We joined an Assemblies of God church in 1996.
We just attended Sunday morning services at first. Then, I joined the ladies bible study group that met on Tuesday mornings. That group also met on Sunday mornings during the second service for a ladies discipleship, so when my husband was asked to help in the 3-4 year old’s class during that service, I started going to the womens group. I attended as many Sunday evening services as my husband would put up with. He thought I was getting too involved, but it was for God, right? I couldn’t let him pull me away from God, so I went.
I just knew that if I was a Good Christian Woman, my life would be Perfect, my marriage would be Blessed, and by homeschooling, my children would live According to God’s Plan for Their Lives. Or so I thought. I bought into every lie and cliche and did ALL the things.
As I became more and more involved, my husband didn’t. This is important.
I quickly made friends in the Tuesday morning Bible study, but when I got comfortable and started putting myself out there, sharing who I was, I realized that I wasn’t acceptable. Too much “worldliness”, too liberal, too much of myself and not enough of God. When I shared with two particular new friends how much of a music lover I was, and that I had an extensive record collection, they began to impress upon me how evil the music that I loved was. Within about a year, they had convinced me that the evil in my house, my records, was what was holding my husband back from committing fully to the Lord. The record collection had to go if I wanted to have a godly marriage. So I packed it up in boxes, all 700+ classic rock, blues, and jam band albums, and sold them to a used record store. For $150.
Just the thought of it kills me, even now. 20 years later. And my husband couldn’t believe that I really sold them. He told me I was crazy. He wasn’t wrong but I didn’t know it at the time.
But this was how God would mold me, I was told.
This was God, stripping away the “old man”– the old Dawn– and making her New. The Old Dawn didn’t care about a person’s sexual preference– barring rape, incest, or child abuse. She loved all kinds of music, as long as it had a beat and good guitar jams. She thought a woman’s place was where ever she desired, be it the board room, the bedroom, the front row at a rock show, or at home and married with kids. The Old Dawn voted for a president because he admitted to smoking weed. It probably wasn’t the best reason to vote for someone, but given the other uptight choices, she’d made her choice for someone who may, possibly, be sort of like her.
But the New Dawn had to drop it all.
And I did, almost.
I kept a few of my Grateful Dead bootleg show tapes and I kept them in my van, where I had a tape player. In all the many years after my conversion, I would sometimes touch bases with the Old Dawn, remembering her, where she came from, her life experiences, and I’d sing along with the songs that I loved so much because they were written on my heart, much like the Scriptures I so carefully studied. I never completely forgot. I just pushed my true self down, down, down, to where I’d only let her out in certain settings, with very few certain people and for a limited time period.
My husband played along with the church thing, but not to the point of pretending he wasn’t himself. He told me over and over that I was getting too involved and should take a step back. I prayed constantly that he would give up and give in to God. We came to the point where divorce was a real possibility. Still, I prayed for him. We came through because I backed off and stopped putting so much pressure on him. Many times over the years I was put in the position of feeling like I needed to lie about him or defend why he wasn’t participating in this or that activity. “He’s busy this weekend,” or “He will be out of town then” when in reality, he’d just flat out said he wasn’t interested in going and I’d gone without him.
I didn’t make excuses for HIM, I made them for ME. I made them because the last thing I wanted was for my friends to fully grasp that I wasn’t married to A Man of God. When talk turned to couples’ devotions or praying together, I would evade, change the subject, or even indicate we were on the same page as they were, without actually saying it. I didn’t lie outright but I definitely didn’t tell the whole truth.
Everything I did was to protect myself, my image, from the church people.
It was all about how things looked to others. And most everyone I was friendly with at church were exactly the same way. It was all about the image. “Putting on the new man” and “getting rid of the old man” were all about making yourself appear as righteous and Christian-esque as you could. It had nothing to do with actually being a Christian.
Self-protective measures weren’t new to me. I’d been doing it my entire life. My dad’s military standards of behavior required it. I had to pretend to be happy, to obey, to do what I was supposed to do, because if I didn’t there would be hell to pay. Church wasn’t that different. I couldn’t risk being ostracized. I couldn’t risk their judgment.
I couldn’t risk being myself.