Wednesday, April 17, 2013

One of Jehovah's Witnesses

I am taking English Composition I this semester. It has been good for me, in that it has forced me to do some writing and to become more comfortable with the process. We were assigned a topic a couple weeks ago: "Describe how you and your family defined yourselves, how did you and didn't you fit the mold." I read the assignment and let out a laugh. Boy did I have some material for that essay! I picked and angle and the following is the result. I decided to post it here mainly because I think it explains an aspect of my life that is hard to explain. It wasn't until I started to write it down did I realize how odd and perhaps crazy it would sound to someone on the 'outside'.

One of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Since the time I was very little, I was taught to identify myself as “one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. I found that I used this reply most often to refuse some sort of invitation or event. For example, a friend would invite me to their birthday party on Saturday and I would say “I can’t, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”; I used it as the reason I was the only one seated in the library during the Christmas program: “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I don’t celebrate Christmas.”, or why I could not join the basketball team: “I don’t participate in school sports because “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”.

This label carried with it a lot of meaning. To the average person it was just an odd religion whose members were often seen in public talking to others about their beliefs and inviting them to take their literature, but within the Jehovah’s Witness community it penetrated every aspect of your life. It defined who your friends were, what kind of clothes you wore, what you could watch on television, and if you celebrated holidays. It was the deciding factor of whether you could attend a high school dance; go to college, and whom you would choose to marry. To me being a Jehovah’s Witness was not religious affiliation but was part of “who” and what I was. I spent my childhood hearing instructions taken from the Bible as to how I should act, what I should like, how I should feel, and why I should feel that way. One of my youngest memories is singing the lyrics of this song at our meetings.

“We’re Jehovah's Witnesses.
We speak out in fearlessness.
Ours is the God of true prophecy;
what he foretells comes to be.
Witnessing exalts God's name,
Lifts there from reproach and shame.
And it warns the wicked,
who God's name defame.
Pardon it holds out to men,
if they turn to God again.
Thus bearing witness brings joy and peace
and hope of life that will not cease.”( Watchtower 1986)

It was a heavy responsibility to be entrusted to exalt God’s name and lift it from shame. My family, in fact my whole social circle, was expected to meet such standards.

As young Jehovah’s Witness your first milestone is to make a comment during the question and answer section of one of the three meeting. Usually it involved an adult whispering the correct answer in the ear of a toddler and the child repeating it. The audience would erupt in applause and the child beamed with pride. During these early years young ones are also delegated to hand unsuspecting “householders” the literature being offered in their door to door ministry.

As a child grows older, more is expected of him. They are encouraged, more often required, to join the Theocratic Ministry School. This program trains its participants to preach to the public about their religious beliefs in a persuasive manner by teaching them the art of public speaking.(Watchtower 2001) An entire book is also provided called Reasoning from the Scriptures (Watch Tower 2009) that embeds canned expressions and teachings that can be repeated to the person at the door. They call it being equipped to preach the ‘Good News’. Boys would read a Bible passage and give application, or would talk five minutes about an approved topic. Girls would play mock scenes with other girls, pretending to teach them about a scriptural point. Girls had to do their teaching in an imaginary setting because, unlike the boys, they were not allowed to teach the spectators directly. The religion teaches that it is inappropriate for a female to teach the audience outright. I have always found this arrangement odd, because when it comes down to the actual teaching of the religion to others, it is mostly accomplished by women.

Once you are going out in the public to talk to people about the religion you are considered an “Un-baptized Publisher” . Hours spent preaching is tracked and then turned it in at the end of the month. This is done in every congregation in the world so that the religious organization can monitor it members. My family took great pride in my progression through the expected steeping stones. At five, I was giving demonstrations at meetings, and presenting literature at the doors of strangers as early as six. I was considered an Un-baptized Publisher by the age of 8. I would use my school vacations to go from door to door for up to 60 hours a month, in my mind, trying to save lives of people from Jehovah’s impending judgment day.
At the age of 13 I wanted to be baptized. It was more than just accepting Jesus and being saved. Baptism as a Jehovah’s Witness involved answering about hundred questions about the beliefs and teachings of the religion. Once the Elders in the congregation felt I had a complete understanding of the beliefs and that I believed them, I was allowed to get baptized at one of the yearly conventions. “Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identify you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?” thousands of people applauded as I shouted “Yes”.

The designation of “Baptized Publisher” was monumental. It meant you were irrevocably a member of the religion. I say irrevocably, not because it was impossible to stop being a Witness, but because once you reach this stage there was no going back. If you ever decided you no longer believed the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and you had been baptized, you would be disowned by your family; shunned by all of your friends and the entire membership of the religion world-wide.

I crossed the baptism threshold at the early age of 16. I was held up as an example during their conventions on how to be a whole-souled Jehovah’s Witness child. I never envisioned a time that I would not trust what I had been taught by my family and the organization about God and what my life plan should be. Just like most of my generation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I did not further my education after High School. College was viewed as seeking self-fulfillment and materialism, instead of pleasing God. The ideal course for a young adult after High School was to find some type of simple work in the service industry. The meager amount of money you earned was to be put toward ‘theocratic pursuits’ which was a full time career as a minister for the church. Full time ministers were called “Regular Pioneers”, and I proudly held the card that recognized me as one when I was 18. As a Regular Pioneer, I spent 1000 hours a year going from house to house, knocking on doors, looking for people to study the Bible with and teach them our religion.

Growing up I never allowed myself to imagine any other future. Questioning your beliefs was not just discouraged but vilified. They had a special word for those who left the religion and spoke badly about it. They were called “Apostates”. Apostates were said to have aligned themselves with Satan the Devil and it was the worst thing you could become (Watchtower 2000). You were viewed as a murder, of not only your own salvation but of others as well. It was better to have died, than to become an Apostate. As a child, I pictured an Apostate as a crazed half human out to destroy everything good and holy. Who would have ever guessed that one day that beast would be my own reflection?

Describing my family and friends as shocked when I proclaimed my doubts about the Jehovah’s Witness organization and its teachings would be a gross understatement. I had been the model Jehovah’s Witness and now their mold was broken. As traumatic as it seemed to them, it was much for so for me. I reached my mid-thirties and suddenly started to allow myself to step out of my upbringing and look at what I was taught with a critical eye. I found myself stunned to find a religion full of reasoning fallacies and fear controlling tactics. My entire identity began to crumble and all that was left was the dreaded identity of an “Apostate”.

There is no good way to stop being a Jehovah’s Witness if you were a baptized member. I knew this because over the years I had seen the social mutilation of people who expressed doubts and wanted to leave. I expected my exit to be no different, and it was just as ugly. My husband and I were “disfellowshipped” from the group because we questioned some of the teachings and were viewed as disrespecting the authority of the group of men who run the religion around the globe. We were barred from entering meetings because they feared we would contaminate others. My parents and brother would no longer speak with me, or even come to my house. I had lost all of my friends, in fact my entire social circle. I was like a fish thrown out of the ocean, flopping on the sand gasping for my life.

There is a saying: “sink or swim”; in my case I had to learn to swim in a society that I had been taught was run by the Devil. I was forced to figure out who I was, and what I was not. I soon realized I was not a fish after all and my survival was not dependant on staying in the ocean. I have spent the last six years since I left discovering my own identity. I had to throw away everything I knew so that I could start over. I left a religion that defined even what movies I should like and suddenly was given freedom to explore myself without rules or definitions and it was overwhelming. It felt like jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. I have a feeling it may take the rest of my life to discover who I am, but I am happy just being LeAnn Hoover. I still have roles that I fill, wife, mother, nurse, friend, but none of those labels impose on my identity, and to me that is true freedom.

Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (2009) Sing to Jehovah (pp. 38-39)
Watchtower Bible ant Tract Society of Pennsylvania (2001). Benefit from Theocratic Ministry School Education.
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (2009). Reasoning from the Scriptures. (pp. 15-24)
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (2000). Watchtower magazine, May 1, 2000. (pp. 8-12)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prism or Prison

I have made it a week without stepping on a scale. I am going nuts. It annoys me how much it is bugging me. I can hear myself sound crazy as I write that statement out, but knowing that doesn’t change anything. It is among the constant things in my life, awareness that the things swirling around in my mind are probably considered a bit crazy by the general population. When I was younger it led to me being a better listener than talker. These days I have embraced most of my craziness, but I am still a better listener of people’s thoughts than expressing mine.

I had to consciously remove myself from the land of make believe as a child, instead of the reverse. I existed there most of the time, elaborately daydreaming, it was hard to come back to the time in which most of my friends and family existed. Sure I knew the difference, the everyday life of this world, in contrast to the other one… I just liked the other one better. Maybe it was the abuse that sent me there more often, strange thing was my other world was not perfect either. It had its own shifting lights and experiences, some beautiful others sad or dark. But I felt freer there. I could explore and create, doing things that I could not in the physical. I felt me; all of me, no limitations of time or fences of rules, my body was never in the way.

I think sometimes as we age, we kill off that part of ourselves, define ourselves as adults and lose something; the part that perhaps fuels facets of what we are.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Free to be Free

I spent years with an eating disorder. It started around the age of 11. I can’t give you an exact day, but I can pin down the feeling, the day I gained control. It was fabulous. The control was addictive, dare I say intoxicating. No more the victim. They could do what they wanted to my body, even nature could do what it wanted too, but in the end I had victory.

I was in a place in my life where I had no control over what happened to me. I was at the mercy of circumstance, young, vulnerable, and hurting. Trying to cope with a bad situation with very few weapons, what I had was my own mind. People I trusted had some very deep problems that made them not trustworthy. Sometimes they took out their issues on me, or I was just a casualty of the storm that was whipping through their lives, collateral damage. I could tell you the stories, the darkness, the pain, the abuse, but I’m not going too. This isn’t about the damage, it’s about victory.

Years of anorexia and bulimia left its toll, mainly on my self-esteem. My solution for preserving my core self, turned out to be my greatest enemy. Sure it held me together in the beginning, but as I came to terms with the other pains, it remained as a thorn. It dug deep. Coming and going, controlling in the background, masking what it really was. A friend, who has recovered from almost near death from anorexia once called it a beast. I couldn't agree more, and the beast was always waiting to come out. A beast who always tore me to shreds, every time I healed. Those who have suffered with an eating disorder will understand, it is not always loud, not always alive, sometimes it dormant, when you think it is finally dead, a breath of life fills the hole, a rush of power, and it once again becomes a friend. My real battle to eradicate it started when I began to lose the weight that was a causality of binge eating, and the subsequent bouts of calorie restriction. I tried to not give in the cyclical behavior and pack on the pounds, confirming my perceptions of self-worth. More reasons to feed the beast, more reason to punish myself, more, more, more.

This time around I thought I had a knock out. I lost over a hundred pounds, and did it the ‘right way’, Diet and exercise, commitment and determination. In the midst of the fight I have come to love running, not only for the quick weight loss that came with it, but because I felt so good. My body was my friend now, not my enemy. I had finally won. I was all I wanted to be

I tried to ignore the guilt every time I didn’t run. The terrible feeling I had when I wanted to enjoy a piece of cake. The annoyance at the slight bulge I had on my stomach or the skin that still jiggled under my arms. The beast was still breathing down my neck. I wanted to be perfect, no chink in my armor. I still was picking at the scabs, never good enough. I put some weight back on; I tried to ignore the triggers, life that constantly challenged my perception, denying its power. I resisted a full blown relapse, but now that just isn’t good enough.

I want to be free. I want to run because I love being friends with my body and happy with what it is capable of doing, whatever that may be. I want to be able to eat a piece of my birthday cake because I like cake. I want to stop being my own greatest critic. Do what I tell everyone else to do, and stop looking for the bad, and open my eyes to the good. I want my daughter to love herself without restrictions; time to learn how to do that myself.

I decided I am running again. There is a glow race 5K in August that sounds fun. I didn’t pick it because I figured out it was a fast course, I picked it because I want to do it, that and it has a beer garden; and yes I want to drink a beer and not even calculate how many calories I burned while running to see if I would allow myself a drink.. I don’t want to care about what my run time is. I want to enjoy the experience, not the ending. I want to lose a few pounds, not because I care what the number is on the scale, but because I feel good at a certain weight. I don’t want satisfaction in a number. It is an empty feeling.

So my experiment begins. I’m running again, slowly. I have also committed to not getting on the scale two or three times a day, but once a month. It’s crazy how hard that is going to be. And I am going to talk about my journey, the hardest thing of all for me. A good start I hope. This is a plan without an ending, a plan that is a journey instead. I will let you know it goes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

And he said to them...

When the hand was held out to you, on the street
did you reach in your pocket
or shift your gaze?

And saw the child who cried
and no one answered
Did you lift them in your arms?

When the widow sat alone
remembering his past
did you hear his stories?

Or hold the hand of one in pain
and cry with them,
sharing their moment?

Give your only dollar
to the man who wanted coffee..
your dinner to your neighbor?

See the steel bars
in front of your brother
and reach in between them?

Did you tell a joke
just to make them smile?

Answer the phone
so that they wouldn't be alone?

Did you do it to the least of these?

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This has been on my mind a lot lately. I am the kind of person who resists change. I eat just about the same breakfast every morning, eat at the same restaurants for lunch each day of the week, and can even run the same route over and over, because I like to know what to expect. I think the sameness gives me a level of comfort. Perhaps because even though other things may vary in my life, I can control some parts of it. I like that, and the level of power it gives to me.

This mentality can be a good thing. It gives discipline and dependability, but can also be a crutch, one that needs to be knocked out from underneath me from time to time. There are many crutches I have used in my life that, in the end, harmed me. Jesus came along and replaced himself for my useless crutches, because they were holding me back from becoming closer to him. He is still showing me where I have stashed spare crutches.

When he does this I really panic. I grab my crutch, hold on for dear life, and kick and scream like a small child. But underneath my childish behavior is a seed that resist change, fearing I will be naked without it. If you take away what I have then what will I have?! Nothing. I easily forget he has already replaced what I am desperately trying to hold onto with something better. It's like trying to keep wearing your glasses when you don't need them anymore. You are worse off than before, because you won't let go.

I grew up in a religion where everything was defined, dissected, and spelled out. My life was actually quite stormy, but the belief I had in God seemed to be a steady stream, one that I could follow along without doubt and have 'God's approval'. All I had to do was listen to what the leaders taught, and follow the path they laid out. I did this faithfully, and I found it comfortable. The problem was however, is that the path I had chosen to follow was not the path Jesus was walking. It was one that man had paved. It was full of pits, holes, wolves, and robbers. When my Lord found me on this road, I was beaten and bleeding. He bound up my wounds and took me to him. My entire life shifted, and even as my scars were healing, I was completely consumed with fear. I wanted him more than anything, but he had removed my crutches. I was terrified. He replaced my terror with hope. He is still teaching me, that I no longer need them. I am not beaten and bleeding. He has completely paid for my recovery.

Walking without definitions is like walking with my eyes closed. Walking by faith, not sight. He directs me through faith in his love, nudging me here and there, giving sight of heavenly things, instead of eyes of flesh. The difference is such a change that it can be overwhelming, and it's hard to let go of fear. He says if I follow his voice I can walk in his footsteps and he will lead me. When I try and put the flesh glasses back on, I am blind, and in a worse state than I was before.

I am still learning to trust him, that I am not in fact naked, but beautifully clothed. I can be a slow learner. It's funny, when the crutch is gone, I end up wondering why I wanted it in the first place.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I don't Know.. Part 2

I have been away from my blog for a long time now. Basically I had decided it wasn't really accomplishing much, and writing wasn't much of a talent of mine. That perhaps, it was best left to those who had been gifted as such.

I was out running today. For some reason I feel more free to talk to my Lord at this time. I will actually talk out loud to him. And when I am listening, he will answer me deep within. I heard him today, maybe because I was in a particularly lousy state, you know, the one where you have just ripped open every emotion you have and said this is what I got, where I am, now please teach me a better way.

His answers are usually very simple, but somehow satisfy what I need. Like bread filling the hole in my stomach, a warm satisfaction of feeling full. Anyway the conclusion of the matter was this. He told me to start writing again. Ever ask a question and not really like the answer? Yeah it's one of those for me. But I have decided to trust him, and I do not wish to tell him no. You see, I love My Lord, more than all else. He knows this about me, and he loves me too, for he gave all for me. What he asks of me, is to tell you the same.

He loves you more than all else. Come to him.

You see, I don't know the answers to the big questions, He has told me I don't need them for my own life, so I cannot give you the answers to yours. Except this:

He loves you, more than all else. Come to him.

Also this. I love you too.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I believe

It is at the core
when all is stripped away
when nothing is left to look at
except the beginning.

Did he place it there?
Made it what it is?
How is it the only thing left
of who I am?

It is naked and pure
exposed and real
small and yet fills
my entire soul.

How can it be
that it is all I want to be
and all I see?

It never left
was not stolen away
replaced, destroyed, or covered

for everytime a wave washes over
it is all that is left of me.