My Life Story in Regards to the 2x2s
I was raised in a professing home. On both sides of the family, it was my great-great grandparents who professed, back in the early 1900’s. There were long testimonies on both sides about searching for the “truth”, etc. Both sets of my grandparents professed, and my parents and all their siblings professed. I also now have two professing brothers, who both married professing girls. In short, there were few, if any, examples in my family of those who had left the “true” way.
My growing up years were calm and non-harmful. We had meeting in our home several times throughout the years. We also moved about every two or three years between California and Arizona and with every move we had a “readymade” group of friends in the meetings. I liked meetings, loved conventions and loved all the kids I got to know as a result of the meetings.
A couple of things about my childhood were confusing to me. My aunt and uncle were divorced, which was practically unheard of then in the meetings, and then my aunt fell in love with my mom’s cousin and they got married. They ended up moving out of California where divorce and remarriage was not allowed, to Colorado and finally settling in North Carolina, where they have meeting in their home. It was a bit confusing that in some other states this was ok. Also, there was a fair bit of hypocrisy in my own household – an image we projected, but then did not actually live out when no one was looking. This, I know, isn’t limited solely to professing people, but it was confusing to me.
I professed at age 9 and was baptized in my own swimming pool at age 12 in Arizona. I did not know much about the Bible and about God, but I did understand that I was giving my life to Christ, and it was to Him that I professed. The problem was, I never really lived in His power. At age 16, I was suicidal and depressed and I suffered throughout my teens from an eating disorder and low self-esteem. I never was taught that God cared about the practical details of our lives or non-spiritual things. It was like my profession to Christ was completely separate from my depression or eating.
When I was 21, I went to Switzerland to be a nanny for a professing family. They were upset when they picked me up from the airport because I was wearing makeup. I quickly learned that wasn’t acceptable to them and stopped wearing it. However, they would have wine at every meal, even with the workers present! And even the workers would drink the wine. At home, makeup was more acceptable but you would never drink wine with the workers! In fact, my dad hid his wine under the bathroom cabinet. I remember I asked Graham Snow about the wine drinking and he gave me an answer about how different places in the world have different “customs”, etc. That was the beginning of my realization that perhaps the “truth” wasn’t exactly the same the world over.
After a year I came home from Switzerland back to California and had some wild times as I began a career as an air traffic controller. I drifted away from meetings, partied with my friends and dated all kinds of guys, but still tried to give off the image to my family that I was attending. I specifically remember one incident when I seriously considered just stopping professing for good, and having my very first panic attack. I felt I couldn’t breathe and did not see how I could ever leave the meetings for good.
Next, I met my future husband, who was also an air traffic controller. I was going to meetings and doing my best to fit in and be the “good girl”, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Tom was a good man, and I prayed and prayed for God to tell me if I should not marry this “unprofessing” man, but all I ever got was more positive feedback about the relationship. I finally did decide to marry him. He was respectful about my attendance at the meetings, although he never did really agree with it. I remember that the worker in my field, Evelyn Gerlund, said to me “What can you POSSIBLY have in common with him?” and I felt like I had more in common with Tom than I had ever had with any of my professing boyfriends.
Over the past 13 years of being married, I have observed Tom’s family, some of them deeply religious. They are solid gold people, and many of them clearly have a relationship with God. I certainly did not know what to make of this, except to begin to get comfortable with the idea that it could be possible that the meetings did not contain all the answers. I also went to school to become a marriage and family therapist, and during that educational process and working with clients, I would talk to many people about their spiritual experiences. What I learned from people just did not line up with the idea that these meetings were “God’s only way”. I heard a lot of stories about encounters with God, displays of faith, and answers to prayers that just did not make sense if these people were really “lost”.
Finally, I came to a kind of truce. I acknowledged intellectually that the meetings were NOT God’s only way to be saved. BUT, I also acknowledged to myself that I could not leave, could not face the ramifications of leaving the meetings and the relationships I would lose if I did. So, I went to meetings, but I had my own set of beliefs that didn’t necessarily line up with the doctrine of “truth” that I was being taught.
I also was very disappointed with my meeting. For the two years before I had children, I went to work at 1 pm on Sundays. I had to leave the meeting at 11:40 to be on time, and the meeting was supposed to end at 11:30. Our meeting was so long that I wouldn’t even get to partake of the bread and the wine before I left. For two YEARS, no one ever shortened their testimony or thought it a problem that I couldn’t partake of the communion. Then after I had kids, I discovered by accident that after I left the meeting and drove away, everyone would then start talking about where to go to lunch. It’s true that I wasn’t the only one left out, but there was a regular Sunday lunch group in which I was not included. More and more, I felt isolated and like not only did I not believe the doctrine, but I didn’t have much fellowship either.
Many times my husband and I discussed my leaving. He was concerned that it would all get blamed on him because he didn’t profess, or that it would get blamed on my love of yoga, or something else along those lines. We often decided it would be better if I would just continue to present the image of being a good professing girl. Our solution was that I just went less and less. First I stopped going to Wednesday night meeting; then I stopped going to gospel meeting altogether; then I would skip as many Sunday mornings as I could and still be “seen” as professing. No one ever inquired about my absences or expressed any concern about my lack of attendance.
During this time, I had befriended a sister worker who had been sexually molested during her first year in the work. I helped her find a therapist and provided a sounding board for her. She would sometimes call me to ask questions about what she should do about abuse she heard about – and I naively assumed that these were all cases that had been resolved or somehow taken care of. Right before Christmas of 2009, she called to ask me if an abuse that a professing girl reported to her was reportable by state law. I told her it was, because the brother worker in question was still in the work. She said she didn’t feel she could report because she didn’t have many details and so forth.
I encouraged her to talk to the overseer, and that’s when she dropped the bombshell that rocked my world – the overseer KNEW about the abuse already, and didn’t think it was a problem! I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Worse still, the offending brother worker was IN MY FIELD at the time, and had stayed overnight in my home, with my two little boys sleeping upstairs. I was entirely enraged that the overseer had knowingly put my children at such risk without bothering to let me know. This brother worker is still in the work in California, still staying in the homes of the friends every single night, and to my knowledge, has suffered no ramifications from what he did.
That night, I talked to my husband about the situation, initially thinking ‘how can I be helpful in this situation as a therapist’ etc. My husband basically said, “You think about being helpful when it’s a side issue; but when something is ILLEGAL, you have zero tolerance”. Right away, I could see he was right. I would have no tolerance for this situation if it was one of my clients. I knew exactly the advice I would give to a client in my own situation. I will never forget that moment when everything became crystal clear to me. I have never been back to a meeting since.
I wrote an Exit Letter to my family, telling them I was aware of an abuse issue and that I could not and would not take my spiritual advice from men who were abusers and law-breakers. The response I got from most people was “why is she getting involved with things that aren’t even about her?” Or the old standby “God’s way is perfect, but the people are not” and so on. One of my brothers has not spoken to me since then, for well over a year. Nobody from the meeting I’d attended for 15 years bothered to call me, except for one lady who was also an outcast and married to an unprofessing man. The elder’s wife called me once. I told her I wasn’t going to be coming to the meetings anymore and she said, “Oh, ok”, and I never heard from them again. To this day, 18 months after this event, not one worker has ever contacted me to ask me about my exit.
I wrote to the head overseer of California and requested a meeting. He came with his “right-hand man”. I tried to explain to them that by law they are mandated reporters of child abuse. I tried to explain that this entails reporting when mandated, not being the one to determine whether or not abuse actually occurred. Not only did the overseer, Dale Schultz, refuse to acknowledge that he is a mandated reporter, but he maintained that “this is a fellowship” and therefore it is up to him to protect the reputation of his workers. Not one mention or concern was given about the safety of children in his jurisdiction. I was told I had a hard and unforgiving heart, and given the distinct impression that I wasn’t really welcome back until I “changed” and accepted their authority to ignore abuse.
After I left the meetings, I struggled with how to teach my kids about God. I went on the Internet and was surprised to find out about the history of “the truth” and many more stories of abuse that I had never imagined existed. I realized that so much of what I had been told was not the truth, that perhaps the notion that all churches were “false” was also untrue. I began to read books I found suggested on the old VOT site, such as Grace Awakening and What’s so Amazing about Grace? I decided to try my hand at Christianity in a new way.
Over the years, I have often been impressed with my clients who have attended a particular church in our town, so shortly after leaving the meetings, I went to my first service there. I was intending to check out several different churches, but my kids were so thrilled after this first service that I went back again and again, and am now a member of this congregation. There have been many adjustments along the way. I have often had to search the Scripture to find out if something I’m seeing or hearing is wrong (like the lifting of hands, etc.). But I also feel I have been set free.
I had several helpers along the way. “Gray” from the old VOT website encouraged me to study what the Bible says about being saved, and every time I would say “but….” He would direct me right back – not to what I FELT was true, but what the Bible actually SAID about it. This was immensely helpful, and when I finally “got” the concept of grace, I was stunned by the beauty of it, and am still rejoicing over God’s great love for me today. It was also recommended to me that I attend either the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) or Precept studies. I chose to do Precept studies by Kay Arthur and am now trained to lead these studies. This has been IMMENSELY helpful to me to learn to study the Bible for myself, and I can often clearly see now how and why the meetings have interpreted certain passages incorrectly.
I still struggle with my feelings for those that are still professing. I do feel that many of them – like me for many years – are honestly serving Christ in the only way they know how. I think many of the things about growing up professing were helpful to me (such as the way we took the Bible seriously, or served God as a lifestyle and not just a Sunday activity). I don’t feel I have any ax to grind, and in fact have distanced myself a bit from the abuse allegations and crusade that goes on. I don’t feel that it’s necessarily my battle to fight, even though it’s a no tolerance issue for me. Although there is tremendous support here online, I have chosen to distance myself also from this community, largely because I don’t want being an “ex 2×2” to be my identity. I have a new identity and it’s a Daughter of Grace. But for some, I think the support and community online is invaluable.
I have made a remarkable turnaround in my life. I love my new church community and feel that I have recovered incredibly fast from my life as a 2×2. For that, I credit my husband and his family, plus years of distancing myself. Mostly, I just want anyone reading this to know that God does love you, and that you can serve Him and spend eternity with Him outside of the meeting/professing structure — and not only that, you will find a lot of joy in doing so!
By Lisa (Hazelrigg) Gray
Livermore, CA USA
June 27, 2011
Click Here to read Lisa Gray’s Exit Letter