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The Swan Children

We have something to show you.

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Coming March 1. Find out more here.

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by Starfury

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There are few words that can stir conservatives and liberals alike to the extent of “abortion.” Each side tries desperately to fit their view on abortion into a black and white mentality. The liberals focus on the woman. The conservatives focus on the child. Each claim a blanket answer to every situation. Each touts the moral high ground.

Neither embrace reality.

It is one thing to tell a woman what she can or cannot choose.

It is an entirely different thing to be that woman.

There is nothing glamorous about abortion. There is nothing about it to make someone joyous at the occasion of requiring one. There is nothing supportive about those who would say they support you, whilst they tout you as an example of a woman exercising her right to choose. There is nothing supportive about those who claim to love you whilst protesting your right to choose.

If you have not been in those shoes, you cannot understand.

Society tells us that women should be overjoyed when they see the little coloured line(s) on a pregnancy test. Society implies guilt when a woman reacts with screams, tears, and abject terror. Society raises us to congratulate a woman upon finding out she’s pregnant. Society doesn’t tell you that your congratulations could cause a breakdown.

We are raised to believe that you’re supposed to want a child. You wrap your belly with your hands in a gesture of comfort and safety and promise, even when there is no obvious sign of pregnancy. You feel a connection to a being that is not yet fully formed.

Except… you don’t always. There can be a disconnect. There can be horror. There can be disgust.

Society likes to tell us that if you wait until you’re financially prepared to have a child, you will never have one. They are correct. A more important measure is whether you are mentally or emotionally prepared, or even able.

And if a woman is not? Do we tell her, have it any way, we care not for your mental and emotional state? If you’re physically capable, that’s good enough. You made the choice to get pregnant.

We fail to remember that not everyone does! Some people try to use birth control. It’s not perfect. Or maybe a condom broke.

Don’t judge the woman entering the abortion clinic. Don’t view her as a check on a ballot, against one box or another. Don’t presume you know what she is thinking or how she is feeling. Don’t cast her as a woman proud to exercise her choice or as a champion of life.

Love her.

She needs it the most, when she’s faced with an unexpected pregnancy. She needs it when her body’s hormones have turned on their head and she knows she’s not functioning as she might otherwise. She needs it when she realises there is the potentiality for life within her, and it is up to her to try and help it survive, or to end it, for her own good. It is up to her to wrestle with her conscience and decide what is an acceptable choice.

It doesn’t have to be the same two year down the road, as it is now. It doesn’t have to be the same as yours, or your neighbour’s, or your friend down the road’s. It just has to be hers.

It has to be mine.

I don’t need your shouting at me when I leave the clinic. You don’t know what my decision was. It shouldn’t affect how you treat me.

Even so, I need your love in the aftermath of my abortion, just as another girl needs your love throughout her pregnancy.

It’s not black and white.

It’s not about you.

It’s not something you can ever understand until you walk in my shoes. Until you see the pregnancy test that you weren’t expecting. I need the choice, but only I can make it, and only when it is set before me. The decision is never easy, even if there is no doubt as to what it will be.

Trust me.

I tried. I tried saying I would never get one, even though I supported the right to choose.

You know nothing until you are faced with it. Hope that you never are faced with it.

Love and cherish those who are.

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I and my family converted from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy when I was almost 15. I was certain it was the right move, that God was calling us toward it, and we had finally found the One True Path. I was also secretly excited about having female role-models who I could commune with.  I didn’t know the stress it was going to place on me.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

I liked the familiarity that ritual provided. I liked the candles and the incense. I liked the icons. I liked feeling that all of my senses were involved and stimulated, and the idea that I was worshipping with the whole of myself.

I followed Daily Prayer to some extent. I did Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and when I could, I did Afternoon Prayer. I kept my prayer rope on me to say the Jesus (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) prayer whenever I could.

All the lessons growing up of submitting to authority and a world of black and white had sunk in. I had to be perfect – anything less was a disappointing reflection on me, my father, eventually my husband, and my faith.

And yet, I still struggled with depression. I was trying so hard to do what was expected of me. Everything was supposed to be easier with prayer. I had God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Theotokos and a whole slew of saints I prayed to – what more could I ask for?

The answer was always the same. You’re depressed? Go to Confession. You’re stressed? Go to Confession. You’re hurting? Go to Confession. You’re confused? Go to Confession.

So, I went dutifully. I would go about every other week, and every time the priest would tell me the same thing (whichever priest I confessed to, it did not matter). Pray. Pray more. If you’re stressed, pray. Say the Jesus Prayer. Have faith. Be patient.

You’re moving across the country? Pray! You have no friends, pray! You have no job, pray! You don’t know what to do about school, pray! You think your spouse is controlling – you need to pray and acknowledge his headship.

I prayed.

Oh, how I prayed. I wanted to cry, to scream, to ask why it didn’t make a difference. I wanted to know why nothing changed. I confessed my sins. I prayed, and I fervently meant every word. I didn’t sit back and expect things to be magically better – I worked at being a better person.

Did I not pray enough? Was there some sin I was hiding that I did not confess?

I exhausted myself trying to make things work, and telling myself I just needed to trust in God, to have more faith.  I felt frustrated and confused. I tried going to my priest with problems, and yet, I was told to just pray, and all things would be revealed in God’s time.

I was working two jobs, and failing a full college load. I was scared of my husband, and scared of what that meant. I felt like I was in a spiral dwindling down, but I didn’t know how to break free. And so I prayed. Nothing changed.

I was falling apart, and I didn’t know what else to do to hold myself together. I slowly stopped praying as much as I had been – I didn’t see how it would make a difference. I don’t remember when exactly I stopped altogether; I only know that I did.

I grew up with the belief that prayer would make things better. The realisation that nothing had changed whether I prayed or not – and trust me, I believed it would – was terrifying, and gripped me in a way nothing else could.

As I broke out from the chains of religious fundamentalism and spiritual abuse that bound me, I realised there was a freedom when one took personal responsibility into their own hands. I realised that it was okay to feel hurt and depressed and stressed – it didn’t mean that I was sinning and had to go to confession. I was able to turn to people who could look at the issues and help me see the roots of them, so I could address them. Someone in pain doesn’t need prayer, they need help. Kyrie eleison, indeed.

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Quivering Daughters

I shall have my review up shortly, but I wanted to take the time to point out that Mrs. Stacy McDonald (of Raising Maidens of Virtue fame, among others) has put up her own review at Steadfast Daughters. While reading it may produce a variety of strong emotions at first, after sleeping on it, I’m honestly glad she gave her opinion.

 

Why? Because that means that people are starting to notice. If it’s a big enough deal that she would start her own website to counteract this, then it’s an itch they know they need to start doing something about. It is going to be very interesting to see how it plays out.

 

My apologies for not being around more… I have finally sorted (or begun sorting) more than a few real life issues, and can now get back to writing.

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A couple notes

So, I’ve spent a long time thinking about stuff, lately, and I’ve decided I need to do some more planning here. I’m almost done with a post with my thoughts on God and love… nothing deeply theological and philosophical, but it’s a way for me to try and put what I’m thinking onto paper.

I’ve also set up a twitter (@betweenbw) and an email – betweenbw@gmail.com. The twitter is so I can (somewhat) anonymously tweet about things I am thinking about, and the email in case anyone wishes to contact me and ask me any questions, etc.

In the meantime, I am struggling with the rest of my story for NLQ. If I am as honest as I feel the story should be, then I out myself, but if I do that, then I have to deal with whatever backlash and falling out there is with my family. I love them dearly, and I feel like we were starting to sorta patch things up. I don’t know if I’m ready to reopen everything and have them know what I honestly think.

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I’m not entirely sure how the “I’m not a teenager” craze started, but I remember it clearly. That was what separated us (one of the many things) from others. Those others, of course, were the worldly ones who weren’t conservative, Christian, godly, or whatever. They were what we had to constantly guard ourselves against, as we strove to be as close to perfect as we could be.

Granted, the concept of perfection was a hypocritical one. We were taught that we were constantly sinning, and there was nothing we could do about it. We were horrible people, who were nothing without God, and were lucky–excuse me, blessed–to know Him. As such, we were constantly striving toward perfection, and it wasn’t good enough to be “almost perfect.” Anything short of perfection was failure. Thus, in light of the fact that we were always sinning, we were never perfect, and therefore, always failing.

Regardless of the Kobayashi Maru that we had been placed in, it was expected that we would be perfect and conform to the standards set up by those who knew better (Mary Pride, Pam Forster, Mike Farris, need I go on?). Part of this whole setting ourselves apart from the world business meant that we would show how we were different from the others. So, where the rest of the world had teenagers, we had “young adults.”

I, and many others like me, insisted that I wasn’t a teenager. I was offended when people referred to me by such terms. There was no in-between stage from childhood to adulthood for me. After all, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Cor. 13:11, NKJV) I went from childhood to young adulthood because I was being trained for adulthood. I was on my journey there, and so I was beginning to take on the responsibilities of such. I was an adult, like my parents, only I was younger.  I was more spiritually mature than other teenagers my age, and I certainly didn’t buy into the silly, evil, and worldly things that they did: be it music, clothes, movies, etc.

Looking back, I find myself hurting for what I now call my “lost years.” Rather than taking the time to learn to be me, to spend time with my friends, figure out my likes and dislikes, I found myself forced into the position of substitute parent. Living in the middle of nowhere meant we didn’t often see other people my age, and when we did it felt like they were usually boys. Which, of course, meant that I wasn’t really allowed to hang out with them. On the rare opportunities we did get together and I made friends, I was often shuffled off on childcare duty, as were the other girls.

While this may seem like a grand opportunity to get to know one another, there is really only so much socializing you can do while watching three, four, and more little ones. Crying babies, escaping toddlers, trying to get the girls to sit still… it took up all of our attention. Our brothers were outside playing, because that was what was good for them. We, however, needed to learn to be mommies, and this was our practice, while the adults “fellowshipped.”

By the age of  10-13 (couldn’t legally babysit by myself until 13), I was able to babysit all the kids (and we had a lot), make every meal, clean up the house (not that we were necessarily good at following through on that, I will admit), change baby diapers, and pretty much do everything short of actually nursing a baby. From there on out, I spent much of my time either trying to push against the religious environment I was raised in and create something of an individual life for myself, or acting like another parent so my mom could lie in bed due to the exhaustion she felt from having all of us.

Looking back, calling myself a “young adult” was accurate. I wasn’t a teenager, nor was I ever really given the opportunity to be one. Instead I had the cares and responsibilities that should have been my mother’s thrown onto me. After all, I hadn’t given birth 8 times, so I was fair game. I was young, less tired, and strong. Besides, it would be good practice for when I had children all on my own.

Did I grow up too quickly? Yes, and no. I grew up in many ways far sooner than I should have, but the rushed onset of adulthood left me far behind my peers in many other ways. I now have to figure out who I am, what I believe, what I think. These are things that the rest of my peers discovered during their teenage years. But if you want me to raise a family, then by golly, I’m the one for you.

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I have spent most of my life as a fundamentalist Christian. I know the arguments backward and forward, and until recently I believed it. The problems started when I started to think. I began to realize that I was a bit more independent than I was. The problem is that when you have been entrenched for so long in a certain mentality, it is very hard to leave it.

One of the first things drilled into a conservative Christian is the concept of guilt and judgment. There is a clear picture of right and wrong, black and white. Watching certain movies leads you to sin, therefore it is wrong both to watch those movies, and associate with people who watch them. If you do associate with people who are less than ideal Christians, you are 1) encouraging the idea that you’re okay with their lifestyle, and 2) putting yourself at risk to become like them.

You learn these warnings as a way of preventing such a thing from happening to yourself. The conservative Christian world is proud of its black and white outlook on life. The goal is to help people act in a way that they (the fundamentalists) have decided is okay, and to help prevent them from acting in ways that they consider to be “sinful.”

Fundamentalist Christianity is dependent on appearances. In order to achieve the appearances they desire, they emphasize the need to act in a certain way, at least where others can see you. Every thing you do is judged, and held up to a standard. If you fall short of their standard, you are labeled a sinner, and guilt-tripped until you start shaping up. Several years into this lifestyle, you don’t need to worry about someone outright telling you anything. The warnings, admonishments, and unspoken threats are a part of you, and you no longer need to consciously remind yourself of them.

Because of this, it seems only natural that when we start having doubts about our faith, those old excuses jump in front of us. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to just stay Christian? Do we really want to end up like Sally Smith down the road who was wooed away by evil liberals, and is surely going to hell? Do we want to stumble and fall, like others? Are we really that bad and evil and dirty?

Even more importantly… what if we’re wrong? If we really go through with this, we’re just like the enemy… we are the Enemy. Anything we try to say along the lines of “We just want to think,” or “We’re just doing research,” or “We don’t really know what we think yet…” those are just excuses. Excuses for the sin we are falling into.

In the end, though, we’re not making excuses for the enemy… at least, not if the enemy is freedom of thought and reason. We’re making excuses for holding onto what we’ve been raised with. It’s easier that way. We don’t have to tell anyone. We can go on living like before. As long as we make excuses for why we shouldn’t leave, people will still like us. We can still be white, instead of black.

It’s not that we should abruptly choose to be black instead of white, that we have to leave fundamentalism abruptly instead of gradually. It’s that we should recognize there is more to the story than we’ve been raised with, and now it’s time to be grey.

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