The very good bad year

Blogs share an incomplete portrait of the authors’ lives. Projects are often planned and completed in rapid succession, with no account of the intervening drudgery of late nights and setbacks. Posts may discuss everything from plasterwork to pasture management, while carefully sidestepping political views and family matters.

As December drew to a close, Robin and I considered writing a traditional year end review. Highlights would have included the house facelift, shed construction, and chicken debacle, but the most significant milestones of our past year were beyond such things. Rather than write a post that felt empty by comparison, we decided to write something more meaningful. This will not be a regular feature of our blog–the normal parade of projects and levity will continue in 2012.

Robin and I were both raised in the same high control religion. For many churchgoers, religion is a Sunday activity. For us, religion defined our lives. It told us what to believe, how to live, and what to think. From childhood, we were taught that only our religion was true, and that very soon our God would kill the 99.9% of people who believed differently. We were taught to be fearful of non-believers, and friendships outside the religion were strongly discouraged, even with family members.

Over the last several years, Robin and I separately came to the realization that our religious beliefs were a sham, built entirely upon fear, emotional manipulation, and misrepresented facts. We knew our life would be simpler if we maintained the pretext of belief, but intellectual dishonesty would have violated our integrity. By the beginning of 2011, we had made it clear to our family that we still loved them unconditionally but we no longer accepted their religion.

Unfortunately, extreme beliefs are fragile and require extreme measures to protect. As dictated by their religion, nearly all our friends and family began to shun us immediately. This meant that they regarded us as dead until such time as we accepted their religion again. Believers convince themselves that this type of emotional blackmail is a loving act. As my mom said to me during a rare phone call, “In the Old Testament, parents threw the first stone when a child left the true faith.” (i.e. To shun your child is more loving than to stone them to death.)

It’s a terrible thing to be thrown away by your family. The mind fluctuates between denial, anger, depression … all the stages of grief. We grieved for the relationships we had lost and for the people we thought they were.

At the same time, Robin and I were determined not to live in isolation, crippled by our childhood indoctrination. We pushed past our irrational fear of outsiders and resolved to find new friends, reconnect with non-believing family members, and reintegrate ourselves into society. For two introverts trying to rebuild their lives from scratch, our efforts were surprisingly successful.

We can honestly say that 2011 was one of the best years we have experienced, despite the trauma of losing our family. We have met many amazing people this past year who have welcomed us into their lives and their homes. We’ve had dinners and grand conversations over wine, debated books and ideas, and shared stories and grief. Each and every one of these people will forever be dear to us for their kindness and concern.

In late November the year took a tragic turn. A close relative of mine in his late 20’s committed suicide. He had been raised in the same religion, and while he never questioned it’s validity he found it impossible to conform to its rules. To avoid being shunned, he attempted to live two lives, and the resultant discord wrecked his self esteem. He never spoke of thoughts of suicide, but religious guilt and fear of abandonment weighed heavily on his mind.

Robin and I found no closure at his funeral. The service spoke little about the man who had died and much about the dogma he had been expected to follow. To be present in a room full of people mourning someone in death whom they would have shunned in life was one of the single most hypocritical displays I have ever seen.

While progress around the homestead was slow this past year, we invested in our personal development and it was definitely a better use for our time. The end of 2011 finds us far happier, well adjusted, and better connected than at the beginning, partly because we have a new circle of friends and family who judge people based on their character and not the conformity of their beliefs.

Robin and I are excited about the new year, and look forward to continued progress both in our personal lives and on this wreck of a homestead. We wish all of you out there the best in 2012.

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39 Responses to The very good bad year

  1. Scrapple says:

    I just started reading your stories this year and I never would have known. I always enjoy your posts and it’s fun to hear about your various projects.
    I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through such a heart-wrenching time, but it’s good to hear that you’ve found a better place. It takes incredible courage to do what you did. You have a whole new future to look forward to. I hope 2012 is the best year of your lives, good luck

    • lee says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you like our blog. 🙂 Yeah, the first step was the hardest. Even when you know it’s not true, all you see is hopelessness when you look outside the group. I’ve since learned that this is a common strategy used by many of these sorts of groups. When your sense of self is tied up in the group, to leave is to destroy yourself. Once you make that first step to leave, there’s really nowhere to go but forward.

  2. dawn says:

    Wow…I’m so sorry! Unfortunately we have a church like that in our area too. However, the church here shuns anyone who commits suicide too. It is a church full of fear and despair. Of people trying to “buy” with actions, something that was freely given as a gift.

    God must weep.

    He is full of grace and compassion and it devastates me that people claim to own Him.

    Blessings to you.

    Thank-you for this blog. I really look forward to reading it each day!

    • lee says:

      Yes, I was surprised to learn how many groups practice hard shunning. I had once thought it was only our religion, but now we know several people who are being shunned by several different religious groups. There is certainly a lot of needless pain out there.

      I appreciate your comment . We hope to write a little more consistently in 2012, and have a little more to write about. We’ve turned off our Netflix subscription, and that seems to have increased my productivity too! 🙂

  3. Ann says:

    I am crying so hard right now, that’s the only semi-coherent comment I think I’ll be able to make.

    My heart breaks for you both and for your relative. It’s sad how religion tears people apart, instead of bringing them together. It’s hard to know what to believe.

    I am so happy, on the other hand, that you seem to have made peace with your decisions.

    And don’t worry about the wreck. All the pieces of that will come together, too.

    In the interim, smile at each other over, love each other, and one day, you’ll look back and realize just how much you’ve accomplished. It’ll be worth it. I promise you this from my heart.

    • robin says:

      Oh Ann, I’m so sorry to make you cry. I did enough of that for both of us last year. 🙂 I’m at the point that I just feel sad for my family. Their religion is all they know and even though it takes away their common decency, they don’t realize it. I had a sister run away from me in a store when she saw me and literately took out a clothing rack in the process. (That is how afraid the religion made her of me.) It was interesting trying to explain to the store clerk what had just happened. A person can only take so much of that crap before you start to become numb to it.

      Since leaving the religion, it is amazing how much my health has improved. I know that stress can be detrimental, but I had no idea how badly it was affecting me. I literally wake up thankful everyday because my life is so much better. I love the new person I have become and have no regrets.

      • Ann says:

        I am so happy to hear that, Robin. The fact that your health is so much better is a key element. It means you were leading a life that was not suited to you, and at some cellular level, your body knew it. Now your mind knows it too, so let the healing begin!

  4. I am so proud of you; but I guess that is silly – since it only means that I am approving of your decisions because they mimic my own. So, I guess I will say this: When we leave the path that is set before us, and blaze a new trail, we never know the destinations that will arrive before us. I hope your destinations bring you peace, joy, and community – a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and an opportunity to love and grow. This is what I wish for you, and I hope that you find it in the coming year.

    Be well.

    Dominic Ebacher

    • lee says:

      Well, it definitely sounds like there is a story there that I’d like to hear. I’m not sure about the destination, but the journey has been rewarding despite the rough patches. When we look back on our previous life with the clarity of hindsight, we realize that the fear and stress of the religion was causing many of the problems it often claimed to protect you from. I can understand why people stay though. The thought of blazing a new trail is terrifying.

      I like the tag line for your blog: “finding an authentic life.” Robin and I moved to Oregon to do just that, but without escaping our religion I don’t think we ever would have succeeded.

  5. Snowbrush says:

    I just love these responses–it sounds like you have a fellow traveller in Dominic. I think it’s way brave and way cool that you shared a little of your personal stories beyond your farm projects, and I’m sure it won’t surprise you in the least to hear that I hope you give us an occasional update to your journey.

    • robin says:

      Thanks Snowbrush! It was a trifle scary writing this post but it was something we had been planning for a while. It’s hard to write down in words the total scope of what all happened and still be concise. Lee and I could have written a novel with all that took place this past year.

  6. Now the ‘first halloween costume’ comment makes sense. Wow, that must have been tough for you guys but I applaud you on your accomplishment and courage. While I did send my daughter to church as a child (until she could decide on her own if she wanted to go) I personally don’t have much faith ( although sometimes I want to)..being a programmer it must have been tough to approach work and tasks with logic as a compass then enter a church or a family gathering and put all logic aside. A* and I were both sociology majors in university(don’t even get me started on religion as a form of societal control)..that pretty well did it for religion for us. Personally I sometimes feel that some religions push thier own agendas so far that they cannot see the error in thier own ways and I think that if there is a God he would be ashamed of some of the values and norms which are perpetuated by some religions (which are practicing ‘In his name’)…and No, I don’t dislike religion, I just know it is not for me…too defined when truthfully we are full of both good and bad ( in a way…without bad how can one have a gauge for what is good). Anyway, this is a conversation best had around a campfire with beer in hand…too deep for a paragraph or 2.

    The bottom line is this…we SHOULD question..everything and not just religion. I sometimes feel that a major problem with society is apathy which in turn is ruled by going along with the status quo rather than questioning whether or not something is right or just..and also asking ourselves whether or not we agree with something….something people don’t do enough of. Not sure if all of this comment is making sense..sorry. And if you ever need someplace where you will be welcomed with open arms and accepted for who you are there is a lovely shack in Nova Scotia with 2 (semi-crazy) people and 2 (totally-crazy) dogs who would be pleased to meet you. hehe

    • lee says:

      Actually, I think many of the technical college degrees do a poor job of equipping students to think rationally. This past year I’ve read several books on logical thinking and how to form good arguments and identify flawed ones. These subjects were never covered at my university. Presumably this is because college textbooks generally don’t resort to deceptive strategies, but these tactics are so commonly employed by the media and other sources that identifying them should be basic training for life. I completely agree that we should question everything. I have been reevaluating my beliefs in many areas (unrelated to religion) to see if they are built on rational arguments and evidence. In some cases, this has lead me to adopt a more moderate viewpoint or even a completely opposite one.

      This is definitely the sort of conversation I’d enjoy having around a campfire. Beer would be a bonus! If we are ever near Nova Scotia, I will be sure to let you know. We’d love to meet you two, and your two crazy dogs. 🙂

  7. ..also, I agree..blogs only give a slice of life when it gets down to it..but I am trying to work in a post that fully entails how good I look in blue speedos so people get to know me better as a person…I always say to A* ‘..people must think I am crazy when I do posts up like this..’ to which A* responds ‘You are crazy, remember?’ sometimes makes me so mad when she says those works that I have to climb down from my favorite internet tree to admonish her…groan…sorry..I have a reputation to uphold and it is Friday.

    • robin says:

      LOL! Isn’t it rather cold to be taking a picture in a speedo?? I had no idea that the color blue is what makes a speedo look so dashing. But I guess if that’s what it takes to get to know someone better… It’s terrible that your internet reception is so bad that you have to climb a tree to get a signal. 😀

  8. Candy says:

    As a total stranger to you I feel wierd telling you I agree that religion can be a source of stress in families. I think everyone has choices and family should be supportive of the person if not the ideas. I am happy you have found what works for you and sad your family feels like they cannot support your decisions. To me God is love and never turns his back on us.

    • robin says:

      Hi Candy, thanks for the comment. We’ve heard that sentiment echoed by many people this past year: family is supposed to be about love without conditions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and sometimes it breaks down for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

  9. Lyssa says:

    Thank you for sharing something so personal – it takes a lot of bravery to do that! I just started reading your blog very recently, but I like getting to know the people behind the stories, not just hearing about projects and gardens.

    • robin says:

      Thank you Lyssa. We have had a lot of people tell us this past year how brave we were and how much courage we had. I don’t feel like we are either. We just didn’t have a choice in the matter and we refused to let this affect us permanently. Lee and I are pretty shy in some ways so writing about this was very much out of our comfort zone. I agree with you, as I love knowing more about people too.

  10. Ron says:

    Well… I considered you guys as friends… as much as friendship can exist in a purely online sense… but I consider you friends even moreso now.

    I, too, was raised quite religious, and at 16 I questioned the existence of god. Big deal, right? Kids are curious. Questions are good. In my case, what followed was eviction from the house, being ostracized from all I knew… and eventually becoming a ward of the State, among other things. It took years to unravel, to the extent that I have.

    So, yeah, I know all about that. And I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had to wade through similar. But I am very happy for you. When I rejected religion, I learned that there was a whole world to explore out there, that operates on cause and effect, and can be studied and analyzed – no more magic and fear of eternal damnation for me!

    • lee says:

      Hi Ron, I absolutely consider you a friend as well. This post was not meant to diminish the value of our online relationships. Certainly, without the internet it would be impossible for us to find so many others with similar interests, and that would be a sad thing.

      I knew some of your background from your blog, but I had no idea that it was questioning god which was the trigger. I can’t even imagine what you went through. To throw a kid out of the house and shun them is to attempt to destroy them for life. Ultimately, I think that is one of the goals of shunning (nothing like a good anecdote of downward spiral to scare the remaining believers), but it’s far less likely to have an effect on two married adults with an established life. I’m glad you were able to recover from that terrible experience.

      I didn’t mention it in the blog post, but another big highlight has been the freedom to learn. I feel like someone who has spent most of their life with only half an encyclopedia. It’s great to finally be able to research topics without mentally censoring out whole fields of study.

  11. Ali says:

    I don’t even know what to say, other than you have a virtual friend in Maine sending you good vibes, and thanking you for your honesty and sharing. Families are tricky in general, I’m sorry you had to experience such pain but I hope you can learn and grow and move forward in happiness. And if your plans to visit ever do materialize, perhaps we will be real-time friends, not just virtual (hint hint!)

    • robin says:

      Thank you Ali! That is sweet of you to say. It was a hard post to write but so much of our life last year was dominated by this process. Our travel plans are indeed still on! Check your email because I just sent you a message. I’m so excited!!

  12. Woody says:

    Trailblazing isn’t easy. I’m happy that you shared a huge part of your life’s journey.

  13. Demelza says:


    I pop in every now and then to read about the progress you are making with the house and all your other activities. I had noticed that there were few blogs at the year end and then I saw this post and realised why.

    I just find it so difficult to comprehend that with the world as it is today, churches and/or religion can try to rule lives in such a way. (I have to say I was brought up in a house where religion as based on Sunday school, and going to church for weddings and funerals.)

    May 2013 be a better and more peaceful year for you both now that you are without the strictures enforced on you for so long.

    • robin says:

      Hi Demelza. Yup, it was hard writing posts when there were so many other things going on. Thank you for your good wishes. Last year was full of a thousand new experiences for Lee and I. This year I expect to be much calmer.

  14. Demelza says:

    Sorry, I meant 2012 .. but of course other years as well….

  15. Jay says:

    It’s not easy throw off the yolk of religion, and learn to live your life, your way. The brain washing is so deep and so effective it takes years (sometimes decades) to unprogram.

    I applaud you. It takes a tremendous about of courage and individual fortitude and it’s worthy of admiration.

    I also really enjoy reading your weblog. I hope to be able to start my own homestead someday, and I love reading about yours.

    • lee says:

      This is very true. We have tried to be proactive about reevaluating our beliefs, but it’s an ongoing process. It really starts from language up. Sometimes we’ll use a word and then we’ll stop and say, “Is this the actual dictionary definition in my head or some alternate version that was convenient for the religion?” The influence is even more insidious with regard to beliefs and values. I suspect that years from now we will still occasionally have this experience, but we are already in a much better place.

      We didn’t feel particularly courageous at the time. We wanted to share our story to explain a big part of our life this past year that was missing and to encourage others who might be dealing with something similar. It’s kind of sad how common our story really is. I suspect that each year tens of thousands of children, parents, siblings, and friends are pointlessly shunned by others. Our experience is mild by comparison to many of those.

  16. Benita says:

    While I am very sad that your old friends and family treated you like that, I am glad you have found your freedom to worship God without fear and dogma. May He smile on you and bless you with more friends to replace those who turned away.

    • lee says:

      Thanks. I agree that everyone should have the freedom to believe what they think is right. Taking away another individual’s right to choose their own path is taking away a core part of their humanity.

  17. Robin & Lee — I don’t know you, but I sure like you. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to choose between your convictions and your family, and I don’t envy you the decision. That you can find comfort and joy in a new life, with new friends, is a testament to your optimism and spirit.

    I wish you all the best is 2012.

    • lee says:

      Thanks Tamar. I suppose a part of us hoped that we wouldn’t be forced into that decision. We’re pretty optimistic by nature I think. Have you seen our house? 😉

  18. Phil says:

    I started reading this blog, like most people, because of your farming adventures and wanting to follow a similar path. Posts like these however add so much more to the experience. It’s an important reminder about how much actually goes on in our lives as we’re heading to our goals. You guys have been very brave in breaking away from your past like that. I hope someday more of your family will see you as who you are, and not just want they want you to be.

    • lee says:

      Hi Phil. Thanks for the comment. We really do appreciate all the positive feedback on this post. We weren’t sure how it would be received, since it’s so off topic from our usual content. It has certainly been a big speedbump in our path though. We moved back to Oregon because it’s a great climate for growing things and to reconnect with family. At least it’s still a great climate!

      Actually, we both have a few free family members in this area and we value the opportunity to get to know them better. We hope more of our family eventually has a change of heart, but realistically it’s not very likely.

  19. Buck says:

    Lee and Robin, what an inspiring post. So many comments said it so well, and your responses were so thorough, that I don’t have much to say. I admire the way you set out to redefine your lives, and wish you continued strength and success. We appreciate and value your willingness to tell your story. Thank you.

  20. Doug says:

    Hi Lee and Robin,
    I’ve so enjoyed reading your blog. I’m sorry how “religion” has messed you guys up. I am a Christian, but there is a difference in being religious and a Christian… being a Christian is supposed be one that’s Christ-like. Jesus was against the religious Pharisees and Sadducees of his day, because they weighed man down with all of their “man-made” rules and regulations – that’s what “religion” truly is – man-made rules and regulations.

    Many so-called Christian religions are based off of the Old Testament laws, which are very burdensome. The law was meant to show us how sinful we are, but Jesus said he came to not get rid of the law, but to fulfill it for us. We can’t do it ourselves because we are human. Those that judge and shun are living in the Old Testament and need to read the New Testament. We now live in the day of grace and God’s mercy. Read Galatians and Colossians, or Romans. We are to live in grace with everyone and love all with the love of God, through Jesus, that’s why he came to redeem us, so we can live it out loud with the rest of world.

    The apostle Paul worked hard to NOT shun people from the body of Christ (the Church) and to reconcile those that had had a falling out of some sort. God’s in the reconciling business and love all of us! He’s looking to reconcile His lost sons and daughters back into His family! All He’s ever wanted was a relationship with us. We make the choice, either to choose or reject Him, He never rejects us. He’s left us with a free choice.

    I’m sorry for your loss of relationship with your earthly family, but realize that there is a bigger family out here for you. 🙂 I pray you’ll find them and not one that is a Pharisee, stay clear of them so you can have a life of peace.

    Keep up the good work! You guys are awesome and I love seeing your joys and struggles. It is an encouragement to me to keep on living the dream!

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