Orthodoxy

7 Years of Orthodoxy; struggles in continuing; should I stay Orthodox?

I just realized it’s been 7 years already since I started attending the local Orthodox church and began the process of conversion.  Wasn’t it just last year?  My story is here.  Sadly, Richard is the guy who led me to Orthodoxy in the first place, as described in my story.

I sometimes wonder if I would’ve stayed Presbyterian if not for him; most likely.  I had only just discovered that it was okay in the PCUSA to believe in universalism, and there was much freedom of thought in other matters as well.  But I wanted to find out what the ancient Church believed about everything, because the different doctrines in Christendom were so confusing.

I’ve been going through a crisis of faith for some time, as described here, here and here.  I’ve also heard on Orthodox forums (often populated with converts) of falling away after about five years, when the convertitis wears off and you start to lose your fervor.

It took me a whole summer of research to decide to try out the Orthodox church, and another two years in the process of converting, before finally joining.  And I kept always reading, reading, reading, to find out if Orthodoxy was correct.  I have an entire box full of Internet printouts.

So this was not taken at all lightly, or done quickly.  I’ve also experienced so much richness: in the liturgy, the fasts, the Lenten and Holy Week services, the theology, the spirituality, even the Greek Fests which have nothing to do with Orthodoxy.

Maybe the doldrums are simply because of my conversion’s connection to Richard, and the doubt of God’s existence that came out of that.

Maybe it’s the same disillusionment that led me out of evangelicalism to Presbyterianism: the people who make it seem like you can’t truly be Christian unless you’re a Republican, believe gay marriage is an abomination, and put so many limitations on who can do what in the church.

I hated the legalism of so many fundamentalist Protestant churches: head coverings, no long hair on the men, no pants or short hair on the women, no rock music–But in Orthodoxy (not my own church, but many others) are people who insist on head coverings, beards on the men, women not reading the Epistle, getting rid of organs/pews/ecumenism because they’re “Western innovations.”

I did NOT become Orthodox to become more fundamentalist.  I LIKED women preachers.  But I did not like the milquetoast worship that evangelicalism had turned to, or the doctrine that all non-Christians are destined for Hell even if they have good reasons for not converting.

But after becoming Orthodox, I lost my taste for all the other churches.  There is a richness of theology and practice here which has been lost elsewhere.  Sure I sometimes miss listening to a long sermon by a skilled preacher.  But the focus of the homilies, at least at my church, is not on the preacher’s diction, skits, or bullet points; the focus is on the teachings of the church and living out Christianity in the world.

Also, I must remember that when I first “met” Richard online, he was himself a new convert of only a year or two.  When he and I were able to finally meet in person, we both were new converts, and in the midst of convertitis.

I tried not to go to the extreme of, “Nothing in this parish is Orthodox enough, get rid of the pews and organ and change everything back to ‘tradition,’ I’ll wear a headcovering to church and a peasant dress, and I’ll do a full fast even if nobody else does!”

But other signs were there, such as disdain for any theology that isn’t “Orthodox” enough, or any Christian book not written by an Orthodox.  (Not that I feel like going back and changing anything in my theology pages or old Left Behind reviews at this point.)

And Richard kept complaining that my church was not Orthodox enough, and disdaining other theologies.  Two recent converts feeding each other’s convertitis.

Part of my convertitis was moving away from the path I was already on: becoming more liberal.

I had always been a feminist, but with very conservative views on abortion, homosexuality, housewives.  Over the years before converting, I began to move toward more liberal views on homosexuality, and away from the idea that the best way to raise a family was as a housewife.

I now believed that women should have the choice of working mom or housewife without getting grief for it, that it’s about what’s best for your family.  I was in favor of birth control, and believed that some married couples should not be parents.

In the Presbyterian church, I examined studies on homosexuality and the Scripture, and more liberal views of abortion.  But Internet Orthodoxy led me off that track, into a strict view against homosexuality, against legal abortion, against birth control, even against being a working mom.

I don’t remember what exactly shook me out of that and got me back on the liberal-track.  But I do know that it was a combination of Richard’s charisma and Internet ‘doxy that got me off track, neither one claiming full responsibility; the part against working mothers did not come from him.

Internet ‘doxy is full of Pharisaic zeal against things that, when you go into an actual church, especially Greek, nobody seems to care about.

I feel that Orthodoxy is wrong about homosexuality, but even if it’s right, it is NOT Orthodox to condemn homosexuals, condemn women/girls (single, or young, or dirt-poor) who feel their only option is abortion, or prevent others from living their own consciences and religions (NOT ours).

How about working to make abortions unnecessary, because if you make them illegal, desperate girls/women will still take some dangerous herb, use a coat-hanger, or get butchered in some back-room abortion.

I don’t see how this makes me “unOrthodox,” or how it’s “unOrthodox” to vote Democrat to try to make a better life for the poor, weak and downtrodden.

Richard told me he hates Democrats, and had some extremely harsh things to say about Democrats and their policies.  But I became a Democrat partially BECAUSE of the things I saw him going through as a dirt-poor person.  The same feeling which led me to take him in and help him in his poverty, is what led me to become Democrat.

But as written in On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian:

We come to the Church and we remain in the Church in order to save our souls, and nothing else. Church is not a hobby, a game, a private interest, a pretence, or even a community. It is our soul’s salvation.

We achieve this by first being ourselves and then being the best of ourselves. If there is anything else, it is all secondary. We must never lose this perspective. If we do, then we are out of perspective and on our way out of the Church.

But this part certainly got lost on the way, both with me and with Richard/Tracy:

In order to save our souls, we first have to know ourselves, searching out and discovering our own faults, sins and failings. Then we have to take issue with them and fight, however slowly and weakly, and begin to tame them and never give up this battle. We will know when we are not doing this, it is when we start dwelling on the faults of others.

If our personal pride is hurt in the course of Church life, thank God. That is what we are there for, to become humble.

This does become tricky when people are abused or molested, of course.  It doesn’t help an abuse or rape victim to be told, Stop dwelling on what they did and look at your own sins!

But once you have processed what happened, told about it, and hopefully had some sort of justice, you can begin to focus on your own sins, without justifying what the other person did to you.

To avoid becoming personality disordered, or being constantly angry with others, we need to deal with our anger against the person who actually caused it, not push it down and then take it out on others.

We also are told, right there in the Bible, to watch out for and keep away from wolves in the church.  There are whole passages describing how to tell who is not truly Christian, so you can separate from them.

So some judgment of others is not only allowed, but expected, so you can protect yourself from being poisoned by toxic “Christians.”  It’s not about how you dress, but if you abuse, use and manipulate others.  This does need to be remembered when we are told not to focus on how a fellow church member abused us.

I keep my stories up to vent them out of my heart, and to help others who are still in the healing process after narcissistic abuse.  But if Richard/Tracy ever did repent, I would do some serious cutting.

Most people, however, aren’t dealing with abusers, but with normal faults and flaws among church members.  Getting upset because that lady keeps running off whenever work is to be done, is not the same thing as being molested by a youth leader.

Threatening lawsuits for anything less than getting physically attacked or molested–this should be out of line.  And it is, really; the Bible says this as well.

This website offers a different perspective on converts in the church:

On one level, many Orthodox converts are fleeing megachurch Christianity. They are coming because they want something on Sunday morning besides a rock band and a giant plasma TV screen.

Converts are also fleeing from mainline Protestantism, which is in the midst of a three-decade statistical nosedive and demographic suicide.

At the same time, I believe that most of these converts are coming out of that core 20 percent of their former churches. They are active, highly motivated people. They read, they think, they sing, and they serve. That hunger for more, that hunger for sound doctrine, is sending them to Orthodoxy.

These Orthodox converts are seeking mystery. They want a non-fundamentalist approach to the faith, but they are not fleeing the faith of the ages. They are trying to get back to the trunk of the tree. All around them are churches that are either modern, postmodern, post-postmodern or post-post-postmodern.

It makes the case that churches do need to become more traditional if they want more converts, and to keep their young people.  These two websites demonstrate the two different strains working against each other: one says change back, the other one says accept the church as it is.

But this is why I became Orthodox:

There is only one criterion for entering the Orthodox Church and that is because you are convinced that it is for your personal salvation, for your spiritual survival, because it is God’s Will for you, because you know that this is your spiritual home and that, whatever the cost, you can never be anything else. —On Becoming and Remaining an Orthodox Christian

 

I finally got myself a three-bar cross: My Orthodox conversion is complete! ;) (convertitis)

I got one of these a few months ago:
http://www.skete.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&Product_ID=2752&Category_ID=110 [link no longer works; was a three-bar cross]

…Because, until I got that three-barred cross, my other crosses just didn’t seem “Orthodox” enough.  And goodness knows, if you want to convert to Orthodoxy, it’s gotta be all the way, right?

As a friend of mine at church, a college guy converting to Orthodoxy, said, “Like cell phones, the more bars, the better!”

Must have the icon corner with 50 icons…Must have the headscarf….Must have every Orthodox book the other converts have and claim to have read….Must dress like a 19th-century Russian peasant and wear a long, scraggly beard (assuming you’re a man, that is)….Must get upset that the people at church (Orthodox since birth) don’t do it “right,” the priest dresses too Catholic, there’s an organ and pews, nobody fasts beyond cutting out meat during the 10,000 Lenten days of the year–is outrage!

And must subscribe to Hyperdox Herman on Facebook!  Oh, wait, that page makes fun of people with Orthodox convertitis.  Heresy!  Is outrage!

And yes, since it can be hard to get this across on the Net, this is tongue-in-cheek.  🙂

E-mail to Mike: processing my pain

I wrote to my pastor friend Mike on July 27,

My dear true friend and brother, I don’t want this to be a long e-mail, since I don’t want to poke my emotions too much.  But we’ll see how it goes….

I can’t believe nearly a month has already passed since everything went down.

I still get sad, but I’ve spoken to my priest and with some people on an Orthodox forum, and it’s been helping me get through.

One person on the forum said I’m experiencing what’s called “joyful sorrow.”

Instead of giving in to resentment, anger or despair, I’m trying to pray “Lord have mercy” whenever the negative thoughts start breaking in again, and it’s helping me to reach what seems to be serenity and a start towards forgiveness.  I’m told this is how to let things go and give my problems to God.

Of course, the negative thoughts do occasionally remind me WHY I don’t just run over there and try to patch things up.

They remind me how my friend was increasingly frustrating me, getting snarky and condescending on Facebook, refusing to see things from my point of view when he used to be more accommodating, refusing to apologize for anything without it being ripped out of him, when he used to say “sorry” for every little freaking thing when he lived with us.

They remind me how he seems to have been entertaining violent thoughts when he should’ve been praying them away.  I remember things he told me in the past year or so which made my hair stand on end.  I also found an e-mail he sent Jeff just a few days before the “Day”:

He had been sending me these e-mails with unsolicited advice, about something I didn’t want to talk about with him [NVLD] because he had this attitude that I was just being silly.

I felt like he was judging me and trying to change me, got upset, and sent him a blunt e-mail because he told me he wanted me to be blunt.

He got furious with me over it.  He told me he wasn’t judging me or trying to change me and that he misinterpreted my “sharing” as asking him for help.

He e-mailed Jeff, saying something about not wanting to dump us as friends but I “bit hard” and he was distancing himself for a bit.  Jeff and I were on two different computers and didn’t tell each other what was going on; I sent an apology,

while Jeff sent a terse e-mail about knowing what’s been going on, that my friend had been viciously snarling at me lately, and if my friend wanted to know, he’d give him his reasons.

My friend e-mailed back that he didn’t want to hear these opinions, that he doesn’t want to hit him with a brick next time he sees him, that he hasn’t felt so violently angry in many years, that he’s easily provoked to physical violence and will go jogging to get rid of it.

This made no sense to me because he has told me about several different things just in the past few years which must have inspired him to more violence than anything Jeff could possibly have said.

When I saw this e-mail, I stuck it an archive so I could remember why I shouldn’t just run over there and patch things up.

With his wife being a boiling rage-pot who WON’T LET THINGS GO and his own rage (which, when he lived with us, he gave me every reason to believe he had conquered)–Something is gravely wrong over there. 

I pray for him to realize before it’s too late that he has to take seriously the teachings of the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and Jesus.

How can he become a priest or a psychologist with such things going on?  He used to be my spiritual counselor.  But now, I’d far rather go to my own priest for spiritual counsel.

I’m sending out e-mails trying to get together with people I know here in town, but haven’t seen much of lately.  I haven’t gotten a lot of response yet, but I know they like me, so I guess I just have to keep trying. These are NICE people. 

Like my friend was way back when he lived with us, by himself, before everybody else moved in and my serene house turned into chaos, before he started judging my personality as an “excuse” rather than just the way I am.

Last week, we spent Wednesday evening at SCA dance practice and then another hour or so with the [SCA] people at a nearby bar and grill.  I felt *happy*.  Then on Saturday, two old friends came over for a movie.  These are people I used to know, part of a larger group I used to hang out with.

For some reason–probably a dispute over one person–they stopped coming to my parties, so I stopped asking.  But I kept in touch with them by e-mail over the years, then found them on Facebook, where they’re friendly with me.

So I figure, what the hey?  Maybe I can get back into that group that I’ve missed so much for the past 9 years.  The group where one person is called Yoda and another one had his name legally changed to Merlin’s Welsh name.

Lose one friend, but regain several old ones whose loss I have always mourned…..

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children

5. My frustrations mount

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

 

Tracy turns jealous of and hostile toward me because I’m an introvert with NVLD

Ever since my conversations with Richard first began two years before, they had been one-on-one.  Our conversations for the past two months had gone on for hours, one-on-one.

There was a dynamic, a shared history of confidences, an understanding between us that made these conversations special.  As a quiet, shy introvert, I could open up in a way I couldn’t when more people were added.

Introversion includes a preference for one-on-one conversations, and hating small talk.  It also means you have trouble contributing to conversations with more people because it’s hard to process, think what you want to say, and then find a spot to say it, before the conversation has moved on.

It has nothing to do with our intelligence, willingness to speak, or what we think of the others in the conversation.  It is, rather, how our brains are wired:

Our brain processes require us to think before speaking, going through our long-term memories for experiences and knowledge to find something to say.  Extroverts think as they speak, using short-term memory.

It takes longer to go through the long-term memory.  So small talk makes us very quiet, while an in-depth, interesting conversation inspires us to speak a lot more.

Now, you may say, if introverts have to take extra time to think of something to say, then why are your brains so quick in this case?

It’s simple: If we are already interested in a topic, then we study it and think about it a lot, so we already know what to say.  If we don’t already know about a topic, then we have very little to pull from our experiences or knowledge, so there is very little to say.

The same goes for questions put to us by significant others or friends: Since this question has only just been put to us, we need time to examine it, and figure out what we think about it and the best way to answer it.

I have had people get upset with me for not answering yet, when they haven’t even given me a chance to think it over first.  This is very annoying for an introvert, so stop doing that.

But Richard told Jeff that I needed to “push” myself.  Uh, no.  That reminds me of my second-grade teacher (I loved her otherwise because she was awesome, but this one thing annoyed me):

She complained that I did not participate enough in class.  That’s because I didn’t always know the answer.  One day I was in a little circle with the “smart” group; she asked us for types of construction equipment.

I said nothing because I was into “girl” things, like dolls and Cinderella, and had no clue what types of construction equipment there were.  But she kept saying, “Raise your hand, Nyssa!  Raise your hand!”

What was I supposed to say if I raised my hand–“I have no clue and don’t have an answer for you”?

That’s exactly how I feel if somebody–such as Richard–tries to push and force me into a conversation when I have nothing to say.

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days…..

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers.

That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.)

Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ. —Carl King, 10 Myths About Introverts

So I resented it when Richard kept trying to make these into three-way conversations with Tracy, whose judgment, temper and humor I began to find questionable.  The more I saw of her temperament, the less I wanted to open up to her.  She put me off with crass humor.  She also seemed to be very reactionary when someone disagreed with her, and conservative where I was liberal.

For example, she ripped on my priest for saying that their marriage had to be blessed in the Orthodox Church before they could take the Eucharist.  She made all sorts of disrespectful and nasty comments about him, such as not listening to an “old man.”  But this was an Orthodox requirement which somehow had been neglected after their conversion, so she was extremely unfair to this wonderful priest.

She also decided she hated my church and wanted nothing to do with it, because somebody told her there was a children’s area in the basement where she could take the kids when they get noisy.

(In fact, even though Richard loved my church when it was just him and me going, they both now came up with all sorts of reasons why they didn’t like my church, and chose a different church two counties away.  My church is full of lovely people and has an awesome, wise priest.)

For another example, I felt comfortable talking with Richard about things that turned me off about fundamentalist Protestantism, such as the rejection of science.  Some time long before, he and I looked over an Orthodox website which said that the obsession with Creationism was not Orthodox.  But I mentioned this in front of Tracy one day, and she just went off on me.

Also on the Forum once, I posted some link that said the Catholic church was not concerned with biblical literalism, which to me showed that even the ancient Churches aren’t strict about this like Protestant Fundamentalists.  I meant it as a refreshing change from what I’d grown up with, but she railed against the Catholic Church for this.

Richard had a far different view, from what I could see.  Apparently she thinks that Christians must reject evolution (and global climate change) despite all evidence that it is true.  I was not comfortable discussing religious issues with her after that.

Then–after all that insistence on biblical literalism–she supported shooting illegal immigrants on sight!  Richard and I both found such a policy morally abhorrent–him because he once was told to do just that as a border guard, and was scarred by it.  (At least, so he says, though I have trouble finding supporting evidence for such a policy.)

My participation in three-way conversations was already limited because they kept going on about subjects I found boring, and because it was much harder for me to break in when two other people were talking.

But it was even more limited because I didn’t want her knowing my private thoughts.  In the beginning I told her private things, but a few weeks later, I no longer trusted her enough to do that.

I kept telling Richard I wanted some one-on-one conversations, not just three-ways, but he just didn’t get it.  I resented being forced into friendship with someone I found abrasive, whom I witnessed verbally abusing him and the kids.  I told him, “I have to choose my own confidantes.”  But it just kept falling on deaf ears, and I resented that.

How could he even think our awesome conversations should start including a third person?  We could have three-way everyday conversations, but there was no way our special, hours-long, in-depth conversations were going to happen with a third person.

That destroyed the dynamic, the mutual trust, the similar interests and backgrounds.  Did he want to ruin them?  My husband didn’t even try to get in the middle of our conversations, but went to the basement (where the computer is) so we could talk.

It seemed Richard was one of those extroverts who think introverts should be just like them, that being introverted is somehow a fault that has to be corrected, rather than a different way of processing social situations.  He often gave unasked-for advice that might work for him, but not for me.

The more is not the merrier: Not for me, anyway. If we make plans, please, please don’t invite other people to join us–at the very least, check with me first.

Introverts usually prefer one-on-one to groups and I’m bummed when the nice cozy visit I anticipated turns into a convivial racket. –Dr. Irene S. Levine, The Inside Scoop on Your Introvert Friends

I had no idea yet that Tracy actually required me to be an extrovert, to be Chatty Cathy with her all day long, along with socializing with her at night.

I CAN’T STAND SITTING ON MY BUTT FOR HOURS ON END WITH NOTHING TO DO BUT SOCIALIZE.  It drives me absolutely batty.  Except, maybe, for Richard or my mother or catching up with some girl friend from college.  But these are people with whom I already have an established rapport and can keep up my end without trouble.

Even after she had been in my house for days, and I no longer could put off housework, and needed a quiet place to recharge, away from all these people.

I had no idea that otherwise she would not “approve” my friendship with Richard, would not consider me her friend despite how I put myself out to help her, would see every move I made as a move on her husband.

While if I were an extrovert, she would “approve” me instantly and I could go to the bar and grill with Richard, could chat with him alone for hours, could even put my head on his shoulder and she’d consider it cute and join in.

Even though she did indeed approve me within the first few days, and called me her friend, now she and Richard claimed she never approved me.  I was so bewildered and angry by this, that I did not call them out on this big, fat, obvious lie.

It was my first red flag warning that they were manipulative, emotional cons, liars, doublespeakers and users–but I did not catch it.  Down the rabbit-hole with me!

But when I found out about her secret rules, I resented that Tracy began treating me like I was out to steal her husband because I wanted to continue having one-on-one conversations with him, as I had been allowed to do for the past two years without anyone even suggesting this was “wrong” or “inappropriate.”

Because I wanted to go to the bar and grill with him, as I had been allowed to do for the past two months without anyone even suggesting this was “wrong” or “inappropriate.”

This constant insistence that I turn into Chatty Cathy with her (when it’s neurologically impossible for me to open up and be chatty with mean, abusive people), or else she would continue being hostile toward me and treating me like the Other Woman, infuriated me over the next couple of years.

It also enraged my husband.  Both of us constantly complained to each other about her ingratitude, treating me like this when I had allowed her into my home for six weeks, and never threw her out, even though she forced herself into my house and was constantly rude to me.

Extroverts tell us to change, and the abusive types punish us and treat us like stubborn creeps for not changing.  But introverts cannot change our behavior.  This is the way our brains work, and the reason we are able to come up with creative ideas and works of art.

If we needed lots of social time like extroverts, and found it rejuvenating instead of draining, then we would not have enough alone time to write or invent.

Also, in February 2008, Richard claimed that he saw me ignore her attempts to make conversation, or saw me get up when she sat down.  But I recalled no such attempts, so for all I knew, he was making this up to gaslight me.

I suggested that my NVLD kept me from recognizing these attempts, since I could not remember them, and had no idea what she had supposedly done or said that was my cue to converse.

Also, when I got up, maybe I had to do something.  Or maybe I was so angry with her for some recent incident of hostility, jealousy or abuse, that I did not want to be around her right then.  Or maybe they were driving me crazy with the PDAs and I just wanted to be by myself for a bit.

It felt like even my right to choose my own company was now supposed to be under Tracy’s control.  Who the heck was she (or he) to tell me who my friends should be, or when I should hang out with someone?

In just a few weeks after she moved into my house, I felt a distinct jealous vibe off Tracy.  She began to hover.  If I sat next to Richard as he played on the basement computer, ten minutes later, there was Tracy.

I felt treated like a homewrecker for wanting to spend more than ten minutes just sitting down and having a nice chat with my best friend and roommate, as I had grown accustomed to.

She stared daggers at Richard or angrily whacked him on the arm if he dared to have a conversation alone with me, or do any number of things–WHAT things he did wrong, I had no idea.

I also had no idea just how bad it could be until one day I asked Richard to talk to me by himself about some things.  It had been a few weeks since I last spoke to just him.  Tracy was right there, so it was not sneaky.  It seemed to me like a simple, ordinary request.  He decided to take me with him to get cigarettes.  Again, seemed simple and ordinary to me.

Then Richard said as we pulled out of the driveway that she was staring daggers at him.  That surprised and baffled me.  I said, “Why?”  He said she feared we were going to talk about her.

Her ridiculous behavior shocked me.  It had nothing to do with her, but we ended up talking about her anyway because of her jealous reaction.  I don’t think I got much time to talk about what I really wanted to talk about.  I don’t recall if I had noticed her jealousy towards me just yet, or if that was just beginning to catch my notice.

I also felt largely ignored by Richard, like my days were just housework and sleep and no joy or relaxation, in a crowded, noisy house with no way to get peace.

My routine was simple and, as an NLDer, I did not like deviations: housework, personal grooming and childcare in the morning/afternoon, my time on the computer for a couple of hours around the time my son took a nap and Jeff came home, then evenings for relaxing and–with these people here–socializing.  (That meant about six hours every night spent socializing with Richard and Tracy.)

(I’ve mentioned a forum through which Richard, Tracy, Todd and I all met.  I’ll call it The Forum to make things easy.)

The housework had to get done, especially with all the extra people and all the children running around.  I did not want their health compromised by playing in a basement covered in cat puke/kitty litter, for example.

My child’s Pull-Ups had to be changed, since potty training abruptly stopped when everyone moved in.

And, as an introvert, I desperately needed time to myself in the basement (the “Dungeon”) on the computer.  I needed that time to myself to recharge, to get my computer time before Jeff’s time on it began, to e-mail my mom, to check in at the Forum and an Orthodox forum, to complain on a Goth Christian forum about the noise, and to get away from all the children’s noise and Tracy’s annoying, grating, constantly yelling voice.  Otherwise, I would go mad.

I had no clue that attending to my household and recharging in a quiet corner, was taken by Tracy as a personal, unforgivable, inexcusable offense to her.

That a host doing what a host must do, especially when guests stay for more than a few days, was an insult that cannot be borne, and proves me to be a loose woman of bad character who must never be allowed to be alone with her husband.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  That’s because it IS ridiculous.  Yet I was forced to accept it as a universal rule that EVERYBODY knows, even those with learning disorders.

I was often upset with Tracy because of her screaming at the kids all day long, or being mean to Richard, though I kept my mouth shut to her about it.  Meanwhile, Tracy began making occasional snarky and jealous-sounding remarks to me.

During the two months it was just Richard, he occasionally took me to the nearby bar and grill for ice cream, where we talked until closing time.

One day near Christmas, I e-mailed him through the Forum (the only way I could say anything private to him anymore) that I was going crazy, that every time I tried to talk to him it was cut off, and asked him to please go to the bar and grill to get some ice cream with me like we used to.  This way we could take a break, get away from all the people and sit and talk privately.

It seemed like a simple, ordinary request to me.

I asked him again later in person because he hadn’t responded, but he said no, and it sounded like we wouldn’t for some time.  I don’t remember now what all he said, just that it made me feel like spending time with me no longer mattered much to him.  Tracy came upstairs.  I went over to do the dishes, but couldn’t control my tears, so I had to rush off to bed so they wouldn’t see me cry.

The next morning, I cried to Jeff in our bedroom that I felt like the friend (me) was being tossed aside now that the wife was here.

When Richard was here alone, he wanted to spend most of his time with me and talk with me, kept me up till three in the morning chattering away about anything and everything, showed me Goth music videos on the Net, told me I was the most awesome person he knew, and we told each other everything that was going on in our lives.

But now he didn’t seem to care if I was alive.

In fact, most evenings, while Jeff was on the computer in the Dungeon and I was socializing, it felt like Richard and Tracy constantly ganged up on me, making jabs at me, criticizing me, making fun of me.

They often did this after they moved out, too, when Jeff wasn’t there, so I hated it whenever she came along with him when he stopped over.  I remember mentioning this once or twice in an e-mail to Richard.

Then they’d get all cuddly and kissy on the couch while I sat on the other end of it, feeling extremely uncomfortable (like I always do when people get all PDA around me).

I often felt like a third wheel in my own house, like I wasn’t welcome, not just during the cuddling but wherever Tracy was.  Richard once asked me to join them in a card game in the basement, but I got a distinct impression that Tracy didn’t want me there.

I felt unwelcome in my own house, like Tracy wanted to tell me where I could and could not be in my own house!

The insults began coming, fiercer all the time; I felt closely watched; I had no moment’s peace.  I couldn’t even take Richard out of the house for a ten-minute private conversation without her getting angry.  Tracy had been okay with Richard moving in with us, and probably knew we were having conversations that lasted for hours.

Why was it okay for him to live with us by himself for two months, and spend hours talking with me every day, but now that she was here, he couldn’t spend ten minutes talking with me?

Why was it okay for him to take me out for ice cream while he lived here by himself, but now that she was here, it was horrendously disrespectful of me to even think of such a thing?  (I’m not sure when, but I eventually discovered she was the one who said we couldn’t do this.)

It was like putting the cart before the horse.  It was completely illogical and irrational, and baffling.  But things really began to escalate around Christmas and New Year’s.  I did not know why, because no one had explained anything, and all I saw was this increasingly hostile person who kept yelling at and bullying everybody (except Jeff).

I couldn’t stand the way she talked to Richard, and I kept wanting to stick up for him.  I couldn’t stand the ways she kept cutting him down.  I remembered a thing she had done while they were still separated, a thing I won’t tell here but which had filled me with so much empathy and sympathy for Richard that I broke down in tears on his behalf.  I wondered how anyone could do that to him, and hadn’t forgiven her for it.

One day Richard would agree with me that Tracy’s treatment of him wasn’t right–that she was too jealous, needed to let him have time with his friends, ordered him around–when he had a few minutes while she was out of the room.

(This is when I began writing this page, trying to figure out why one spouse would require another to spend all his time with her and not with friends, why someone would put marriage so high up there that having friends seems completely unimportant.  It eventually grew to include the problems with jealousy.)

Then another day he would excuse and justify her behavior and get mad at me for being mad at her nasty and controlling behavior.

I felt like she was steamrolling all over me, and he let her do it, like she could do no wrong no matter how horribly she treated people.

Sometimes I wonder if his defenses of her were not because he really believed I was wrong, but because she’d beaten him into submission verbally and/or physically, because he’d be punished if he didn’t agree with her and stick up for her no matter what crap she was pulling or how badly she treated me.

Even if she was a guest in my home, even if I was her benefactress at great personal and financial expense.

Basically, she bullied me and discriminated against me for having different brain wiring than hers, and for needing to take care of household business and have time to myself during a six-week home invasion.

She also bullied me because I wanted to spend time with my BFF, with whom I had bonded over two years of friendship and two months of him staying in my house, while I was naturally shy with her, as I am with everyone when I first meet them.

I believe that borderline personality disorder drove her to see insults where none existed, and that narcissism led her to continue insisting there were insults even when the truth was explained.

I believe that the need of abusers to control their victims, led to her insisting on her being right even when she was wrong, because she soon discovered that I saw her as abusing her husband and children.  After all, if her husband listened to me and saw it, too, then he might leave, and borderlines are deathly afraid of abandonment.

Also, keep in mind that I did not know all her “reasons” yet.  I write this from the perspective of what I learned over two years of dealing with her, things which were not revealed to me until later.

All I knew at this time was that she wanted to know me better.  Not only did I think that spending 24/7 in a house with someone for several weeks was plenty long enough to get to know somebody, but I spent six hours each evening socializing with her.

After they moved out, I thought she’d finally be okay with me, only to find that she still wasn’t satisfied.  In August I thought for sure she knew me well enough by now and was past this, only to find that she was not.  But then shortly after, she did okay me finally.

Then in 2009 I thought this was long in the past, only to find that she had removed her approval at some unknown time.

At first, I thought she just wanted to know me better.  But then in June 2009 I was required to have a certain kind of conversation with her.  So one day I did so, and thought that settled it, that she had a conversation like that with me (again) and could relax.  (It was weird, because Tracy told Richard that had never happened before, even though it DID happen back in early December 2007.)

Then I was told all the horrible things I supposedly did during her stay here, but I apologized and heard from Richard, shortly thereafter, that all the restrictions were gone and everything was fine.

Then in July 2010, she once again acted like she never had a conversation with me, never approved me, never removed her restrictions.

And now she demonstrated that it was my introverted nature that ticked her off so much, that it was impossible to satisfy her because she required my very personality be changed before she’d approve my friendship with Richard.

But not only that, but this is what she grabbed onto as a reason to give me, while the real reason was that I became more outspoken about how she and Richard were both abusing their kids.

So she had to make up offenses that did not exist, and pretend she never approved me, to justify her narcissistic rage against me–and push me away before I reported them to CPS.  I base this on events that happened in 2010, as you will see here and here.

It was maddening, narcissistic crazy-making!  The only way I can explain such behavior from her, is that she did it deliberately because (as you will soon discover) she knew that I saw her as abusing her husband and children.  And if Richard didn’t go along with it, saying and doing all the right things, he would get punished.

From Oscar Wilde’s “Portrait of W.H.”:

Of course it is a hypothesis, but then it is a hypothesis that explains everything, and if you had been sent to Cambridge to study science, instead of to Oxford to dawdle over literature, you would know that a hypothesis that explains everything is a certainty.

And yes, this hypothesis explains everything.

The parts about not feeling “welcome” because I followed my schedule of housework and computer during the day, and personally insulted because as an introvert I had to carve out time to myself every day to recharge, that was not revealed to me until a year and a half later!

So I had no chance to explain what was really going on, until she dug in her heels and refused to budge an inch.

I also had no idea that I was required to carry on long conversations with her like an extrovert and share secrets with her and be best buds with her.  I just thought that spending every night socializing with her for SIX HOURS should be plenty for her to get to know me, and that insisting on more was being controlling and petty.

I also felt that she put far too much pressure on me, trying to force me to talk when I didn’t know what to say.  I felt that if she wanted so badly to chat with me and get to know me, then she needed to stop being so nasty to everybody:

Stop hovering over Richard, stop pressuring me, stop snarking at me, stop screaming at the kids, stop being possessive and controlling with Richard, stop smacking him and picking at him and ordering him around.

I’m also trying to recreate the events of 2007 in an easily digestible manner, and without remembering everything that happened (having shredded much of my records of it in early 2008).  So keep in mind that our discussions/arguments on this issue, had not yet happened when the next sections occurred.

Isolation

  • limiting outside involvement
  • making another avoid people/friends/family by deliberately embarrassing or humiliating them in front of others

Emotional and Mental Abuse

  • putting another down/name-calling
  • making another feel as if they are crazy in public or through private humiliation
  • unreasonable jealousy and suspicion
  • playing mind games

Intimidation

  • making another afraid by using looks/actions/gestures

Using Privileges (perceived or cultural)

  • treating another like a servant
  • acting like the master or queen of the castle

Physical Abuse

Isolation
Abusers isolate their victims geographically and socially. Geographic isolation includes moving the victim from her friends, family and support system (often hundreds of miles); moving frequently in the same area and/or relocating to a rural area.

Social isolation usually begins with wanting the woman to spend time with him and not her family, friends or co-workers. He will then slowly isolate her from any person who is a support to her. He dictates whom she can talk to; he tells her she cannot have contact with her friends or family. —Warning Signs of an Abuser

Table of Contents 

1. Introduction

2. We share a house

3. Tracy’s abuse turns on me

4. More details about Tracy’s abuse of her husband and children 

5. My frustrations mount 

6. Sexual Harassment from some of Richard’s friends

7. Without warning or explanation, tensions build

 
8. The Incident

9. The fallout; a second chance?

10. Grief 

11. Struggle to regain normalcy

12. Musings on how Christians should treat each other

13. Conclusion 

13b. Thinking of celebrating the first anniversary

14. Updates on Richard’s Criminal Charges 

Sequel to this Story: Fighting the Darkness: Journey from Despair to Healing

 

Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 4

 

Parts 1, 2 and 3

I bought the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament version) and began using the prayers in the back of the book.  I began practicing the sign of the Cross.

I left Evangelical forums which opposed everything even remotely Catholic, and joined an Orthodox forum to learn more.

I became more and more dissatisfied with contemporary worship services, megachurch practices and Protestant doctrines of all types–Charismatic, Evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran.

I also learned that “River of Fire” is very controversial, though I e-mailed the guy who answers questions on the OCA site, and he said that the fires of Hell are metaphorical.  I also found this in catechisms here and the Orthodox Europe site.

On this and other things, I have to agree with a Lutheran blogger who wrote that it’s hard to pin down what exactly the Orthodox believe on many things, because you’ll read one thing and somebody will say, “No, that’s not true Orthodoxy.  Try this website instead.”

The more I study the Early Church Fathers and histories, the more convinced I become that the Orthodox faith has the pure faith of the Early Church–and that it’s the most loving of all denominations I’ve investigated.

With our local PCUSA church going into the megachurch “relevance” mindset, I just can’t stay there anymore.  There’s a huge crack in the denomination, formed over some 25 years of arguing, and a recent denominational decision has started a split.

Our local church could get silly at times in the services, with skits or people dressed as clowns or silly little movies done by people in the church, and often used Hollywood movie clips on PowerPoint to demonstrate points.  Usually the movie clips were not Christian, and had very little to do with the Bible.

Purpose-Driven Life and The Message Bible were praised and encouraged, but at the time I didn’t know where you could go to get away from such things.  To my dismay, the church had done “Forty Days of Purpose” (based on Purpose-Driven Life) in 2003 or 2004, shortly before we began attending in June 2004.

Adult Sunday School classes were based on such things as “praying the movies” (something about using Hollywood movies to inspire prayer–I don’t understand it) and other theologically iffy subjects.

Once, a newcomer led a class on End-Times prophecy.  The PCUSA is amillennialist, and the General Assembly once brought up a resolution for churches to make clear to their congregations that Left Behind books have poor theology.

However, I later heard from other church members that the class leader, who came from a fundamentalist background, taught the premillennial dispensationalism which is in the Left Behind books, rather than Presbyterian views on End-Times prophecy.

In September or October of 2006, when we were still going to the PCUSA church, the pastor announced that the 10:30 service would be “blended,” with contemporary and traditional worship.  I thought it already was blended, since we sang contemporary fluff along with the hymns.  But apparently, “blended” meant even more contemporary fluff and even fewer hymns.

I sang the songs along with everybody else, but I felt so–empty, strained.  I feared the songs did not please God because they did not fit a “proper” worship service–maybe a youth group meeting, but not a worship service.

I had only just read in the Old Testament God’s prescription for worship: complete with beautifully crafted artwork, rich clothing, and ceremony, far more like a Catholic Mass or Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

And sometimes the theology of the songs seemed wrong.  If you don’t know what these modern praise and worship songs are like, combine Evangelical theology, pop psychology, the motions of kids’ songs, trite lyrics, and formulaic, mass-produced pop music.

I looked over the books and class descriptions for adult Sunday School for the fall.  The books were from Willow Creek and other Evangelical sources; the topics included something about laughing your way to a good marriage.  Was this a Presbyterian church, or an Evangelical or non-denominational church in the tradition of Willow Creek and Saddleback?

Because of man-centered worship services, weight rooms, food courts, coffee shops, iffy theology and the fact that Purpose-Driven Life and Purpose-Driven Church were written by a megachurch pastor, I had a dim view of any church trying to imitate a megachurch.

One week, after the changes of fall 2006 in our PCUSA church, I had to stay home from church, indisposed as I often was in those days.  Cugan came home with notes about a sermon based on some passage in the Old Testament.  A new temple was being built and celebrated, but the old folks, who remembered the old temple, cried.

I saw it as the old folks being sad over the past and happy to see a new temple to replace what was lost.  The pastor interpreted it as showing that people get upset when changes are made, but changes still need to be made.

When I was able to go to church, the pastor praised the concept of making worship more “relevant.”

Another Sunday, when I was indisposed again, I recalled the sermon was something interesting, though I forgot what exactly, and asked Cugan to take notes.  It was, “What does it mean to be Reformed and Always Reforming?”  (This is a catchphrase of the PCUSA.)

I thought this meant, the PCUSA struck out the horrid section in the Westminster Confession about unelect babies who die being eternally condemned.  I thought it meant women being preachers.  I thought it meant constantly examining the Scriptures to make sure nothing has been misunderstood.  But apparently, now it means how you worship.

Cugan came home and reported some astonishing things.  The pastor passed out copies of the article “Surviving the Rapids of Change?” by Herb Miller and Lyle E. Schaller.  This article came from the January 2006 issue of The Parish Paper.

I don’t know much about this publication, but it’s a newsletter for pastors, published by the Conservative Mennonite Conference (source); the website is here.

Following are the pertinent points of “Surviving the Rapids of Change?”:

1) Mainline congregations with traditional services are shrinking; various congregations with modern services are thriving.

2) The American culture has moved from Producer-Driven to Consumer-Driven; people go wherever the church meets their needs.

3) There has been a shift from inherited allegiance to personal choice.  Children no longer stick with one job, one career, or their parents’ church.

4) The Baby Boomer culture is driving the modern worship/church trends.  (Eh, so they’re the ones to blame?)

5) Thriving congregations replace the organ with a band, replace the hymnal with PowerPoint praise music, replace missionary spending with building a relationship with a sister church in Poland or Peru, replace adult Sunday School with peer-led relational groups, and double their worship attendance within five years.  (By the way, all these fit my church.)

6) A church which doesn’t change despite a push for change from the younger generations, “continues its cherished traditions, with a gradual membership decline, a rising median-age of attendees, and a slide toward extinction in two or three decades.”

7) (The Conclusion.)  “Four sentences summarize the whole scenario: First, millions of Americans born and reared in a producer-driven culture view the current wave of consumerism as somewhere between a) betrayal and b) proof that the Devil is alive and at work in this world.

“Second, the most effective way to reach the generations born after 1960 is to be sensitive and responsive to their concerns.  Third, changes in procedures produce conflict.  Fourth, church leaders choose between a) allowing their congregations to sink and disappear and b) thoughtfully negotiating the rapids of change.”

On the front of the article was a Friar-Tuck-like figure praying, “Not my father, nor my mother, but it’s me, O Lord…looking for a place where my needs will be met!”

The church was already thriving and growing rapidly before this new relevance kick, yet starting in September or October of 2006, it seemed that the main point of every sermon–no matter the topic–was, “We must become relevant or we will die.  Relevance is a good thing!”

We also had a new worship leader.  (By the way, his enunciation was so poor that I had to stifle a smile whenever he spoke or sang.  Without the PowerPoint, I wouldn’t have a clue what he was singing.)  On November 5, 2006, right before leading a song, he went on about how relevance is important and, “If it weren’t for [relevant services/music], I wouldn’t be here [a Christian] now.”

After a series of “Dream Sessions,” in which congregational groups gave their “dreams” for the church (we missed going for some reason I forget), a PowerPoint presentation showed the results of the brainstorming.

Some ideas were fine: parent groups, SERRV (fair trade) store.  But there were also pictures of a pool, a weight room, a colisseum….I had to wonder if my church was trying to be a Willow Creek or Saddleback megachurch, with all sorts of fancy, expensive trappings that have nothing to do with the Gospel.  (I talk about this here.)

Then there was a series of sermons on following the dreams God gives you–hardly theological meat.

Because of some trouble with a fired secretary and questions about how the church was run, we now had deacons to help keep the congregation informed about what was going on, and to take care of the big congregation (about 600 people).  Our assigned deacon called and asked if we had any issues with the church, which they were doing with everybody.

Cugan wrote his own concerns in an e-mail: This church was starting to look a lot like the Evangelical Free Church, including the music, and Cugan was feeling wary, because he had felt spiritually abused by the Evangelical Free Church.  There was a push to do things for the church without much emphasis on healing a person’s own wounds first.  He feared that legalistic preaching on tithing would soon follow.

I thought the church was trying to be like the megachurches–not a good thing.  I also mentioned the End-Times class, and wondered what our church would do if the PCUSA finally split.  Some congregations had been going to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but that was too Calvinist.

The liberal side was doing all sorts of outlandish things; we even had people who prayed to “Sophia” instead of “God the Father.”  When Cugan saw our pastor wearing a strange symbol which looked like an ankh, we couldn’t tell if she was joining the Sophia people (who also incorporate practices from other religions), or if this was a form of cross we’d never seen before.

Around this time, we were asked to be deacons.  That surprised me, considering what we had just written–and that neither of us had any sort of theological training.  Cugan had too much going on, and I was just about ready to escape to the Orthodox Church, so we turned them down.

By now, I came to the conclusion that the Lutheran church was the closest to correct of all the Protestant denominations.  Despite Luther’s shortcomings and coming up with new doctrines and basing doctrines on Augustine’s errors, I knew that the Catholic Church had allowed in all sorts of errors and corruptions which made the Reformation inevitable.

The other Protestant denominations seemed ever more schismatic; Lutherans kept many good things from Catholicism, while the other denominations kept coming up with all sorts of outlandish things, from the Puritans to the Charismatics.  If you disagreed, you split and formed your own denomination or synod.

But from what I now knew about Orthodoxy’s claims, even Lutheranism had its doctrinal problems, many of which were based on the errors of Catholicism.

I wavered between becoming Orthodox, staying where I was or becoming Lutheran with Cugan.  At first, Cugan promised to go with me wherever I decided to go.  But I could tell he didn’t want to become Orthodox, so I released him from his promise.

For a long time, I figured I could be Presbyterian with Orthodox theology, because the PCUSA allows such a huge diversity of beliefs among its members.  But what I heard in church kept grating more and more on my soul as I learned more and more about Orthodoxy.

And what about the liberal members?  Though for a while I was about ready to be liberal myself, I had discovered the errors in their doctrines.  (Some of them even wanted to ditch the creeds, the Virgin Birth, a literal interpretation of the Gospels, and other essentials of the faith.  The Bible was more a tool to prove points by twisting it however you liked.)

But the liberal side continuously fights the conservative Presbyterians, always chipping away at the rules in the Book of Order until one day they make the PCUSA completely liberal–whether by changing the doctrines, or by chasing out the conservatives.  (I’m not talking about political liberals; politics are another matter entirely.)

Then in November 2006, I read Bishop Kallistos Ware’s story of his conversion to Orthodoxy.  His concerns with the Anglican church were the same as mine with the PCUSA–answering questions I had, such as, is it okay to stay where I am, and should I become Catholic rather than Orthodox?

By the time I stepped into an Orthodox church in November 2006, I was finally ready to submit myself to the teachings of the Holy Apostolic and Orthodox Church.  I was exhausted.

The mere thought of going back to the PCUSA church the following Sunday, made my stomach twinge.  I was looking for the oldest, purest doctrine and practice, something I could trust; I found it here.  Here I also found holy worship, and a means to union with God.

Every day that passes, I feel more sure that Orthodoxy is the original faith of the Apostles–that I’ve finally found what I was looking for.  And that’s why I entered the catechumenate of the Greek Orthodox Church on December 2, 2006, and joined the Church on January 10, 2009.

By the way–Cugan has gone back to the Lutheran church and is happy again, as well.

Why I feel that St. Gregory of Nyssa, my patron saint, also led me to the Orthodox Church: 

First, “Nyssa” was one of my favorite characters on Dr. Who.  In high school, I began using the name as one of my many handles on a local Dr. Who-based BBS, the Panoptic Net.

I also happened across an article on St. Gregory of Nyssa while looking through an old Collier’s encyclopedia at my house, as I often did, and was surprised to discover “Nyssa” was a real place name, and that a saint was attached to the name.

I used “Nyssa” after high school/college as my main handle on BBS’s and Internet forums.  I also used it as my SCA name, though not officially because it was hard to document it to satisfy the heralds, even though I have found “Nyssa” is a real-life name that has been used in some cultures in a few variations–Scandinavian, Jewish, Greek.

I began looking into claims of universalists back in 2005 because some commentator in Presbyterians Today wrote that some people in the church are universalists.

I was intrigued, since for years I had been wondering if God truly would condemn, say, a religious Jew killed in the Holocaust, or a Muslim woman who was sweet and followed her religion and did her day-to-day stuff and took care of children just like I did, trusting that she would be saved.

Some people are truly evil and may not even want to change that, even if they have all eternity to do so.

But most people–Christians or not–are just trying to do the best they can with the knowledge they have.

In poking around universalist sites, I found St. Gregory of Nyssa and Origen most often referenced as universalists; I also checked out St. Gregory’s “On the Soul and Resurrection,” which was often cited.

One day, I began thinking it was time to join the church officially, after being an inquirer/catechumen for a couple of years.  That same time, a guy at church asked me when I was going to join, which almost seemed like a sign from God that it was indeed time.

I was not paying attention to what day it was when, soon after, I picked a date, and told my priest that I would be chrismated as Gregoriana, with St. Gregory of Nyssa as my patron saint.

After everything had been decided, I discovered that I was to be chrismated on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s name day, which happened to fall on a Divine Liturgy day that year, which makes me think St. Gregory was guiding me to choose that particular date.  It also gave yet another reason to think that St. Gregory had been guiding me all along to come to this church.

Update 3/25/14: I am still Orthodox, though my opinions on PCUSA theology have altered a bit: I have gone back to being more liberal on the homosexuality debate.

Entire story

 

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