Sunday, January 19, 2014

This post comes with a warning. Enter at your own risk.

I'm about to write some stuff about being one of Jehovah's Witnesses. If you're the sort of person who hates hearing about the life experience of Witnesses, then please move along. I'm giving you fair warning, so please don't tell me I'm 'preachy' when I've given you an out-clause. Maybe come back tomorrow when I talk about the other aspects of my life.

30. Reconnect with an old friend that I haven't spoken to in years.

Sometime in late 1988 I met a guy at work who started talking to me about his religion. It turned out he was a Jehovah's Witness. Now, the one thing my old Dad always said was "You can be any religion you like, but I'll disown you if you become a J-Dub." Yeah, I wanted to find out why. So we chatted. Now, around the same time I also went out nightclubbing a lot and met another man. I liked this man a lot and we got serious.

I also started studying the bible and liked what I heard. That also got serious. I started to think about progressing towards baptism, but there was a problem. I was living with my boyfriend and therefore couldn't get baptised.

Now I had a choice to make. Break up with the guy or get married. We decided to get married. It was a lovely wedding.

Eighteen months later I was baptised and so I walked a very thin line between my worldly husband and my Witness friends. My kids were raised as Witnesses, but I gave their father and grandparents concessions. They had them for celebration days, I had them for meetings and Witnessing.

Everybody happy!

My husband and I travelled around a lot for his work. We spent time living in Christmas Island, Kununurra, Newman and Darwin as well as regular stints home in Perth. I met a lot of people through the congregations and became best-friends with several. Now, I have to admit, most of these women I loved more than my husband. There was a bond amongst us that went further than marriage bonds. We all had a common outlook, a common goal in our preaching and congregation roles. I loved them and they loved me and we were so close.

The years went by. I pioneered. My kids started to talk about becoming Witnesses. My husband and I seemed to have a happy marriage.

And I was miserable. I believed in Jehovah. I wanted to do what was right. I wanted my kids to live their lives on the narrow path. But I felt as if I was pretending.

Then, in 2001, things changed. I'd had enough. I took my kids, left my husband and moved back to Perth. Okay, this all seems rather simplistic, but it wasn't. There were many, many reasons I left the marriage and no one person hears the full account.

At the end of 2001 I met Lee Battersby at a Science Fiction convention. The chemical attraction between us was immediate and we found ourselves drawn to each other. However, neither of us was in the best of places. Lee's wife had died and I was still in a state of flux with my marriage. There was a certain amount of 'on-again/off-again' going on, and yes, I have to shoulder a fair amount of the blame. I'd just stopped caring.

11 years ago the time seemed right. Lee invited me to his house for dinner. I accepted and turned up expecting a night of DVDs and conversation about writing. I was hoping that the attraction wasn't a real thing, that the intervening months between our meeting and that night had dimmed the chemistry between us.


The rest was (and remains) history.

A new life, a new choice. If I continued with my relationship with Lee I was going to be disfellowshipped. I contacted the Elders and let them know the state of play. They begged and begged and begged me to reconsider. Disfellowshipping wasn't a given. I'd contacted them and been honest, so a public reproof could be offered. I was firm. I wanted to be with Lee which meant I couldn't be a Witness anymore.

I cannot understate what this decision meant. I wasn't just dropping my religion. I was also letting go of my friends, of my belief system and of the solid structure I'd built for my kids. It was traumatic and I went into a state of shock. I couldn't focus on anything and become physically ill for quite a while, to the point where I lost custody of my kids (my ex used my illness to keep the children with him.)

In time I rebuilt my life, but it wasn't the same. Lee and I made new friends, had a baby and got married. We in ourselves were happy, but I felt adrift. I couldn't make friends, I couldn't settle into my role. I felt like my life had fallen apart and I couldn't see how to get it back.

So, out of the blue, Lee makes a suggestion. "Maybe it's time you went back to meetings."

And I did. Not straight away. It took me another two years to work up the courage, but finally I girded my loins and went back. It wasn't a joyful reunion, reinstatement doesn't work like that. For six months I attended the meetings, sat at the back and kept my head down. At that point I wrote the letter asking to be reinstatement. After meeting with the Elders it was granted.

NOW we had the joyful reunion. I contacted all my old friends and thought everything would go back to normal.

It didn't. I had changed. I was with a man whom I adored and who was (is) the centre of my universe. I loved my friends again, but not with the same intensity. My love and passion for Lee has not diminished one iota since that initial date 11 years ago and nobody on Earth can measure up to my adoration of my husband. And, so it was with my friends. I got the feeling they, each and all, felt the same. We'd all moved on, changed by the experience. We'd built barriers that needed to be hurdled.

We didn't hurdle them very well. None of us were very patient and in time I drifted out again. Connor's illness has made it difficult to go to meetings or out Witnessing, but that's a convenient (albeit true) crutch. The truth is, I'm terrified of being rejected.

This week Connor and Erin were at their grandparents' house, so this morning I went to the meeting. I walked in, nervous as to how I was going to be received. I was, to all intents and purposes, inactive, not because I'd been missing from meetings, but because Connor is ill. To my relief my best-friend walked up to me and put her arms around me. She then spent 20 minutes showing me how to put the bible, song book and Watchtower onto my iPad. I sat with her and her family.

No, it wasn't like old times. Nor should it be. But it was a connection, both with her and with my God, Jehovah. I was reminded that I'm part of something bigger than myself. I do have hopes for the future and that I am a person who is worthy of love.

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