In June of last year I was contacted by a semi-local, mentally awake JW woman who had found me though our YouTube channel. We communicated for months before she felt comfortable enough to use her real name. Throughout our regular communication and occasional lunch dates I have come to consider her a friend. Today, she is joining us as a guest blogger to share her thoughts on Valentine’s Day. Because of her current situation, we agreed it would be best for her to remain anonymous, but I am so happy with the progress she has made to free herself and her daughter from mental captivity.
Last week, I sat cross-legged on the floor of my office and gleefully assembled my Valentine’s Day mailbox. On February 1st I announced to my staff that we would be making Valentine mailboxes, exchanging cards and having a party on February 14th. They were excited to relive a little bit of their childhoods but they had no idea what Valentine’s Day 2017 means to me. Hobby Lobby had the cutest sets on sale and after I tore out the perforated outline of a robot with little hearts on his arms and legs, scotch taped him to my shoebox and cut a hole so that Valentine cards would have a place to go, I was honestly proud of it! This isn’t what most 33-year-olds do in their spare time, but I’m not a normal 33-year-old mom. I was raised in a cult, where simple children’s holiday activities are forbidden. I sat back, smiled at my robot mailbox and teared up thinking about my only other Valentine’s Day Memory: 4th grade at Harper Elementary School. I was a good student who loved school. Well, love is actually an understatement. I LIVED for school. Academics came easily and I always had a fun group of friends to hang out with. But there were certain times of the year when I could barely get out of bed in the morning. After the newness of the school year wore off, students ease into a routine. Summer turns to fall and what follows is a consistent and remarkable string of holidays that punctuate the remaining months: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas– those were the big three. Every holiday was a painful reminder that I wasn’t like the other students. My mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, carefully coached my sister and I on what we were to say about each holiday.
“Can you color a jack-o-lantern?”
“No! But we can ask for a plain pumpkin instead.”
“Can you sing Rudolph the red Nosed Reinder?”
“No. We have to stay quiet because Jehovah hates Christmas.”
“And why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate holidays?”
“Because we love Jehovah and holidays are pagan and from Satan.”
Most times, Mom would pick us up from school so we missed the holiday parties. I would often lie and say I had a doctor’s appointment just so I didn’t have to go through my anti-holiday spiel. She picked me up the day of my 4th grade Valentine’s Day party and we headed home because it was “just another day.” The next morning, I came in and saw a brown paper bag on my desk with my name written in a pink heart taped to the front. Inside were tons of Valentine cards, all addressed to me. My teacher had secretly made me a bag and all the kids gave me a Valentine, even though I wasn’t at the party. My heart jumped inside. I was so excited! Quickly, I pulled out each one and read the cards. Some had pencils or erasers attached and I removed those and put them in my desk. After I was done, I folded up the bag and packed it in the bottom of my backpack where it sat for weeks. I honestly forgot about it… until one day Mom stormed into my room holding the wrinkled bag. She randomly cleaned out my backpack and found the contraband Valentines. I felt sick. I knew what was coming: yelling and probably a spanking. I clearly remember Mom screaming over and over again “You KNOW we don’t celebrate Valentine’s day!! How could you do this?? You KNOW better!!” And I did, I knew I shouldn’t have taken them. I knew I should have given them back to my teacher and asked her never to do that again. But I didn’t. I liked feeling just a little bit normal. I took my verbal lashing with lots of tears. Of course, we had to review the proper responses again from one of the litany of JW books that outline the evil pagan origins of the holiday. I had to promise never to secretly take a Valentine ever again. That was my only Valentine’s Day memory, until now.
I am not a person who believes in being negative, but I do believe honesty. Being a Jehovah’s Witness severely disabled my childhood. Period. No religious group (or business masquerading as a religion) should be allowed steal experiences they can never give back. JW kids are expected to behave like miniature adults with the same responsibility of working their way to salvation as adults. I truly believed, up until two years ago, that celebrating holidays could result in the loss of God’s favor and death at Armageddon which has been just around the corner for over 100 years. Why? Because I was victim of undue influence and thought programming for over 20 years. Jehovah’s Witnesses are incorrectly believed by many to be a harmless Christian denomination. I strongly disagree. They thrive on isolation and dependence on their organization. The power they hold over their members disables critical thinking and logic. What parent would coach their children on the evils of Valentine candy without careful brainwashing to believe their salvation depended on it? Their fictional Christianity dangles the hope of an earthly utopian paradise in exchange for strict adherence to doctrine. Paradise remains perpetually around the corner while your precious give of life passes away.
I’m thankful I woke up to their crafty indoctrination before my daughter was born. She will never have to wonder what happens at a Valentine’s Party or be terrified to eat a birthday cupcake. I loved hearing her little voice say “WOW!” as she opened her valentines this morning. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to make new memories with her but the painful stings from my childhood still rear their ugly heads every now and again. After I finish this blog, I have a robot box of Valentines to enjoy because that’s what my life is about now– enjoyment… and a little bit of candy.
Happy Valentine’s Day!