a parent again as an adult, you will appreciate that assault weapons would have occasionally been welcomed during this arrangement. I had an upside-down American flag hanging from the window of our room, and I continued to be obsessed, angry, and obnoxiously opinionated.
Little did I know that I would soon be changed from the inside out by the Real Power in this world—he who grinds earthy governments and hearts of stone to dust.
The Pre-Christian Phase
There once was a gal quite adept,
At avoiding what she should accept.
She insisted her soul was in her own control,
But soon she saw God intercept.
During our last six months in California (we had decided to relocate to Texas), I had a few experiences that I consider to be the beginning of my regeneration. Now if he weren’t all-powerful, one would think that God somehow needed more time to soften me up, because I was definitely not on his team. The main reason I am a Calvinist is because I know I would never, ever have “chosen” Christ and definitely did not think I needed a “personal savior.” I was a blasphemer who truly hated Jesus Christ in his real person (although I could handle “scholarly” depictions of the so-called historical Jesus). I was totally ignorant about the Christian faith, but was still very comfortable pointing out all that was wrong with it.
One afternoon I was out for coffee with a Christian friend—a newly converted Christian friend, you understand, because I would never have actually made friends with a Christian. Anyway, I was listening to her and trying to be tolerant or whatever, and we started talking about how God will forgive any sin. Any sin? That was just not acceptable to me. I mean, what about murderous dictators? I wasn’t an atheist, someone who didn’t believe in an afterlife, but I just accepted what is probably a common delusion among people—the idea that when you die, everyone you love will be with you in The Good Place—except Hitler and your ex-husbands or ________ (insert the name of whomever you really hate here).
I remember her calmly telling me that yes, the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover every sin. Of course, the whole concept of the blood of Christ freaked me out. Like almost all Jews (and probably most people today) I thought all the blood sacrifices for sin—the slain animals in the Bible, the virgin with her heart cut out on some Aztec mountain—were just primitive religious rituals to appease some angry God who didn’t even exist. We humans had grown out of all that, and there was no sin, only mistakes. No wrath, only a Benevolent Universe waiting to help us create our own reality. Anyway, I thought I was being so open-minded by listening to her, but I was unaware that it was a truly momentous occasion: the first time I ever clearly heard the message of God’s grace.
Soon after that, I was at the post office in Pasadena. I found myself talking to a homeless man who hung out there. He talked to me about Jesus and it didn’t get my blood anywhere near the boiling point (I wonder at what temperature blood boils?). When I left he said “God bless you,” and when I told my husband about it later that night I cried, because I felt like I just didn’t want to be so selfish anymore.
Later that week I went thrift shopping with a friend, and I found a beautiful hand-embroidered tapestry with a Christian-type verse and Jesus on it. It was only $7.95, and I wondered what kind of nasty children would give Mama’s loving handwork to the thrift store after she died. The thing just drew me in. I picked it up and put it back three times, because I was still reluctant to buy anything with That Man on it. But it seemed like it represented purity or something, and I wanted some of that in my life. I think I saw it as a talisman—like it was holding power—which of course is horrible theology. I know that even in good theology there is debate over whether depictions of Jesus Christ in human nature violate the second commandment. I don’t think so, partially because God used this piece of work to draw me to himself.
When we were getting into our U-Haul to begin our journey to Texas, our friend’s Christian neighbor asked if she could pray for us. We agreed. When we arrived in Texas, a woman at the campground asked us, out of the blue, if she could pray for us. We agreed. Understand that even a year previous to this, the very thought of a Christian wanting to pray for me would’ve sent me right through the roof—I mean, how insulting to be seen to be as someone in need of prayer! But here I was, meekly accepting it. It was weird.
The real weirdness, however, came one night in that campground when I was awake in the tent while everyone else was sleeping, with no book but the Bible to read. I’m not even sure why we had this Bible, but since I am one of those people who always need to be reading something, I found myself reading Matthew by the light of a propane lantern while my family slept on the blow-up mattress.
As I read, I had this awful, sinking feeling that I was confronting the Truth--and I didn’t like it. I was mortified because I knew I would have to eat my words and tell my Jewish family that I was now One of Them. I’m not kidding; that is almost like telling your family you’re one of the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I didn’t have one of those freeing experiences you read about in conversion stories, where the joy of the Lord suddenly bursts forth in a person’s heart. I don’t think I understood most of what I was reading, least of all the idea of sin and sacrifice. But I knew that I was facing something I had wrongly mocked and denied all my life, and my mouth was finally silenced. I am sure many people appreciated the peace and quiet.
The Early Christian Me Phase
There once was a gal who was changed.
Her life it had been rearranged.
Now God was the center, she sought Him as her mentor,
But she oftentimes still felt estranged.
My first year in Texas was spent getting used to the fact that I was now a Christian, and it was not an easy transition. I didn’t know any Christians and learned what I could by reading back issues of Christianity Today and Moody magazine from the small-town library. I discovered C.S. Lewis, who was a great help to me in the beginning. Finally, I met a Christian neighbor who was also a Scrabble player like me, and in between games I was finally exposed to church and Bible studies.
Being a rebel in general, I was very distrustful of the institutional church, and the whole Christian life thing was still strange to me. My friend introduced me to Keith Green and the pre-Catholic John Michael Talbot, and I loved and worshipped with this music—but I found I couldn’t use the term Jesus Christ. It couldn’t pass my through lips because it would get stuck in my throat and wouldn’t come any farther. Years later I read a book by Zola Levitt that listed the major stumbling blocks for Jews when it came to Christianity, and at the top of the list was That Name.
So, I found myself looking into the Messianic Jewish movement. Despite the fact that my mother had always told me it was impossible to be a “Jew for Jesus,” there I was, a Jew for Jesus, and I figured that meant I had to seek out others and worship in a Jewish manner. I read the Jewish New Testament and talked about Yeshua and occasionally attended a Messianic synagogue. They carried their big Torah around and kissed it just like Jews do in regular synagogues, and that struck me as odd. I was certainly no theological giant, but I sensed that the focus wasn’t quite right.
I finally gave up on that, and my only Christian fellowship was an at-home Bible study with my husband and our Independent Fundamentalist Baptist friend. She was King James Only, but my husband and I used NIVs, and we studied at least five books of the New Testament verse by verse—Including the book of Romans, which presented its own problems for me in the thirteenth chapter:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority but from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil (Romans 13:1-4, NIV).
Although I was now a Christian, I still had my idol, and that idol was Freedom and Ultra-Limited Government. The idea that the Evil State might have some part in God’s plan did not make me happy, to say the least. For some reason, after we finished Romans 12 we were not able to meet together for many weeks, but the change of plans always came at the last minute—I lived week-to-week in unhappy expectation of having to read and discuss that passage with others, because I knew that my rebellion of heart would not stand up to scrutiny, and I wanted to keep it at least propped up, if not actually on its feet.
I didn’t realize at that time that I could have my belief about what the best kind of government was, but that I could still be subject to the government I found myself living under. Being subject does not imply agreement, but it does assume that God controls all things, a doctrine I hadn’t yet grasped. The zine I made at that time now seems to me a record of two struggles—the first being the relationship between the Christian and the State, the second the relationship between husbands and wives—both issues of authority. The bottom line was that I was just very rebellious and controlling in my spirit, and it took many hours of prayer and reading before I could understand these issues from a different perspective.
This rebelliousness against authority in general also kept me outside the visible church for years. I had never even considered belonging to the Institutional Church—at first, because it was filled with Gentiles and then because, well, it was an institution, so it must be bad because it had officers who held authority and expected you to give money. Because of this hard-headedness (I mean, reluctance) my husband and I had a long stint in what we called a house church—which, of course, had no officers, collected no offering and had no statement of faith or confession. We would take communion with bread I’d baked, sing praise and worship songs with guitar and tambourine, while whoever felt “led” would speak.
I was becoming more well-read in theology and saw that most of the people in this group with us were of the Pentecostal “speaking-in-tongues” variety, which they kept under wraps for quite a long time. After a few months, discussion became more and more focused on who might be the antichrist. Most meetings degenerated into a chaotic mix of unintelligible tongues. After a time, Husband and I thought there might be some problems with this, but no one wanted to talk theology, because “theology divides.”
The issue that bothered me the most was the assertion that there were Spirit-Filled Christians (who spoke in tongues) and Non-Spirit-Filled Christians (who didn’t). At one point I was accused of “grieving the Holy Spirit” and was treated to a thinly veiled “prophecy” that some calamity might befall me. I wasn’t struck down by lightning or anything, and we left that group without reconciling, which was very uncomfortable. It was several years before we had any more contact, but I finally received an apology from the person who had pronounced my malediction. That experience, in addition to becoming acquainted with Reformed thinking through the books of R.C. Sproul and Francis Schaeffer, effectively removed my aversion to the Institutional Church.
So, if we were no longer opposed to attending church, we still had to find one. We had no idea how to do that. One day I just got the bright idea to look in the phone book, the literal paper one. We liked the name of one denomination nearby—the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Envisioning a place full of men with long beards (we assumed that went with the term Orthodox), we attended the service the following Sunday. When we arrived, most people were clean shaven, and we were blessed to see a married couple take their vows of membership—something which would have ruffled our individualist feathers not long before, but which we now found beautiful.
When I first laid eyes on the pastor, my inner Jew-dar started beeping loudly.
I turned to my husband and said, “He’s Jewish.”
“No, he’s not,” my husband replied.
But sure enough, after the service I was chatting with someone and discovered that the Jew-dar was working properly and had, once again, correctly identified a Jew—in this Christian pastor! How exciting it was for me to be in a non-Messianic church with a pastor who was also a converted Jew. I felt like God was showing me again that the veil of separation between Jew and Gentile was gone for good.
When we were invited to the pastor’s home for Easter a few weeks after that first visit, I told my husband, “At least we won’t have to eat ham.”
Remember, ham is the evil meat which, when eaten by Jews, Inquisitors see as proof-positive that their, uh, conversion efforts have been successful. Of course, this is just a weird fantasy of mine, and I do eat sausage and bacon—but I still had a good laugh at myself when the pastor’s wife pulled a big, crackling ham out of the oven. I realized that not all Jewish Christians carried the same baggage I did.
The Titus 2 Woman Phase
This phase began just a few years after I was converted. I needed to find some other weird obsessive thing to replace my Crazed Inner Libertarian. I read some controversial books by Mary Pride. The first time I picked them up, my Residual Feminist threw them against the wall way before she finished reading. These books focus, in a pretty narrow way, on the author’s opinion about the biblical texts on women’s role. There is a lot of talk about being a Titus 2 Woman, a Proverbs 31 Woman, a Keeper at Home, and all that. These books were great to shock me out of my more fanatical feminist thinking, and I responded to their radicalism. I obviously do better than most people with extreme ideas—I take them all in and spit out the bones, which sometimes takes years. Now, I’m definitely in the spitting out part of the process on this issue. See that big pile over there?
When I finally made it through Mary Pride’s books, they almost became my Bible. I belonged to all kinds of Virtuous Woman sites online, and I read real paper publications like Patriarch Magazine. For a while, I wanted to move to Virginia and be part of R.C. Sproul Jr.’s “community.” They were really into the whole Father as Prophet, Priest, and King thing, and it would have been a great Christian substitution for the militia compound surrounded by gun turrets that I never got back in my paranoia phase.
The problem was that my own husband had absolutely no desire to do that. He didn’t buy into the patriarch stuff, and wouldn’t have known how to be one even if he did. After a while I thought it was almost humorous that nearly every woman interested in all that had a husband who wasn’t. Of course, that would probably be good ammunition for the Godly Christian Family folks, who say that today’s men are “feminized,” and not the manly specimens they would be if they were just more faithful and more committed to that most Manliest of Men, Jesus Christ.
I have seen so much discontentment arise in the hearts of wives who read about seemingly perfect families on the Internet, and then see their own good-enough husbands as lacking beside this or that Super-Spiritual-Leader-Husband—you know, the one who not only works to support the family, or better yet, already has plenty of money—but puts that money toward an impressive library of leather-bound first editions of the Puritan classics. Those make such a great background for those family photos when everyone is perfectly groomed and dressed in similar fashion, an important component in Christian family solidarity.
This husband also begins a family-centered home business, attends homeschool conferences, takes the family on trips to Williamsburg to celebrate America’s Godly Heritage, never misses twice-daily family worship, and never appears tired, discouraged, grumpy, or lacking in faith in any area. In addition, he perfectly models Christ for his modest-yet-stylishly-dressed, submissive wife. I am not bashing anyone in particular here, but really, this stereotype has a life of its own. In fact, it’s like a zombie who feeds on contentment rather than brains.
I got into blogging during this time, right before the Mommy Blog craze really got going. Someone who started when I wrote a book a few years ago that has sold at least half a million copies. I bet she spent less time than me worrying whether she was Being The Woman God Wanted Her To Be (according to the Godly Family Subculture), and instead spent time writing.
I spent time writing, myself—I have a foot-high stack of all the stuff I wrote during my blogging years in my Box of Important Papers. But I still struggled with guilt if I was doing anything that wasn’t directly related to improvement in the Wife/Mother/Homemaker area. There were too many times when I practically fell into despair thinking that my personality needed a complete overhaul--that very personality which God, by His Very Own Word, knitted together when I was still in my mother’s womb.
I am glad to have left behind a lot of the naggin’ ways that characterized my younger days as a wife, and I have gone through long periods when my focus is indeed on learning to be a better housekeeper and cook—but where my “better” falls on the scale of someone else’s “good,” I’m really not sure. I’m not constantly teaching little moral lessons from the Scriptures, and I have been known to yell and/or be pretty sarcastic in my “child training.”
My house usually has an underlying order, but it is often messy because it is full of books, art supplies, and other tools that get a lot of use. I rarely deep-clean anything, am pretty much an unschooler, am not always “consistent” in disciplining my children--plus I drink lots and lots of coffee, stay up very late, and am definitely not up at the crack of dawn having my quiet time. But I am home all day with many children (five to be exact, from age 22 down to 4). And my 73-year-old mother also lives with us, so that makes me a member of the so-called Sandwich Generation. Never mind that I don’t even like sandwiches, and I certainly don’t like the idea of playing the part of the icky, processed meat.
I am a fairly well-read and (obviously) opinionated person. Does being submissive mean I can never disagree with my husband about anything? Does it mean I should never even want to think and talk about “issues,” but rather I should always be busy doing domestic work? Should I do everything on a schedule, since “there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven,” despite the fact that I hate a highly scheduled life? Should I buy a pre-packaged Bible-based curriculum to use in homeschooling my children, or send them to a Classical school, since that seems to be the most current consensus of what constitutes a “Christian “ education? How clean does my house have to be to please God, anyway? Is it a sin to have a ring of grime in my bathtub? Should I necessarily be reading something by Elisabeth Elliot rather than a medieval murder mystery or a book of essays about free-market economics? Where is that fine line sewn, the one which merges God’s will for us in his Word, and his will that he planted within our own personality?
I sometimes felt like parts of me were dying, and with solid investigation I discovered that the Titus 2 Woman was the culprit. She’s been trying to use poison (the so-called woman’s weapon) for a slow, not easily diagnosable cause of death. Her accomplices are the Dreaded Inner Critics (in no way related to the actual Holy Spirit) whose legalistic voices whisper that we would be sooooo much more pleasing to God if we only did this activity, or were more like that obviously highly sanctified individual over there. For so long I didn’t understand that I need to be gentle with myself and not fall into perfectionism—if I were perfect, I wouldn’t need a savior. The Titus 2 Woman can think about that as she languishes in the prison cell I created for her in my mind.
I don’t think anything that is traditionally women’s work is demeaning or inherently servile, and I know that things have to be functional on a basic level, or the environment is too chaotic to live and work in. And I love to work in my home when that is coming from a creative place. But there is a cyclical, futile quality to the narrowly-defined “biblical” wife-and-mother life that can be stifling to the point of suffocation, for me at least.