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Love Song, IV — Mystery

continued from Love Song, III — Death

She sat across from me, knuckles clasped white except for streaks of mascara swiped from her cheeks.  She didn't know why she came; she'd stopped to turn around many times. But here she was. No coffee, thanks.

"I was given up for adoption at birth." Words trembled between shaky lips. "When I was 14, my parents who adopted me put me back in the children's home. I found my biological mother and went to live with her. But then she kicked me
out . . ."

Her life spilled in fragments through chattering teeth. By the time Hannah turned 27, she'd been married and divorced twice, had an abortion, given a daughter up for adoption, birthed three other children, been in and out of rehab, and became an alcoholic. But years of hardcore drug use made it hard to remember things. "And I also died," she said. "I overdosed on heroin and the only reason I'm alive now is because my boyfriend knew to stick me in a tub of ice and shock me back. But I was dead. I really was. That's another reason why I can't think straight." She showed me her arms, crisscrossed and sculpted by life, each a story of blade, of pain. "But I'm a neat freak. And I love to sew." She showed me a quilted coin purse, dark and eclectic. "I sew all the time. It keeps me focused." She looked at me with tears. "Can I give you a hug?" she asked, almost shyly. "Thank you for listening." Then like a fragile doe, she bolted away and I never saw her again.

I went home and cried for hours.

Sisters of Sorrow

Children born within a Quiverfull or religious, conservative family have the reassurance of knowing we are, above anything else, wanted. This is a fundamental element of a Quiverfull life. Yet I wonder how many of us sometimes feel, deep down, more like Hannah? Given up at birth. Rejected by her adoptive family, then yet again by her biological mother. Married and divorced ~ not once, but twice.

Not good enough.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.


Roots of Darkness

The pressure to look like a godly woman, controlled by performance-based love, acceptance, or approval, is nothing less than a death sentence for many girls raised within a fundamentalist environment. For example, you are probably familiar with this simple directive: "Smile." Or its twin siblings: "You need to smile more," and "Turn that frown upside down!" We learn at an early age what emotions are acceptable, and which are not. We learn to reveal only that which is positive, "godly." Yet when truth whispers otherwise, when reality is that we want or need to cry, or rage, or be spontaneous, and yet we stifle what is real in favor of what looks better, what looks Christ-like, what looks like a godly, joyful spirit, what does that do to our hearts? This form of fake-it-til-you-make-it is deceptive. And deception does not lead to healing, nor to life.

We read the words of Jesus, "The truth will make you free," and yet as we strive and struggle to attain the level of perfection established for us, required of us ~ freedom grows distant. This is cognitive dissonance in its most disturbing form. It is confusion, for it is done in the name of God who is not the author of confusion, but of peace. What is peace? It is the state of being at rest. And in the furious trampling of the ancient paths, worn down by the Pharisees of old, rest came not to my weary soul. 

A Depressed Perfectionist Finds Grace

I've carried Hannah with me now for years; she's etched on my heart as her cries echoed my own.
Not good enough. Not loved for who I am. Not accepted "as is". There was always more I could be. More I should do. Things I ought to do. The shoulds and oughts of life tormented me daily, hourly. Despite what I heard, what messages conveyed, what was real to me is that I, an ungodly, full-of-the-flesh blight of the earth, needed to be cut off from life, broken down, remolded, smothered.

There is a reason I've titled this series "Love Song", but more accurately it is a mystery. My spiritual journey, a story longer than time allows here, culminated one beautiful starry night when Love came home. But first, first my childhood dream would come true.

I had to die.
To be continued: conclusion


  1. Hillary, your writing rings so true with me. I am the oldest girl in a family of 12. And while the word quiverful was never used (we were actually Catholic--and I don't think most large catholic families would quite qualify as "quiverful"), but my parents bought every lie associated with the quiverful movement and then some. Like you I lived to please my parents, but the unlike you was the "model child who could do no wrong" (all the while inwardly feeling resentful and imprisoned). When I finally made the difficult decision to leave the dark binding prison of my father's authority at the age of 24, his disapproval and rejection was crushing. 11 years later I still do not have a relationship with my parents, because the relationship we had was based on what I did, not who I am, and now that they no longer like what I do (wear pants, drive a car, went to college, have a job, think for myself, etc), they cannot accept me for who I am.
    I also suffered watching my father being emotionally abusive to some of my sisters who's personalities did not please him.
    "Not accepted, not loved for who we are, never good enough". Your words ring so true for me and I am sure many who grew up this way.

  2. "Children born within a Quiverfull or religious, conservative family have the reassurance of knowing we are, above anything else, wanted. ... Yet I wonder how many of us sometimes feel, deep down, more like Hannah?"

    This question hits on one of the dichotomies of patriarchal fundamentalism: ostensibly it's all about "wanting" and "loving" children (unlike all those terrible liberals who are happy with a smaller family), and yet the reality that people like you and I have experienced is that children are "wanted" for their instrumental value, not for their unique personalities. Families like these want children 1) for the image of a particular kind of lifestyle, 2) for free labor, and/or 3) to fulfill the fantasies of the parents. Children who happen not to fit the prescribed mold are physically, emotionally, and spiritually bludgeoned into submission. My parents were only interested in any of my abilities or interests as long as they served their purposes; anything that didn't make me more useful at running the home or earning them money was due to fleshly desires or lies from Satan. Of course no one said "I love you" more than my Dad did. I've realized that what he really meant was "I need you to fulfill my dreams."

  3. Thank you both for your achingly poignant observations.

    Kateri, that is so sad. I'm so sorry that this has been your experience. :-( Thank you for adding your voice; I am sure that you and I could compare dozens of stories. {{Hugs}}

    Naomi, yes. My heart stopped when I read your comment because it is so brutally precise. I think you said in 2 paragraphs what I've tried to write for years.

  4. That's very kind of you, Hillary, but you are due so much credit for making this kind of forum available where women like us can begin to speak honestly about our experiences. In my background, indicating any sort of family conflicts or shortcomings was the essence of being a terrible person. I still cringe to speak honestly about the dark side of our family life, but a place like this helps a lot.

    If anything I've said can be useful in your work, please have at it!

  5. Naomi ~ thank you. I will be in touch soon . . .

    Happy New Year!!

  6. Maybe I grew up in a different style of quiverful home but we were not wanted. My mom believed in having many babies and truly loved them when she had the energy. My dad hated it everytime my mom got pregnant. We had no money, we oouldn't afford another mouth and we (11) all grew up knowing we were born only so my parents wouldn't think they were going to hell.

  7. Tina, that breaks my heart! I know that a lifetime of pain lies under those few sentences. Thank you for adding your voice.

  8. "The pressure to look like a godly woman, controlled by performance-based love, acceptance, or approval, is nothing less than a death sentence for many girls raised within a fundamentalist environment" - I so relate to this. I was 'shunned' by a friend who was trying to live this, as she was taught by Gothardism. She was under so much pressure but despite the death her soul was going through she was convinced her religion was the only way to life. I felt she was in a prison of her own making with chained she'd forged herself, and wanted every other woman there too to validate her experience. I had already met Gothardism in the doily-wearing church I grew up in and didn't want to do that performance-oriented 'this is how to be a godly woman' one-up-man-ship anymore. She was forbidden to associate with me because I was a 'bad influence'. The pressure to conform was intense, but the bar kept being raised higher and higher - yet even though she was clearly suffering, if you didn't play the game you were bound for hell. It was a nightmare. The suffering this legalism brings, especially for women, reminds me of the Taleban.

  9. Thanks, Hillary. In my family we were very wanted, but unconditional love only went as far as our obedience and conformity. I realize now that (even though my mother probably still does not fully realize it) we were born to fill a need in her, to put a band-aid over old wounds.

    Of course I am not displeased that we were born, whatever the reason. But it's brought grief to my heart to see how quickly she is willing to end her relationship with us when we choose paths she does not approve of, or worse, when we dare to confront her. I've seen it happen to other family members through the years; now it's my turn. Yes, I have felt abandoned and rejected...I have many months of sleepless nights and gallons of tears to show for it.

    Thank God that He is a loving Father Who never abandons us.


  10. Anons 3:21 and 12:42, BIG HUGS. Thank you for sharing your comments ~ it's so sad, but very telling, what occurs when we leave the simplicity that is in Christ. I pray all the more to be able to simply abide in Him and His words in me. May the God of grace comfort you and your friends and give you wisdom, healing and peace.


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