I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately slamming HSLDA for being pro parents’ rights at the expense of children’s rights, protecting abusers, lobbying against mandatory education, and the like.
And quite frankly, I’m sure that probably happens sometimes. Anytime you lobby for the rights of the parent, you risk disregarding the rights of the child, and vice versa. Things slip through the cracks. Granted, there will always be people who abuse both their children and their rights as their children’s parents. And mandatory basic education today could become mandatory state education tomorrow. I realize that.
But. I’d like to tell my story, if I may, and perhaps weigh in on my experiences with HSLDA.
So will you give me a few moments of your time?
I thank you.
My birthday is towards the end of winter. February, to be exact. But I was never a huge fan of the snow.
A month after I turned 16, the severe depression I had been struggling with for a little over 5 years worsened, due to a painful breakup. I had been self harming for a while, developed an eating disorder, and that, coupled with the depression, put me in a fairly vulnerable state.
April of that year was the annual MassHOPE Homeschooling Convention, and I donned an armful of bracelets, along with the ‘good girl mask’, for a weekend, not really expecting anything positive to come of the convention.
Was I ever wrong.
The Teen Program that year was run by a team from Generation Joshua, the youth branch of HSLDA, and they had set it up in such a way that each teenager was assigned a post, based on his/her capabilities, in either the legislative or executive branch of the American Government, and had to navigate assorted diplomatic and other scenarios both at home and abroad.
It was a blast. My brother and I stayed up late, discussing the day’s events and planning for the next day, and mom remarked that she couldn’t remember the last time we were both this excited about something school – related. But, what I learned from the program, about how the government works, wasn’t actually the most memorable thing of the weekend.
I don’t remember when I first noticed him.
Perhaps it was when he was introduced at the beginning, along with the rest of the staff. Perhaps during one of his ‘passing-out-paper-clips’ rounds. Or perhaps the fifth time he stopped by my table to ask how things were coming, and didn’t seem to mind how hysterical we all became over the smallest hilarious thing. Or perhaps it was when I heard that my used-to-be-best-friend-who-I-just-met-again-that-weekend slapped him in the face and stole his phone simply because she came back to find him sitting in her chair for a brief moment, and he didn’t seem angered by it.
Or perhaps it was when, after an hour of asking around, he was still the only other person who knew the difference between the Sunni and the Shia Muslims, and, in my relief, I blurted out, ‘I could hug you!’, and the look on his face was a sight to behold!
I don’t know.
What I do know is that he piqued my curiosity, since he seemed unfazed by the myriad of questions I asked, and after the weekend ended, I found him on Facebook and sent him a friend request.
He responded, and we started talking. I quickly discovered that my first impression of him was accurate – for the most part. He allowed me to ask questions, encouraged me to keep seeking the truth, and somewhere over the following months we became friends.
I was struck by how non – judgmental he was, and the way he reacted with understanding and compassion, upon learning that I self harmed. He didn’t pull away from me, or shun me when I started questioning much of my fundamentalist upbringing, and discarding large portions of it at a time. In fact, he encouraged me to keep questioning and discover the truth for myself. He never unthinkingly touted the party line, and his answers always reflected deep thoughtful contemplation.
He allowed me to ask “why” incessantly, and didn’t get irritated or accuse me of trying to pick a fight because of it.
I found myself turning to him more and more with the difficult questions – the ones no one else was willing to tackle along with me. Such as, “Is God male or female, and how do we know?” “Does modesty matter, and why?” “Is ‘Christian patriarchy’ even Biblical?” “Why is Western Civilization considered the epitome of Christendom?” “Was the Civil War really just over states’ rights?” “What about the role of women in the church/home/state?” “Is courtship actually Biblical?” “What about purity?”
To date, he is still the only male to ever take the time to explain and discuss modesty with me.
He never made me feel inferior, never berated me for asking stupid questions, never called me anti-establishmentarian or a rebel, and never made me feel ashamed for being smart and that I had to ‘dumb myself down’ in order to be understood by him. He never lorded it over me that he was three years older, or treated me like a child.
Rather, he engaged on the difficult questions, and the fun ones, such as westerns, music, books, hobbies, etc.
When he found out about my eating disorder, he didn’t laugh and exclaim that I was skinny enough as it was. Nor did he attempt to solve my self esteem issues with a trite compliment. He reminded me that it was alright to allow scars to heal, and the pain I had experienced was no less real, simply because I no longer had the visible reminders of it.
He broke all the stereotypes.
Slowly, I grew to trust him.
I knew I could safely go to him for sound, yet understanding, advice on basically anything.
Such as the night I messaged him asking what he would tell someone who was planning on ending their life, and he insisted that I tell the person’s parents, because suicide is serious, and gave me his phone number in case all else failed.
His insightfulness struck me a few days later when I confessed that I was the suicidal person I had referred to in our earlier conversation, and his first response was that he had had his suspicions, therefore that revelation didn’t come as a surprise to him.
That conversation ended with me promising, at his request, not to kill myself. His argument? He wasn’t asking me to stop cutting, or start eating. Those things take time, he said. All he asked was that I choose life. So I agreed.
Two days later my father received a phone call from the director of GenJ himself, informing him of the way I was feeling, and that night ended with me in the Emergency Room, due to an on-purpose overdose – they called it a failed suicide, and told me I was lucky to be alive.
It seems my friend cared more about whether or not I was alive, than whether or not I hated him forever for telling his boss in order to get me help before it was too late.
He later told me that this wasn’t the first time GenJ/HSLDA has had to intervene to save a life, yet, because of client confidentiality, were prohibited from publicizing those stories, and that while I was in the hospital, they had all been praying for me.
Exactly a week after my discharge from the hospital, I turned 17. By this time, I was fairly convinced that I had had my breakthrough – the week I spent in the hospital – and was now healed, fixed, and would no longer continue to struggle. And, once again, I was wrong.
My time in the hospital was only a partial fix. It temporarily allowed my issues to be brought to light and addressed, but the underlying unhealthy mindsets, which I remained a slave to, persisted. Within a month of discharge, I found myself once again in the same place where I had been prior to hospitalization – hopeless, despairing, starving, cutting, and isolating myself within the walls of my pain.
But instead of walking out on me, pointing out my failures, or calling me a disappointment due to my seeming inability to recover, my friend insisted that under no conditions would he allow me to push him away and shut him out. He consistently spoke truth to me, even when I had no desire to hear it, and kept telling me, over and over again, to ‘never ever ever give up’.
..and that I ought to come to camp.
See, Generation Joshua runs three, week-long, camps, at various locations around the country, and he apparently felt quite strongly that camp would be a positive experience for me. So, somehow, after much persuasion, I wound up at GenJ camp, in Virgina, for the last week of June.
By the time I made it to camp, I was a mess. I had starved myself for three weeks straight, prior to my arrival at camp, and although I hadn’t cut recently, to my shame I lied to him, and packed blades ‘just in case’.
But that week blew me away…no, God blew me away. The people I met there were unlike any I had ever experienced before, in the best way possible, and every night the chapel message left me in tears. It was as though God had decided, at the beginning of the week, that ‘Since I have your undivided attention for the entire week, and there is literally no way you can escape me, I am going to pull out all the stops on you…simply because I can. You have been wandering long enough….and it’s time to come home.’
And through a series of events far too lengthy and complicated to go into in detail here, He did just that, and by Friday evening, the truth finally broke through to me, and I realized just how much I am loved, not only by others, but by God.
The lessons I learned that week changed everything. I regained my hope, my purpose, my faith, my life! I learned how to recover, and I learned to chose – and keep choosing – recovery. To never ever ever give up. For God and His plans for me. For him. For my family, my friends, and for myself. And while Lord knows it hasn’t been easy, it has been so worth it. And by God’s grace, I never ever have to go back.
See, I feel like it’s so easy to forget that HSLDA is an organization, just like any other, composed of a group of diverse men and women with an overreaching aim to help and protect homeschoolers. There will be differences between their worldviews, and they sure aren’t perfect! Some abuses will occur, regardless, but abuse happens to public school kids, private school kids, and boarding school kids, also. Some homeschooled children have died. But then again, so have countless kids in the inner city, and heck, even in the suburbs, and where was the government to intervene there? Besides, I know for a fact that neither he, nor anyone he works with, would ever endorse or condone allowing a parent to harm a child.
So, for me at least, HSLDA basically saved my life. Well, God really did. But God used HSLDA, and my friend in order to do it. Because, if he hadn’t worked for HSLDA, I doubt he would have told his boss, because his boss would not have known what to do. His boss would never have called my father, and I would be dead right now.
I am alive because a young man from HSLDA made the hard decision to save his friends life, even if it meant that she might permanently hate him for breaking confidence, and then patiently, unfailingly, walked beside her through the following months until, not only her life, but her soul, was finally saved.
Because his self-styled older sister convinced him to do what he knew was right, despite the cost, and, while at camp, held me when I cried, and allowed me to break down to her as she reminded me of truth, long forgotten, which I now believe again.
Because his best friend and best friend’s wife were willing to interrupt their pleasant evening of friends and fellowship in order to join hearts in supplication for the survival of someone they had never even met, and welcomed her later, when we met in real life, with open arms.
Because one of his closest friends, who was also my camp counselor, instead of rejecting me when I came to her with everything I had been struggling with, hugged me, and allowed me to open up safely without fear of misunderstanding.
But, finally, I am alive, because God used the head of GenJ thinking that the life of a teenage girl he had only met once was worth a phone call to her father, asking him to get help for her before time ran out, which started a chain of events, ending in my salvation.
So, for everyone who says that HSLDA doesn’t care about the lives of children, only about the rights of parents, please hear me when I say that I would not be alive right now if it were not for HSLDA.
And for that, I will be eternally grateful.