FREED FROM FEAR

MY MOM BECAME A JEHOVAH'S WITNESS IN 1972, MY FATHER SOON AFTER WAS ALSO BAPTIZED. I REMEMBER ATTENDING THE KINGDOM HALL UP UNTIL I WAS ABOUT EIGHT YEARS OLD. MY YOUNGEST BROTHER HAD BEEN BORN AN EPILEPTIC AND WAS EXPERIENCING GRAND MAL SEIZURES AND EXPERIENCING THEM OFTEN. MY DAD (WHO WAS A SCHOOLTEACHER) WAS FINDING THAT HIS JOB WAS NOT PROVIDING FOR HIS FAMILY OF FIVE AND FOR HIS SON'S MEDICAL BILLS. HE DECIDED (NOT BECAUSE HE WANTED TO, HE LOVED TEACHING) TO LEAVE TEACHING AND TAKE A JOB AT A CASINO. WHEN THE ELDERS HEARD ABOUT HIS SWITCH OF PROFESSIONS THEY MET WITH HIM AND TOLD HIM THAT HE HAD TO QUIT WORKING AT THE CASINO OR BE DISFELLOWSHIPPED. HE TOLD THEM THAT HE NEEDED THE JOB AND IN TURN WAS DISFELLOWSHIPPED.

WE STOPPED GOING REGULARLY TO THE KINGDOM HALL FOR ABOUT FIVE YEARS, UNTIL I WAS ABOUT THIRTEEN OR FOURTEEN. MY MOM WAS THE CHIEF MOTIVATOR IN GETTING US BACK ON TRACK. SHE HAS A DEEP LOVE FOR GOD AND WANTED TO RAISE US TO HAVE TO SAME LOVE (FOR THIS I AM THANKFUL). WE WENT TO MEETINGS OFTEN. THERE WERE BIBLE STUDIES ON TUESDAY NIGHTS TO DISCUSS WHATEVER PUBLICATION WE WERE IN TO AT THE TIME. THURSDAY NIGHTS WERE THE THEOCRATIC MINISTRY SCHOOL, WHICH BETTER PREPARED YOU FOR THE FIELD MINISTRY. SUNDAYS WERE THE PUBLIC TALK , FOLLOWED BY THE WATCHTOWER. I ALSO HAD MY OWN HOME BIBLE STUDY EVERY WEEK. WE WENT TO THE CIRCUIT ASSEMBLIES (TWICE A YEAR) AND THE DISTRICT ASSEMBLY (EVERY YEAR), FOR YEARS. THERE WERE TIMES MY MOM PUSHED US TO KEEP GOING AND KEEP MOTIVATED AND THERE WERE OTHER TIMES THAT MOTIVATOR WAS ME. I WANTED TO BE THE PERFECT WITNESS, THE PERFECT FOLLOWER OF GOD BUT IT SEEMED THAT NO MATTER HOW OFTEN I TRIED, I COULD NEVER QUITE REACH THAT LEVEL OF PERFECTION.

I WAS EXTREMELY SHY. I HAD WANTED TO BE BAPTIZED BUT THE ONLY WAY THAT YOU WERE APPROVED TO BE BAPTIZED WAS BY PUTTING IN THE REQUIRED AMOUNT OF HOURS OUT IN THE FIELD MINISTRY. I WASN'T GOOD AT KNOCKING ON STRANGERS DOORS. AT TIMES I'D BE S0 OVERCOME WITH FEAR THAT I WOULD FORGET MY OWN NAME, LET ALONE BE ABLE TO TALK TO THEM ABOUT GOD. BUT I LIKED TALKING ABOUT GOD AND I DID TALK ABOUT HIM WHEN I FELT COMFORTABLE, WHEN I WASN'T KEEPING TRACK. I ALWAYS FELT THOUGH THAT MY INABILITY TO GO DOOR TO DOOR MEANT THAT GOD DIDN'T APPROVE OF ME SOMEHOW. HOW COULD GOD APPROVE OF ME WHEN I COULDN'T PREACH HIS WORD DOOR TO DOOR? WHEN I COULDN'T EARN THE HOURS NEEDED TO BE CONSIDERED FOR BAPTISM? WHEN BAPTISM MEANS YOUR SALVATION? I CANNOT BEGIN TO TELL YOU HOW HARD THIS WAS FOR ME (ESPECIALLY THEN). I WAS TAUGHT THAT I WAS TO BE "NO PART OF THE WORLD" AND S0 DISCOURAGED TO HAVE ANY "WORLDLY" FRIENDS OR PARTICIPATE IN ANY "WORLDLY" ACTIVITIES.

MY PARENTS WERE MORE LENIENT THAN MOST JEHOVAH'S WITNESS PARENTS. I HAD TWO VERY CLOSE NON-JEHOVAH'S WITNESS FRIENDS AND WAS ALLOWED TO DO THINGS WITH THEM. I ALSO PARTICIPATED IN A COUPLE OF SCHOOL ACTIVITIES AND SCHOOL TRIPS. I DIDN'T ATTEND ANY SCHOOL PARTIES, NOR THE JUNIOR/SENIOR PROM. THE WITNESSES, HOWEVER, DID NOT ENCOURAGE THESE FRIENDSHIPS OR ACTIVITIES. FOR THIS, I WAS NEVER REALLY CONSIDERED SOMEONE THAT WITNESS PARENTS WANTED THEIR CHILDREN HANGING AROUND WITH (BESIDES THE FACT THAT I HAD A FATHER WHO WAS DISFELLOWSHIPPED).

I STRUGGLED WITH THIS EVERYDAY. I FELT LIKE I DIDN'T REALLY FIT IN WITH MY PEERS AT SCHOOL BUT THEN AGAIN, I FELT LIKE I DIDN'T REALLY FIT IN WITH MY PEERS AT THE KINGDOM HALL. THIS FEELING WAS HORRIBLE. MY DAD WAS REINSTATED WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY TWENTIES. HE WENT BACK TO BEING A TEACHER, WHICH MEANT AFTER TEN OR MORE YEARS HE WAS ALL OF A SUDDEN WORTHY TO BE SPOKEN TO. I NEVER QUITE UNDERSTOOD THAT. NO ONE EVER ENCOURAGED HIM TO STUDY THE BIBLE, ATTEND MEETINGS OR INVITED HIM TO BE A PART OF ANYTHING. HE WENT TO A FEW MEETINGS (AT FIRST), THEN LESS (LATER) AND NONE (NOW). IT ALWAYS HURT ME REGARDING MY DAD. BECAUSE HE WAS DISFELLOWSHIPPED, HE WAS DEEMED A UNREPENTANT SINNER AND THAT MEANT THAT HE WAS TO BE DESTROYED AT ARMAGEDDON. (AS I TYPE THIS I AM OVERWHELMED WITH EMOTION.)

I LOVE MY DAD. MY DAD HAS ALWAYS BEEN A HARDWORKING AND LOVING FATHER. HE HAS ALWAYS LOVED AND CARED FOR HIS FAMILY. HE IS A FAITHFUL HUSBAND. HE IS MILD-SPOKEN AND SLOW TO ANGER. HE ALSO LOVES GOD AND I BELIEVE THAT GOD LOVES HIM, TOO. IF I CAN LOVE MY FATHER THE WAY THAT I DO, HOW MUCH MORE SO DOES THE ONE THAT CREATED HIM? I STOPPED GOING TO MEETINGS WHEN I WAS ABOUT TWENTY SIX YEARS OLD (I'M THIRTY THREE NOW). I MOVED AWAY FROM MY PARENTS' HOUSE AND GOT LAZY, I GUESS. I ALWAYS BELIEVED EVERYTHING THAT I WAS TAUGHT BUT AS I STATED EARLIER, I THOUGHT THAT I WAS NOT APPROVED BY GOD. I THOUGHT THAT BASICALLY I, TOO, WOULD DIE AT ARMAGEDDON.

I STARTED HANGING OUT WITH PEOPLE WHO LIKED TO PARTY AND DRINK. AFTER TWENTY SEVEN YEARS OF TRYING TO LIVE A PERFECT LIFE, I FAILED AND DID SOME PRETTY STUPID THINGS OF WHICH I REGRET WITH ALL OF ME. THE GUILT (WHICH FELT UNBEARABLE BEFORE) HAD REACHED ALL NEW LEVELS. I WAS ASHAMED OF MYSELF ALL DAY LONG. MY MIND BATTLING WITH ITSELF WITH NO RELIEF. I WAS VERY SAD. I SOUGHT COUNSELING, WHICH (AT THE TIME) HELPED OUT SO MUCH. I JUST NEEDED TO TELL SOMEONE WHO WAS UNBIASED SOME OF THE THINGS THAT I WAS DEALING (OR NOT DEALING) WITH.

IN JULY OF 2002, I MET THE MAN WHO WOULD BECOME MY HUSBAND. HE WAS A CHRISTIAN AND ENCOURAGED ME TO GO TO CHURCH WITH HIM. AT FIRST I FELT TOO WEIRD ABOUT IT. I FELT LIKE GOING TO A CHURCH WOULD MAKE ME AN APOSTATE. IT'S ONE THING TO BE A SINNER BUT AN APOSTATE IS A WHOLE NEW AND ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THING!! THE MORE HE ENCOURAGED ME, THOUGH AND THE MORE THAT OUR RELATIONSHIP GREW, I DECIDED TO GO WITH HIM. IT WAS INTIMIDATING AT FIRST BUT I KEPT UP WITH IT. I EVEN MET ANOTHER EX-WITNESS (SHE HAD ACTUALLY BEEN BAPTIZED. TECHNICALLY, I WAS NEVER CONSIDERED A REAL JEHOVAH'S WITNESS. I WAS AN UNBAPTIZED PUBLISHER) WHO HELPED ME MORE THAN SHE KNOWS. I'VE ONLY SPOKE TO HER A COUPLE TIMES BUT IT WAS AMAZING TO ME TO MEET SOMEONE WHO KNEW WHAT I WAS GOING THROUGH.

ON THE DAY OF MY BAPTISM (APRIL 6, 2003) SHE WAS THE FIRST PERSON WHO GREETED ME - WATER AND ALL- WITH A BIG FAT HUG!! I CAN'T TELL YOU HOW AMAZING I FELT KNOWING THAT AFTER ALL OF MY MENTAL ANGUISH THAT GOD LOVED ME AFTER ALL. I REMEMBER NOT WANTING TO TAKE A SHOWER AFTER I WAS BAPTIZED. I DIDN'T WANT TO WASH THE WATER FROM THE POOL OFF OF MY SKIN. I STILL STRUGGLE WITH OLD THOUGHTS OF GUILT. I DESIRE S0 MUCH TO LET IT ALL GO. I TELL MY PARENTS OF MY INVOLVEMENT WITH THE CHURCH BUT I STILL HAVEN'T TOLD THEM THAT I WAS BAPTIZED. I'VE BEEN READING MORE MATERIAL AND LOOKING UP WEB SITES TO OBTAIN AS MUCH INFORMATION AS I CAN ABOUT PERSONS WHO MIGHT FEEL THE SAME AS I DO. I'VE BEEN TRYING TO READ THE BIBLE MORE AND ASK QUESTIONS. MY HUSBAND TELLS ME TO JUST HAVE FAITH WHEN HE SEES ME STRUGGLING WITH OLD STUFF. I DO HAVE FAITH. MY FAITH IS NOT REALLY THE ISSUE. I JUST NEED THE REINFORCEMENT. THIS IS THE FIRST LETTER I'VE EVER WRITTEN ABOUT THESE THINGS. IT FEELS GOOD. THESE ARE THINGS THAT I NEEDED TO SPEAK ABOUT IN CASE THERE IS SOMEONE OUT THERE LIKE ME, FEELING GUILTY AND CONFUSED AT TIMES. I DON'T WANT ANYONE TO CONFUSE THIS LETTER AS A JEHOVAH'S WITNESS BASHING LETTER. THE FACT IS I KNOW A LOT OF WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHO ARE WITNESSES. PEOPLE WHOM I HAVE A HIGH REGARD AND LOVE VERY MUCH BUT I KNOW IF THEY KNEW THAT I WAS BAPTIZED AT A CHURCH, THEY WOULD NO LONGER TALK TO ME. I'M OKAY WITH THAT BUT STILL IT HURTS MY FEELINGS. WITH GOD'S HELP, I KNOW ALL OF THIS WILL GET EASIER AS MORE TIME PASSES. UNTIL THEN I'LL KEEP PRAYING. MAYBE SAY A PRAYER FOR ME, TOO.

LOVE YOU - SHANNON
(I DON'T HAVE AN E-MAIL ADDRESS FOR RESPONSES.)