In 2006, my life changed drastically. My husband of 7 years took my children and moved from North Carolina to Texas, and I followed at break-neck speed. In the few months preceding his exit from our life in North Carolina, we had determined that our lives were going separate ways. He did not, however, warn me that the next 3 years were going to tear my life down to its foundation, that or that the 3 years after that would rebuild it with tears and struggles and small victories.
My name is Joni, and I am an ex-fundamentalist Christian. Raised in a very conservative family in a very conservative town, it was easy to just follow along. When I began to think for myself, eyebrows were raised, whispered exchanged. When I asked the wrong questions, I was gently at first, then later more harshly rebuked. When I questioned whether the orders passed down to me by my spiritual authority were really God’s will, I was disciplined.
I wanted so much to please God, but I couldn’t understand how he could make me one way and then require me to be a completely different person. Wouldn’t it have been easier if he had just made me right the first time, instead of making me something that he didn’t want me to end up being? I tried very hard to change and when that proved impossible, I lied and pretended I was this new creation. When lying became more than I could handle, I just let it go and built a wall so caring didn’t hurt as much.
After having my life decimated by a 3 year long divorce and custody battle, after having been lied about and manipulated, spied upon and threatened, I was tired. I wanted only for the war to be over – I didn’t care who won at this point because in reality there were no winners. After all the fighting, money spent, and carnage, I was in Vietnam and I could hardly remember why I had engaged in this war to begin with.
My trust level was at an all-time low, especially for those in the church. Looking at the wreckage that was my life, I began to pick through what I would carry on from here. Sifting through debris, I found my faith in marriage in shambles. I found my faith in relationships charred and scattered bits on the edge of my life. Even my foundation – religion and Christianity – was cracked and beyond repair. If I was going to build again, nothing could come with me save love and hope. Love I held close to me throughout the storm. I knew that Love existed, I believed that Love was real. I loved my children without reservation and I hoped that with Love and Hope I could rebuild a life – perhaps a life that was authentic.
I thought at first I could rebuild on my foundation of Christianity. Some patches here and there were intact – maybe I could put some putty in those cracks – surely I could go on with Christianity as part of my identity, right? But nagging my heart was the question I had asked my mom when I was 8: “If God is perfect and knows everything, why did he make me wrong? Why would he make me someone he doesn’t want me to be?”
Stepping away from Christianity has been a long process. Excruciatingly painful at times, difficult to explain to others, especially my conservative family members. My metamorphosis from Conservative Christian to Hippie Panendeist is a sight to behold… if you want to meet the opposite of me, just check out Joni circa 1999. But, for the first time, I don’t feel like my beliefs have to be defensible. Because they are mine. I don’t feel like I have to sell my relationship with God. Because it is mine. And the fact that I don’t believe in legislated morality (aka legal marriage) but I do believe in love and commitment jives with my wholehearted hope in God and mankind. I don’t have all the answers and in fact, I have fewer “answers” than I did when I was a Christian. Today I simply seek love and authenticity. The rest will fall into place on its own.