Family Reunions... after the WTBTS
Life is a kaliadescope of change and accomodation. That can be intimidating to people who have spent years in the WTBTS where doctrine is absolute and errors of judgment are neatly disguised as "new understanding." Whether some or all family members opt to leave the WTBTS, the impact on family relationships can be devastating. Counseling, prayer and family support may help some who are "walking wounded", however some families simply do not recover because they cannot get around the past.
My mother joined the WTBTS when I was very young and raised six children in the "truth" as she saw fit. She was a lonely military wife who disliked her husband's career choice. She did not have many satisfactory family relationships, so she was easily swept away by the attention and sense of "family" that was given to her. Despite the warnings from my father and her other family, she quickly became a devout follower and alienated both her children and herself from anyone who disagreed with her new understanding. My father remained in the marriage, but I witnessed much unhappiness and felt torn between the two throughout my childhood. I was baptized at the age of 11 and disillusioned at the age of 14, mostly because of abuse that I received at the hands of people that I should have been able to trust. I thrived on the praise and attention that I received from school teachers and depended on them to maintain the illusion that I was not different from everyone else. I alienated myself from the WTBTS and my own family by pursuing my education because I knew it might be my only chance to start over. With my father's help, I escaped to college and began to rebuild my life.
During my college years, my mother and her friends struck often. My mother even went so far as to suggest that my father was divorcing her and that I was the cause because of my selfish behavior (a development that proved to be a surprise to my father). Initially, I was hurt and then angry. Today, I rejoice because her actions severed my last reason to maintain the tightrope that I had walked for too long...my family. The actions of my mother made it clear that I was no longer part of the family and I would no longer be welcome in my own home. I had nothing else to lose, so I turned to God and asked for a new start. My prayers were answered when a chance phone call to my aunt brought my relatives to my side with love and support.
I graduated from college with honors and became engaged to my college sweetheart. Upon returning home, my mother set the machinery in motion for my official disfellowshipping for openly attending church services with my father. Shortly after, my family denounced me. No one from my immediate family except my father attended my graduation or my wedding. I held onto hope for a few years despite some painful encounters, but gradually accepted that there would be no accommodations for me, so I moved on. My husband and I had two children and the family that I formed with friends and other relatives was both peaceful and happy.
Ten years later, the unthinkable happened. Four of my five brothers and sisters left the witnesses. Three of them divorced because of irreconcilable differences. One had become a raging alcoholic who attempted suicide. He was later sentenced to life in prison for child molesting, something that happened a great deal in one congregation where my mother belonged. Since the victims were young and didn't resist or scream, matters were swept under the carpet. I was contacted out of the blue by some of my family and I tried to help where I could. Only later was I to realize that you can never really go home.
My mother and one brother remain in the WTBTS, although my brother sometimes appears to be wavering. I think he misses his family, but does not have the courage to do anything about it. I refer to my mother in private as my "birth mother" because she is no longer a part of my life. Not too long ago, she declared herself one of the remnant, so I no longer have any hope that she might someday want to rejoin her family. I have kept on civil terms when I see her in passing, but she does not share my life nor does she share a life with my children. I have not truly been a part of their lives for twenty years and they are complete and total strangers. When I look into the eyes of my own children, I cannot imagine how any mother could throw away her children to maintain a standing in her church, but she seems to enjoy her martyrdom. I still pray for her sometimes.
My relationships with the brothers and sisters who left the WTBTS have been interesting. In the early years after their "coming out", it was extremely exciting to see them struggling to rebuild and start over. My two sisters enrolled in college and, after ten years, we had something in common at last. One of my sisters had a child, so we bonded over the children as well. It felt wonderful to be included in family invitations and I allowed that emotion to blind me to the problems that began to occur. It was not long before the "scorecards" emerged. In my experience in the WTBTS, it was not uncommon for people to pay attention to the shortcomings of others. Since I was the one who jumped off of the diving board first, I had caused many a heated argument that was not forgotten. I felt that many of the unresolved sibling rivalries had resurfaced, but we continued to pretend as though nothing was wrong so that we wouldn't "rock the boat"…another typical behavior of people who are accustomed to conforming to rigid thinking. Six years later, I have backed into my respective corner wondering how to make the next move.
The reunions have been bittersweet. For one thing, my brothers and sisters maintained contact throughout their "coming out," but I had not really had a relationship with any of them in more than ten years. In many cases, I had no frame of reference for most of the major events of their lives. I had missed whole marriages, close friends and other events that bring families together. There were differences in education, finances and perspectives. I struggled to blend the family of my heart with the family that was reaching out for me, but the fit was not there. After six years, I can honestly say that the toll on my well-being has been greater than I ever imagined. I am glad that I did all in my power to finance a divorce and help another through college because I feel that this was what God meant for me to do. I'm only sorry that the relationships with my family never got much beyond becoming acquaintances and an occasional friendship.
Today, I feel confident and happy. The family of my heart is alive and well and my dear husband of 17 years has been my rock and helpmate. I realize now that a "family" means more than sharing genetic code. I have not given up hope that my family and I will someday find some common ground, but I do not put my life on hold waiting for a miracle. I have been surround by love...and the journey that I have completed so far has shown me that love has many faces. God IS love...and that may be one of the most important things that I have ever learned.
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