My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 2

For part 1 of the epilogue, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

 

I remember the first time I saw my nephew, from behind the window in the nursery at the hospital. He was so small and fragile, but so perfect in every way. I loved him from the first moment I laid eyes on him and as he has grown we have been close. Even today, if I see him from afar, he will scream at the top of his lungs, “Uncle Matt” and then come running to give me a hug.

When he was just a couple of months old, I took care of him for a night so that his parents could have a night out. He had such a cute smile and an inquisitive look on his face even at that age.  I knew that this kid was going to be something special, but I never realized the role that he would play in my own life.

Things took a downward turn when he was around a year old. My nephew seemed to not be developing at the rate that one would expect a boy his age to progress. At first doctors believed that he might suffer from some form of hearing loss, since he wouldn’t turn towards you if you were speaking to him. They ran a bunch of tests and could find nothing wrong with his ears, at least nothing physically wrong. He could hear it just seemed like his attention was always on something other than the person trying to get his attention.

By two he still hadn’t really began talking much. I’m very proud to say that the first two words that he put together were “Uncle” and “Matt”, but outside of that he could use a few simple words but definitely not the vocabulary of other children his age. He would also throw horrible fits with no apparent cause, failed to speak when spoken to and would fight making eye contact vigorously.

“I knew that this kid was going to be something special, but I never realized the role that he would play in my own life.”

By three he had began talking more but was showing some visible and verbal tics which was a cause for concern of his parents. He didn’t really play with his toys but would spend time lining them up or sorting them. He loved trains and we spent a lot of time watching Thomas the Train together any time I was around him. He wanted you to watch with him but not talk, talking while it was on could throw him into another fit.

I began doing my own research, as I do when something bothers me, and found many of his symptoms were related to autism. At first his parents were insulted but they did take him to the doctor and have him checked out. The doctor sent him on to a specialist and after a couple of sessions, the specialist gave his diagnosis: Moderate Autism.

I felt bad for my brother and sister-in-law, but worse for my nephew. I knew how cruel the world could be for someone who was “normal” like me and I decided to spend huge amounts of time looking up information, finding ways to communicate better with my nephew and ways that I might be able to help him avoid some of the bullying that I had experienced. I knew he was going to have to be tough in order to face the world as I had and so by looking up this stuff, I could give it to my brother and sister-in-law so that they might help him as well.

I was thrown way back to a time when I would wake up early, sneak into the kitchen and spend time playing in my mothers cabinets, sorting and stacking.

One day something clicked, I was watching my nephew stack things according to size shape, or just in a line making a train with them. I was thrown way back to a time when I would wake up early, sneak into the kitchen and spend time playing in my mothers cabinets, sorting and stacking. I then remembered my sticker collection, it was my favorite thing for several years as a child. I never used the stickers, never once did I put any of them on anything, all I did with them was sort them in various ways; size, shape, color, etc…

cans.jpg

I walked over and sat down beside my nephew. He kept playing, making loud “Choo-Choo” sounds as he built his train. When he wasn’t looking I switched out two of the pieces of the train, taking them out-of-order. When he looked back he instantly yelled, “NO!” He then went directly to the pieces that I had moved and put them back in the order that they been in before I had moved them.

My mind began to make connections, I saw much of myself in this small child with a few major exceptions. The similarities were his tantrums, getting easily overwhelmed, his stacking and sorting habit, his dislike of anyone new, and his seeming inability to make eye contact. The last one had actually struck me earlier, when it had first been mentioned before he had even gotten his diagnosis. When I had been a small child, I had gotten in trouble from teachers for not paying attention to me, and several had spoken to my parents about the fact that I didn’t make eye contact. One of my worst childhood memories is of a teacher grabbing me by the face and forcefully turning my head with both hands, making me look at her directly in the eyes. It terrified me then and still gives me chills today. Today I do a pretty good job at faking eye contact, looking at someone’s forehead or teeth instead of their eyes has been my technique and people only rarely notice.  Lastly, in the similarities, we both hated being touched, especially when we aren’t ready for it.

The exceptions were that I had been highly verbal at a very young age, I had never had trouble communicating with family and only had communication issues with those outside my family. Learning had come easy to me, for those things I was interested in, and had been considered gifted during my early years of school. Only when I got to the age that certain subjects really bothered me, or were advanced enough that I struggled to teach myself how to do them, did some consider me to have a slight learning disability. While I had displayed some tics as a child, flapping my hands when excited and spinning in circles, I had gotten in trouble for doing them so often that I had forced myself to stop. I still fidget constantly, but at the time didn’t see this as anything out of the ordinary.

My life at the time of these discoveries wasn’t the best and so I basically considered it as something interesting that I could look into at a later date. Several years later though, on the cusp of my second divorce, after leaving the ministry, did I remember these issues. My nephew has grown and has developed quite a bit, his vocabulary is much better, he is intensely into video games, and even considered gifted in math and science at school. Sadly, he is bullied almost constantly by certain kids and absolutely hates school. When my mother mentioned that he throws a tantrum every morning and cries his eyes out before he goes to school, another click occurred in my brain. It was just like me at his age. Around this same point I had begun watching “Parenthood” which features a male child with Aspergers, and an adult that comes to realize he has Asperger’s through interaction with the child. It was as if I was watching my own life on screen.

I went home and began researching autism. I google searched “different types of autism” and found links describing the spectrum and how different those people on the spectrum can be from one another. I found an article about Aspergers Syndrome and, as I read through the symptoms, it was as if I was reading something written specifically with me in mind. One of the things that really hit me discussed sensory issues and overloads. I had experienced this my entire life without ever having a name to put to it. It’s an awful experience and something that I can’t really be described in a good way. When people ask me what it is like, I tell them, it is like every one of my senses experiencing the feeling of nails on a chalkboard.

At the bottom of the article there was a link to a quiz which I followed and took.  It was an Autism Quotient quiz and I scored 45 out of 50, very high likelihood of autism. I took several other quizzes from various sources, and each one I landed in the very high likelihood range for autism. A new idea began to come into my mind, this is me…

My head swam with all of this new information. Everything suddenly made complete and perfect sense. All of the struggles, all of the bullying, all the times I had people pray over me to rid me of my shyness, and heartache I had experienced swirled around this fact that had remained hidden from me for so long, I had autism. I knew that my autism wasn’t quite the same as my nephews but that’s what it was. The only problem in my mind was what do I now do with this information?

Several sites that I found spoke of self diagnosis. This is where someone decides, through their own research and life experience, that they have autism and are happy to live out their life without ever getting a diagnosis. This worked for me for well over a year. I hated the idea of going to a psychiatrist or a psychologist. This stems from both my hatred of meeting and talking with new people and the fact that I had been raised to believe psychiatry was, more or less, evil. So I would self diagnose and be happy with that for the next couple of years…

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: The Epilogue: Part 1

For part 28 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

– “Alice In Wonderland” Lewis Carroll

We’re going way back in time today. Long before I became and Atheist. Back before I became a minister. Further back than my time in Texas or my first time preaching at twelve. We are going all the way back to my early childhood. A time before religion had even had a real chance to lay its talons into me yet.

I made my parents incredibly proud when I began talking not long after my first birthday. By three years old I had leaned all of my numbers and had taught myself to read simple books, through watching Sesame street for the most part. The only thing that caused my parents concern was how deeply shy I was.

At five years old they had attempted to put me into kindergarten, I have shrieked so loudly and for so long that the school decided it would be better if I waited another year and developed my social skills a bit better. Just prior to my sixth birthday, my parents took me to a doctor and asked him about my shyness. The doctor told my parents that my shyness was nothing to worry about, all they needed to do was encourage me to make friends, put me into social situations, and soon I would grow out of my shyness.

From the moment I started school, I absolutely hated it. Every morning, before getting on the bus, I would throw a horrific tantrum, bawl my eyes out, and then once on the bus I would bawl my entire way to school. I would continue throwing a fit well into the first couple of hours of class, by that time I would begin to get hungry and forget about the tantrum I had meant to throw throughout the entire day.

This lasted until I was in the third grade. I went to school on the first day and once again bawled my eyes out, the teacher walked over, bent down, and told me that third graders don’t cry about going to school because they are big kids now. That was the last day I cried before school but I never lost the feelings of terror being around other children.

Other children made no sense to me. They played games that I hated, they talked about stupid things with their stupid friends and pretended to be even more stupid things with their stupid friends. It wasn’t just my religious background that made me different. The strange thing that these kids enjoyed being around each other, I hated being around just about anyone. I got along with adults and would bug the teachers about everything. The kids recognized that I wasn’t like them at all and I was treated to bullying every day of my school years. I had very poor coordination, and even trying my best I couldn’t fight back well enough to keep people from picking on me and so I just went through it. I hated life and life seemed to hate me.

Every report card would say the exact same things. Doesn’t play well with others, doesn’t respond when spoken to, struggles to make eye contact. My grades were on both sides of the scale. In classes I enjoyed I got great grades and was seen as above average, in other classes that I didn’t enjoy, I was below average. I actually flunked gym class twice during my school years…I might actually be proud of that part…

By my teenage years I had finally made a handful of friends, but I didn’t seem to have friends like others around me did. I could go weeks without talking to a friend, not because I didn’t like them but because I didn’t have anything to say to them. My friends were mostly social outcasts themselves and so we were more or less people who the rest of the kids couldn’t stand so we accepted each other in some small strange way. One thing really separated me from my other friends and that was ideas of sex….

My friends seemingly loved talking about sex, I on the other hand had absolutely no interest in the topic. At 16 I would rather talk to someone about the latest episode of an anime or power rangers series that I had watched, than discuss sex.  I only became truly interested in the opposite sex at nearly 18, while my other friends had been interested since our early teens.

Another issue that followed me through life was work ethic, or more importantly my complete lack of work ethic. Finding a job was easy, keeping that job was very hard. I would have a job for a few months, get bored, and just stop showing up. I would have bosses call me and scream at me through the phone about being fired and I’d simply hang up and start looking for my next job.  What’s really strange is that I was generally well liked by bosses wherever I worked. It is just that i would become disinterested in something and I would just stop giving a damn, I knew I would lose my job and I knew this would cause me to go through the stress of finding another job, but I just could not make myself care enough to keep from losing a job.

I had always planned on going to college, but there were also some difficulties here. I had great difficulty with algebra, so much so that it would throw me into a tantrum that would last for hours and I also couldn’t write an essay for the life of me.  The problem is, that when I describe something, often times the first portion of what I am describing will come after the second or third items. I had an insane amount of difficulty putting things in the correct order, which led to poor grades in most of my English classes.

During one particular English class in high school, I submitted an essay final, that I had honestly worked on very hard, and received an F. The teacher even went out of her way to tell me that if I couldn’t write a better quality paper than that, I should just drop out of school and not even consider trying to get into college. So I did…I dropped out of school and decided that college wasn’t for me.

I got my GED with the help of Jennifer in Texas. She taught me how to write a proper essay, explaining exactly how to lay things out. The instructor said it was one of the best essay’s he had ever read. This made me feel pretty good but since I had barely passed the algebra portion of the exam, I decided that college still wasn’t for me. The rest is history…

As I have laid out in my blog I bounced from job to job, and finally settled on the ministry. Later I went back to college and did really well. My math instructor saw that I was struggling and talked to me before one class, she told me that math is nothing more than being able to recognize patterns and to try thinking of it that way. From that day on I was an A student in all of my math classes. Literally, i went from not understanding higher mathematics one day to helping tutor other students a few short weeks later.

Throughout my entire life, I had no idea why my mind worked the way it did, and why I was incapable of grasping many things, especially social cues, norms, and awareness.  I honestly figured that I had just been born broken and that there was something completely wrong with me. That is until I met a wonderful bundle of joy, my first nephew.  Shortly after his birth, my life began to make more and more sense. I saw myself in him but that story will have to wait til the next chapter.

To continue on to part two of the epilogue, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 28

For part 27 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Only I can change my life, no one can do it for me.” -Carol Burnett

Truth be told, from the day after I moved out of my house, I had I become outed as an atheist. My ex-wife went to my former church the next day and told everyone I had left the faith and that I had confided in her about my lack of belief almost a year earlier. The only ones that didn’t truly believe I was an atheist were my parents but I think even they had their own assumptions about my loss of faith.

Coming out entirely was a stressful situation for me and one that I was not quite ready to make. I still had the fact that the restraining order would be ending soon and I would once again be able to contact my kids again. A few days before the restraining order ended I was informed that child protective services had taken them in and they were not living with their biological father many states away. I was hurt that I wouldn’t be able to see them face to face but felt much more sorry for them, about why they had been uprooted from their childhood home.

“I was hurt that I wouldn’t be able to see them face to face but felt much more sorry for them, about why they had been uprooted from their childhood home.”

I won’t go into specifics but it turns out that my ex had abandoned them and moved in with her boyfriend several states away. They had been all alone for a couple of months surviving on the small amount of money my daughter was making at her fast food job. She was only 16 at the time and not ready for that amount of responsibility but I am proud of how well she dealt with being thrown in that situation. Word got around and one of her co-workers had contacted CPS. They were moved to be with their father the next day.

A few days later, the restraining order expired and I sat down at my computer for several hours, typing and then deleting immediately everything that I typed. I was so afraid that they still hated me and would want no part of me in their lives. Finally I types out something along the lines of, “Hi, how are you? I’ve missed you.” I contacted my daughter first as I had heard that my son was still quite angry about everything and wanted to ease into the conversation I would soon have with him.

“Hi, I’m good. I’ve missed you too.”

The response was more joyous than I could ever have imagined. “Hi, I’m good. I’ve missed you too.” I sat and shook crying tears of joy for one of the first times in my life. Those simple words took everything out of me and I struggled to come up with anything else to say. Eventually we began discussing how things had happened and how she had soon come to realize that I had not been the one at fault for the issues in mine and her mother’s marriage. We reconciled and ended the conversation on a very high note.

A few days later I contacted my son. He was definitely still very angry but did attempt his best to share with me how he no longer held me at fault for what had gone on and how he had missed me too. We discussed some of the new video games that were out and how he was doing at his new school. He hated it, but luckily he has come to really enjoy it now. We ended our conversation, not quite on the high note as my conversation had gone with my daughter but still on good terms. Over time this relationship has mended and I cherish my conversations with him.

He’s full of energy, 100% Tasmanian devil and I love him dearly.

With both of those conversations out-of-the-way, it was time to get things at home on a better path. We moved into a nice home a short drive away from the apartment we had been living in. My love, has made for us an excellent home over the last few years. Filled with warmth and love that was so lacking in years past. I am truly “blessed” to have the two of them in my life and to have my relationship with my other two kids mended.  Jennifer also has a son who lives with his father and I have a great relationship with him as well. He’s full of energy, 100% Tasmanian devil and I love him dearly. My life has become a wonderful experience and I am so happy to have found my real place within it.

A short time after moving into our new place, I purchased “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins. Within it he lays out a 7 point scale describing 100% Theist to 100% Atheist. I found that I fit with his own idea of being a 6.9 Atheist. Not quite saying I have proof that god doesn’t exist but enough to say that the idea of a god is highly unlikely. At this point I decided what I really was is an atheist. Since that point I have read other books by various authors such as: Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Barker, Jerry Dewitt, Daniel Dennett, and many others.

When I finally came out as an atheist, I began posting on various groups discussing my journey away from faith. I was encouraged to contact “The Clergy Project” and see about membership there. I was also encouraged to share my story in a blog many times over those month. About a year later I joined “The Clergy Project” and considered starting my blog, but at the time I was far too angry.

Many people will speak of the anger they feel when they finally admit their lack of belief. Realizing how much of your life has been built around a pile of lies is a truly traumatic experience, and anger is something you must go through before finally settling in to a comfortable new normal. I needed to adjust my parents to the new me, thus I needed to figure out who the new me was.  Finally, I felt as if I could create this blog while keeping my emotions in check. I hope I have done well in describing my experience.

Another Journey awaited me in the few years just prior to admitting my atheism. I have always had a mind that I believed was very different from others around me, and have always wondered why. In the last few months I have finally had confirmed what I have assumed for so many years. I hope you will enjoy learning about my journey to that realization in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Thank you so much for following my journey up to this point. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to everyone who has shared this journey with me. You the readers are what have made this blog worth writing. Thank you!

To continue on to the epilogue and another journey I’ve been on the past several years, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 27

For part 26 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” – The Enchiridion of Epictetus

As I read through the paperwork the officer had handed me, I fell deeper and deeper into depression. She accused me of being both physically and mentally abusive, claimed that I was mentally ill, and said that I would definitely be a harm to the children if allowed to interact with them. I decided that I would fight this and went to the courthouse prepared to give my side of the story.

“I never deny a restraining order that has been sought in my courtroom…”

The day of the hearing arrived and I stood as the judge came in to take his place. We all sat and the first thing out of the Judge’s mouth was, “I never deny a restraining order that has been sought in my courtroom. We can either sit here and discuss this til we are blue in the face or I can simply grant it and we can be done with this situation for the next year.” I realized no argument I could make would change the judges mind, and she was there crying and acting as if I was crazy. When the judge asked me my opinion, I simply said, if that meant a year of no contact with her, I would be more than happy to agree.

I drove home with deep feelings of despair and foreboding. How was I going to survive an entire year without any contact with the kids that had become such a crucial part of my life? I was crushed and sobbed much of the next few days. My life at home was bad but only because I was in such a deep depression. The love of my life felt the brunt of it and didn’t feel as if I wanted her there. Sadly our relationship almost ended in those first couple of days after the restraining order went into effect. In such a sad state, I considered putting things on hold and told my love about it. She burst into tears and told me I needed to figure out exactly what I wanted and fast. The second I saw the pain in her eyes, I knew I never wanted to see that pain again and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life bringing joy to those eyes.

StoicismHowever, getting out of a depression is not an easy matter, it isn’t like turning a light switch on and off and I had to find my own way out of it. Luckily, my love, had an idea that might just help me. She had been a psychology major in college and had studied philosophy as well, knowing my love of psychology, she encouraged me to look into some of the Stoic writers of the early first and second centuries AD. It was exactly what I had been looking for. For those that don’t know, modern CBT therapy is based on Stoic ideas.

Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics (Epictetus, Seneca, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius) taught that some things are within our control and others are not. That’s a very basic explanation of their philosophy but it is enough to get the general idea across. Those things that are within our control should be the things we dwell upon and deal with, those things outside of our control are things that we shouldn’t spend much time, energy, or thinking on. I read several of the classics as well as modern stoic works written by non-believers.(Stoicism was not based on a belief in god and so it fits well with the atheist mindset) I found within these works that you can love someone who does not currently love you back and still be fine.

I knew I had a year that I couldn’t see those kids and the thought had crushed me, but being able to see them was completely outside of my control. Being able to love them, even though I wasn’t able to see them was still fully within my control. I also had a deep love for the woman I was with and a growing love for her daughter as well. I decided that for the next year I would dwell, not on what I couldn’t do, but only upon those things that I could do. It took some time but my depression began to gradually subside.

Over time, my happiness and tranquility increased to a point that I was able to beat my depression and move forward with my life.  The fact that god and faith played no role in overcoming this depression made the results twice as satisfying. Not only was I just living life but I was truly enjoying the life I was living.

One day I checked the mail and got notice that the final hearing for my divorce was coming up.  Also in the mail that day was a letter stating that I owed some $10,000 dollars in back child support for the daughter of Jennifer. Confused, I contacted child support services and asked them why they felt I owed this. Come to find out, since Jennifer had her daughter while we were still technically married, the state of Iowa considered her my legal daughter. When I explained that they were living at my residence and that I was back in a relationship with her mother, they told me I owed nothing and that I could put in a request to have her status as my legal daughter removed. They said if I did nothing, she would still be considered my legal daughter.

I thought about it for only a minute or two before deciding that I would give her the final say in what occurred. Jennifer agreed and when she got home from school that day we sat her down and talked it over with her. She instantly said that she always had wanted a “real” dad and was really happy to find out that I was her real dad. That settled it, she is my daughter and always will be. I love her so much and she acts so much like me it’s hilarious.

Anyway, the day of the final hearing arrived and the judge signed the decree, I was now divorced once again. I felt a deep sense of relief having that period of my life over with. I still missed the kids a great deal but was fully capable of loving them without being able to see them. We went home and I went to work where my coworkers had bought me a cake to celebrate the end of my divorce proceedings. All in all it was a great day.

Deadbeat

We spent the next year just enjoying being around each other. We learned a lot about one another and our relationship continued to deepen. My faith had been removed but I still claimed a deistic/agnostic style of belief, claiming that either god doesn’t exist or he created everything and then took off to avoid child support payments to his newly created beings. I did however begin to read some scientific journals, things that would have been considered taboo while I was in the faith, and found great enjoyment in learning about topics like physics, the big bang, and evolution. Life was good but I still wasn’t ready to call myself an atheist just yet.

 

To continue on to part 28, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 26

For part 25 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to write those first few words to my ex-wife. For nearly a decade, I had told myself time and again how much I hated her, how every thought of her made me angry and sad. Even though all of those feelings had been a sham and a protective covering for the hurt I truly felt, I was sure that she hated me and would never message me back. I spent hours debating whether or not I should even message her, but I did it and immediately felt foolish for the corny way I initiated contact.

She responded, “HEY!”

That went way better than I expected it to go, now was time for me to attempt a conversation with her, but I had absolutely no idea what to say.  I asked her how she was and if she had heard about my second marriage breaking down, surprisingly she had. My ex had contacted her and asked her for help in getting back with me, which is a really weird thing to ask someone. Anyway, we chatted for a bit and then I told her how sorry I was for how distant I had become during our marriage, I accepted my role in our divorce and told her I no longer felt any ill will towards her.

“I accepted my role in our divorce and told her i no longer felt any ill will towards her.”

She was shocked by the apology but acted cordial and let me know that she had forgiven me years before. We were both young and had both made mistakes. She then apologized to me for giving up on our marriage so quickly and for not being as understanding as she felt she should have been. In the end of our first conversation we agreed that we were mature and old enough to be friends.

I went to work after that and my mind kept wandering back to the beautiful redhead that had once sang to me on a rooftop so many years before. Talking to her again online had brought back all of those feelings that had been lost to me for so long. When I got home, I hoped on-line and saw that she too was on-line. We talked for a couple of hours and then she said she had a question for me…

“Do you still have feelings for me?”

My answer was an immediate, “no.” We talked for a few more minutes and were getting ready to end the conversation when my mind burst into action. “I lied,” I said “I have never stopped having feelings for you, losing you was the most painful thing that I have ever gone through but I still love you and always will.” Her response was, “I still have feelings for you too.”

Now this might seem a bit silly, but do you know the scene in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” where the Grinch hears the Who’s down in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes? That’s the absolute best way of describing what seeing her type those words did to me.  I literally jumped in the air and did a little dance in my friends living room. Never once did i think that I might have another shot with the woman of my dreams but this was it.

Thus began another series of late night talks like we had shared almost a decade earlier. Talking to her made me feel like a teenager again and every conversation left me wanting more. For nearly a month we continued these talks and eventually we decided that she should move to Iowa. Only a couple of issues, I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van that I feared wouldn’t make the journey to Texas and back.

“…I was in the middle of a divorce, needed my own place, and had an old beat-up van…”

Her life in Texas was stagnant, her mother had passed away and so she had no real family connections in Texas anymore. She had a daughter who was performing horribly in school due to the large class sizes and lack of one on one attention. She believed that the smaller class sizes would be good for her and so she decided to ask her if she would be interested in the move. One night she told her daughter about me, about Iowa, and about the new school she could attend. She was excited but demanded that she get to talk to me before any decision was made.

Our conversation was the moment my heart grew its fourth size. She had a sweet voice and demeanor, was absolutely in love with the movie Frozen, and insisted that I listen to her sing, “Let It Go.” We chatted for a bit, discussed our mutual love of video games, learned much more than I ever needed to know about “My Little Pony,” and she told me she couldn’t wait to meet me. I hung up the phone happy with how well that conversation had gone.

Almost instantly I found an apartment, I took my van to the shop and had about a grand in repairs done to it. I asked the mechanic if the van would make the trip and his words were, “If it would float, i’d drive it to Hawaii. It’s not going to give you any problems.” Everything was going so well and I thought they would continue to go well…

(Ron Howard Arrested Development Voiceover) “…they did not continue to go well…

It turns out that my wife at the time had hacked my e-mail account. She quickly learned that I planned to make a long trip, knew I had recently moved into an apartment, put two and two together and realized what was going on. She called me fuming. “If you get back with her you will never see the kids again!” I told her that we were separated and that I could do whatever I wanted with my life. She repeated the threat once again and I told her, “Do that and eventually the kids are going to hate you for it. In time they will realize what actually occurred and you will regret it.” She hung up on me.

About 20 minutes later she arrived at my apartment. She pushed her way in and quickly grabbed every picture of the kids that I had in my possession, or so she thought, I had in my binder an envelope filled with pictures that I had grabbed shortly after moving out. She broke several frames and I told her she needed to leave or I was going to call the cops. She left and went straight to the van and began kicking at the tires and beating on the windows. I ran outside and screamed that I had called the cops, I hadn’t, but that they would be there soon so she had better leave. She swung at me with a handful of junk mail, cutting my nose with one of the edges. I told her to leave and she finally did.

Later she called me and made the kids get on the phone and tell me how much they hated me. I could hear the pain in their voices as she goaded them to say these mean things. I told them both I loved them dearly and hoped they would understand one day. She then took the phone back and told me that I wasn’t allowed to see the kids again and that if I tried she would get a restraining order against me.  I laughed and said if anyone needs a restraining order, it would be me against her but that the whole idea was preposterous…

A few days later I hit the road and was on my way to Texas. I drove straight through the night, only stopping long enough for gas and to grab a couple of snack foods, nuts and beef sticks.  I reached Dallas by dawn and realized that my trip was nearly over, just three short hours to go. As the miles past, my excitement continued to grow. I pulled in to her driveway at around 11, gave her a quick kiss, loaded the van and we were back on the road before noon.

Only with my luck could we hit a blizzard in the middle of Texas, but that’s exactly what happened. We made it halfway through Oklahoma before we had to stop for the night. We were snowed in for nearly 3 days and what was worse, the nuts and slim jims had not done me any favors. I spent those three days in excruciating stomach cramps and pain, turns out I’m slightly allergic to nuts. Who knew? Nothing says love than being able to sit in a room where feet away the guy you love is shitting his guts out for three days.

When we finally reached Iowa, I thought things were going to calm down for a bit. We spent the next couple of days just enjoying being in each others company. We signed her daughter up for school and spent some quiet time alone. These days passed by so quickly that it was soon time for me to return to work. I hated having to leave her, but money had to be made and so I went back to work expecting a long and boring day.

Long and boring it was not, a couple of hours into my shift a police officer entered the premises. Speaking to the boss he asked if I was working. I stood up and said I was the one he was looking for. He walked across the room, handed me a stack of papers, and said “You’ve been served with a restraining order, you are to not come into contact in any way with your wife or her two kids.”

My brain checked out and I give my boss props for not sending me home. I sat in silence, feeling as if I had lost two of the most important parts of my life forever. Nothing, not even the feelings of losing my faith or my first marriage breaking down, had ever hit me with such deep depression and horror as hearing those words come out of that officers mouth. I was, once again, dead inside.

To continue on to part 27, click here.

 

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 25

For part 24 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

“Even as a kid I got no respect. When my parents got divorced there was a custody fight over me … and no one showed up.” – Rodney Dangerfield

I don’t know what I was expecting when I told her I wanted a divorce but the response was a lackluster “OK.” We sat down and talked things over, deciding that we could do thing amicably and quickly. We even shared a laugh about how awful our whole marriage had been. The era of amiability wouldn’t last very long.

About a week later, I came home to find her crying her eyes out and laying on the floor. The kids weren’t home and so I asked her what was the matter. She informed me that she didn’t want a divorce and was sorry for the hell she had put me through over the years. She asked me if we could give it one more chance, and I informed her that I was done, the time for chances was over and I wanted out. She went on to spend the rest of the night bawling on the floor.

Fighting

Little did I know, but she had earlier encouraged a mutual friend to date me, when the friend said that she would be interested, my ex went ape-shit. So in reality it wasn’t that she had been crying because of wanting to stay together, but she wanted no one else to want me and so her display was an effort to keep me locked away from the rest of the world.  Her dramatics reached a point that I thought she was going to hurt herself or the kids and so I encouraged her to seek medical help. She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance. I told her I would think about it but in reality my mind was made up and nothing was going to keep me in this wreck of a marriage.

“She agreed only if I promised that I would consider giving her another chance.”

Prior to going to the doctor to seek medical help she went to the bathroom and shaved herself bald. I tried stopping her but she locked the door and finished the job. We then drove to the hospital in complete silence. Upon reaching the hospital she once again went into theatrics and the doctor called a local psyche ward and encouraged her to stay a few days. Once again she agreed but only if I would promise to think about staying with her. Seeing her driven away, even though she had hurt me greatly over the years, made me feel like a monster. I was absolutely sickened by myself and decided that I would actually think over the matter for the next couple of days.

The one thing that made me question whether or not I should give her another chance were the kids. They were hurt, as children are during a separation, and felt to blame for the way things had happened. I felt awful to see them in so much pain but knew that eventually they would understand whatever decision I ultimately made.  I love those kids with all my heart and they have brought to me, more pride and joy than I ever could have deserved over the years. I still cherish every moment I get to speak with them.

Two days later, the stay had originally been scheduled for a week, she called me on the phone and asked if I could come visit. The facility was nearly 100 miles away and I literally had no gas. I told her there was absolutely no way I could make the trip. She screamed at me over the phone that a real man would get there one way or another, she then hung up the phone. A few minutes later a nurse at the facility called me on the phone and told me that she had checked herself out and that I needed to get there to give her a ride home. I ended up borrowing a few bucks from a friend in order to make the trip.

When I arrived at the facility, she was flipping out and angry. She looked at me with so much hatred that I knew there was no way I was going to give this another chance. We walked out of the facility, I drove to a convenience store and bought myself a pack of cigarettes. This was the first pack I had bought in nearly 10 years but I knew that in order to survive that drive, I was going to need them. The trip home was excruciating, her screaming into my ear for most of the trip about one thing or another.

marlboro

When we got home, the screaming continued for a couple of hours and she eventually decided that she was going to take a nap. I sat down and enjoyed a couple of moments of peace, knowing at any moment the bedroom door would open and she would be back at it.  I was correct as a little over 15 minutes later she was back in my face swearing at me for more than an hour. The kids had been at a friend’s house and when they came home suddenly, she stopped screaming and went back into the bedroom for several hours.

At the time, I was taking Ambien due to my severe insomnia, so around 10pm, after the kids were fast asleep, I took my pill and went to bed. A few moments later she tore into me again about everything she had said earlier. If you have ever taken Ambien before, when it hits, it hits. I told her I needed to go to sleep, and tried as best as I could to do just that. This is the end of what I remember of the night…

From what I have gathered, shortly after attempting to fall asleep, she had once again began screaming and poured a glass of sweet tea all over me. For those that don’t know, I hate being sticky. I’m told that I must have left shortly after that because I showed up at one friends house and spoke to them in garbled sentences for a little over an hour, dripping wet from the sweet tea. After that, I’m told, I drove to another friends house, told them I had been thrown out and that I needed a place to stay for a bit. This was the friend I spoke about in an earlier post, the atheist friend from high school. He said I could stay as long as I needed to and allowed me to crash on his couch.

Downey

That is what I have been told happened that night because the next thing I remember is waking up in a strange house, in a strange room, filled with strange things that I had no recollection of. I seriously feared that I had broken into someones house, the feeling was not a good one. I also could not understand why the hell I was so god damned sticky. As I began to gather my bearings I realized that I had been in this house before, and that it was a safe place for me to be. Shortly after my friend walked into the room and informed me of what had occurred the night before.

This would be my living arrangement for the next month as I sorted everything out. If it hadn’t been for the few friends I had made just prior to leaving the ministry, I don’t know what I would have done. During that month, the only way I was allowed to see the children was if I agreed to have sex with my ex. This went on a couple of times before I couldn’t stand it anymore and cut things off completely. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t see the kids anymore but at the same time I had broken free from a horrible situation. I was both liberated and crushed.

Towards the end of my month stay, I decided to go through my past and seek out people who I might have hurt, both prior to becoming a minister and as a minister. I found that shortly after leaving the ministry and after getting thrown out of my house, all of the anger and hatred from the years passed began to melt away. I realized that in many of the relationships I had throughout the past, I had been at fault for much of what had gone on and wanted to personally atone for those issues.

This was a stark contrast to my time in the faith when I would atone through asking forgiveness and not actually seek to fix the broken and burnt bridges I had caused. The first person I knew I would seek out was the beautiful redheaded girl who had hurt me almost a decade earlier. We had divorced and the pain from that relationship had eventually driven me into the arms of faith and now out I could see much clearer exactly what had happened. I found her on Facebook and sent her a friend request, she accepted it almost immediately.

I sat there for what seemed like forever and eventually typed out these words…

“Hey, you look like a girl I used to know.”

To continue on to part 26, click here.

My Journey

My Journey Away From Faith: Part 24

For part 23 of my journey, click here.
To start at the beginning of my journey, click here.

““How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.” – Jeremiah 8:8 ESV

My marriage was a wreck, my schooling was going well, and my ministry was still decent but I was definitely not happy. The more I learned in my studies the less of the bible made sense. I took a world civilization course and found that there were thriving civilizations, pretty much the world over, by the time that any of the biblical stories were to have taken place. For fun, and yes…I’m odd, I took a geology course and found that there is absolutely no evidence for a biblical flood. Philosophy taught me that good people could be found outside the walls of faith. My worldview was beginning to crumble and my mind would back to the thoughts about my cousin’s suicide, a topic that I tried to avoid because of how it made me feel about my faith.

Around this time another book of Plato’s fell into my hands. It was “Apology,” which speaks of the trial and death of Socrates. Within its pages, the ruling class brings charges against Socrates for corrupting the youth with his teachings. Socrates, then lays out exactly why he wasn’t wrong to speak on the subjects that he did and goes on to explain why he feels like he is being wrongly accused. The trial ends and Socrates is sentenced to death, his followers attempt to steal him away to safety but he stands firm and drinks the poison given to him, knowing that it does more harm to those who accused him, to kill an innocent man, than to drink the poison and end his own life.

The man who had become the epitome of goodness had ended his own life by drinking the poison given to him. He could have run and hid but instead he met his fate with dignity. I remember thinking, does that mean that Socrates is in hell? Now I realize that there is debate on whether Socrates was an actual person but that really didn’t matter to me, what did was the idea that a god would send anyone as good as Socrates to hell was not a good god. Could it even be called a god?

For several months I had attempted to preach in a way that was acceptable to me. That meant basically throwing out the bible, outside of a starter scripture for the sermon, and then speaking on what I had learned through my studies and through reading philosophy. I began to realize that the people in the seats weren’t even actually listening to the words coming out of my mouth. If I raised my voice, I would get a spattering of “amens” regardless of what I was talking about. If I stomped my feet, I’d get a “Hallelujah,” shouted from someone in the congregation. I found that I could literally talk about anything and still the same responses would be heard from the congregation.

So one Sunday, I went to church and began my sermon with no scripture. In its place I read:

“Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live; but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.”

If you are a fan of philosophy and have read the works of Plato, you will be able to tell that the line I just wrote is from Plato’s apology. I then preached a sermon surrounding the idea of a good man being torn apart by those who would seek to have him silenced. Never once did I mention god, not once did I refer to the bible or Jesus.  I still received the same “amen’s” and “hallelujah.” Afterwards, only one of the people in the congregation said anything about the quality of the sermon, and this person said they had never heard a sermon that was so good.

After that I continued to preach mostly philosophy, using quotes that I found interesting from Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, etc… Never once did anyone try to get me back on biblical topics and yet still the same responses from my congregation. This worked well for a while, yet I still felt horrificly empty inside. My life was a mess and around this point I started having health issues.

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One morning I woke up to get out of bed and found that my legs were completely numb. After about 30 minutes I managed to get out of bed and some of the feeling returned to my legs. Walking became increasingly hard and I was forced to purchase a cane in order to get around. The doctors that I visited were completely stumped on what was causing my sudden health issues. They ran countless tests and outside of some arthritis in my back, nothing else could be found that was wrong with me. For me, the fact that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me was worse than if they had found something seriously wrong.

Due to my health issues, my mental state deteriorated even more. I no longer cared about anything, I would arrive at services without having given a single thought to what I was going to speak on, though did it really matter? No one was actually paying attention to what I was saying anyway. During one sermon, I had a bit of a breakdown, at least that is what I believe it was, because halfway through my sermon, I stopped talking and just stared blankly out at the congregation. Five minutes must have passed when I finally came to, and instead of continuing speaking, I instead went into a diatribe about all the reasons why I believe Star Trek is better in quality to Star Wars…I actually did get talked to after this sermon, though it was by a young boy in the church who completely disagreed with my assertions.

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One Sunday morning, I stood around after the service and sat down in the front pew. With everyone gone, I finally found the courage to ask what had been on the tip of my tongue for so long…”Are you real, god?” I began shaking profusely, crying my eyes out, and begging for god to show himself to me and prove his existence. I beat at my chest and screamed at the top of my lungs. I knelt down and pleaded, “God, if you are real, now is the time to show me, I’m at the end of my rope, if you don’t make yourself real to me again, I may end my own life.” My prayers were not answered, no miraculous appearing was to be had, and after a while, I picked myself up and walked out the door.

“Are you real, god?”

Later that day I confided in two people about my doubts. The first was my wife at the time. I told her that I no longer believed the bible was true and that I was questioning if god was real as well. Not long after this would I find out how bad the decision to confide in my wife had been.

The second person, was another minister. He informed me that everyone went through periods of doubt like I did and that it was completely normal. He said the key was to fake your faith until your faith becomes real to you again. That’s basically what I had been doing and it made me feel disgusting. Hearing him speak those words though did something to me, it confirmed to me that other ministers didn’t believe in god and were faking it. How many ministers in my past had been faking it, all while telling us how we are less than perfect without god and that we need to believe without question? I was sick both physically and mentally and I knew that something had to change.

A month went by and still I had no answers, the bible no longer made any sense, my faith made no sense, my life made no sense, and my heart was empty. I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart and I would start to do something and completely lose focus after a few moment. My life was absolute hell. Something had to change and if god didn’t show himself to me, I would take matters into my own hands.

“I could barely walk, I had absolutely awful insomnia, my guts were ripping me apart…”

I spent most of the next week in prayer, once again asking god to reveal himself to me. I would say:

It’s Monday morning god, you have 6 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Wednesday morning god, you have 4 days to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Friday night god, you have 1 day to reveal yourself to me.
It’s Sunday morning god and I’m sitting in church, you have 10 minutes to reveal yourself to me.

When no revelation occurred, I walked up to the pulpit, gave a heartfelt message about lost love and how we all know the feeling of being lost, I finished my sermon by saying that I was lost. I blamed my health issues and told the church that I needed some time off to collect my thoughts and hopefully get better physically.

I went home that day with an immense feeling of freedom. I walked into my home and I sat down on my bed and began reading some Plato. My wife was out of the house and I believed she was having another affair which would soon be confirmed. When she arrived home, she found me sitting there reading my book. It was close to time for Sunday night services and she asked me if I would be going to church soon. I looked at her straight in the eye, I said:

“No, I’m not going to church tonight or possibly ever again. I want a divorce.”

To continue on to part 25, click here.