Bill, divorce, Ex, LDS

Lessons never taught– or, how to camp like a champ.

Morning, y’all. I hope all of you had a nice weekend. I know not everyone celebrates Easter, but if you did celebrate “resurrection day”, I hope it was a pleasant experience. Bill and I had a nice quiet day at home. I did some writing, of course, and afterwards, picked up my guitar and played “The Old Rugged Cross” with surprising ease. I was inspired by Rhonda Vincent’s beautiful live version, which is easily found on YouTube at this writing. Although I don’t play the song perfectly, I do play it reasonably well, especially for someone who has learned everything from Fender Play at this point. I might be a fairly decent player by now if I had an in-person guitar teacher. Maybe someday, I’ll get around to investing in one. For now, though, I am really glad I used the pandemic as an excuse to expand my musician skills/cred. I hope to eventually get good enough that someone besides Bill will want to hear me play.

After I played my guitar, I tried and failed to finish my custom made puzzle by Collage.com. My mother-in-law gave me a puzzle by them for Christmas. She found a photo I took in Slovenia and had it made into a one-of-a-kind jigsaw puzzle. I was so impressed by it that I ordered another one of a photo I took in Croatia. Unfortunately, I was not finished with the Slovenia puzzle when I made that decision, and didn’t realize that the quality of the puzzle wasn’t quite 100 percent. So, the Slovenia puzzle had five pieces that didn’t fit properly. I must have made a mistake, but obviously, there were pieces in the puzzle that were very close and fit convincingly. I had an even worse problem with the Croatia puzzle. Now, it could turn out that I put the puzzle together again someday, and somehow get the puzzle right. But I won’t possibly be doing that for some time, since I have several to do that I haven’t done yet.

Bill cooked baby back pork ribs on the grill that were delicious. We enjoyed some adult beverages and listened to music. We did some talking about current events, some of which have been pretty sad and dramatic, if you read yesterday’s post. Bill and I both feel kind of cut off from our families, and yet we do talk a lot about how completely dysfunctional some of our experiences have been. In fact, last night, we were talking about a post the actor Wil Wheaton shared by a Facebook page called The Holistic Psychologist, that we both could relate to with ease. Bill probably related more than I did.

Wil Wheaton, as many people know, has said that his parents were abusive to him. He describes them as “emotionally immature”. I’m sure Wil Wheaton’s observations are perfectly accurate from his perspective. I liked the link he shared, and commented that maybe it would be even more useful for younger daughter. There were many examples of “emotionally immature” parents included, and descriptions of how a child who was raised by such a parent might respond by their behaviors as an adult. Wheaton also shared another link by The Holistic Psychologist that might also be useful to anyone who has grown up with parents who never quite matured properly– at least in the emotional sense.

This morning, Bill got a video message from his daughter. She looked pretty, wearing pearls… like maybe she had come from church. She was talking about things she did on Easter and for her kids on Easter. Younger daughter is about seven months pregnant right now, so she’s pretty tired. She yawned a lot as she talked about her celebration, which somehow segued into talking about her experiences as an older teen.

Younger daughter says she doesn’t like to camp. She doesn’t find it appealing to pack up stuff, go out to the country, unpack, and sleep in a tent. As someone who worked for two summers at a Presbyterian church camp, I can understand why camping might not be so appealing. I lived in a platform tent for both summers, as I was the cook, and didn’t have camp programs to lead. It was rustic living for sure, although there were aspects of that experience that I really loved. For one thing, the camp where I worked was in an absolutely stunning area of Virginia. I would love to own property in that place– it was so tiny, unspoiled, and just pristine… We had so much fun there! Some of the fun included staff training, which included a short campout/canoeing experience– one or two nights in a tent, if I recall correctly. The first summer, we canoed on the Shenandoah River. The second summer, we canoed on the Potomac. I remember at another time, outside of our camp sessions, some of us got together and canoed down the Rappahannock River, but that was just a day trip.

I do remember learning how to pitch tents, cook food over a fire, and enjoy nature. But, to be honest, as fun as those experiences were– and as amazing as it was to be PAID to do that– I can admit that camping isn’t for everyone. It’s not always comfortable to sleep under the stars, even though it’s something that people ought to try. Yesterday, I even read about 8th grade kids in Alaska who camp out as part of their science class. It’s a learning project, yes, but it’s also taught because Alaskan kids, more than other American kids, may really have an actual need to use survival skills. But even though I think youngsters should learn outdoor skills, I know that not everyone wants to camp.

Younger daughter says that she went camping as part of her LDS church indoctrination. I wasn’t surprised to hear that. I know, for instance, that part of the LDS church experience for young people includes going to camp. From what I’ve read, those experiences are very “churchy” and religious, and they include a lot of emotional bonding around a campfire, testimony bearing, singing church songs, and discussing passages from the Book of Mormon. I don’t know how skilled the people leading younger daughter’s camping experiences were, but from what I’ve read on RfM, the people who lead the camp experiences in the LDS church aren’t necessarily super well-schooled on camping outdoors. In fact, from what some ex members have said, the camp experience is more about creating meaningful church experiences, in remote places where outside influences are few, than teaching youngsters the joys of camping.

Likewise, I’ve heard and read that a lot of the Boy Scout troops affiliated with the LDS church are not led by people who are very skilled outdoors. I know that wouldn’t apply to every church affiliated Scout troop, but apparently, it did apply to more than a couple. A lot of former members have shared horror stories about their times camping with the LDS church. Of course, since the Scouts are now letting girls in, I think the church is less invested in encouraging boys to be Boy Scouts.

Anyway, younger daughter says that her experiences at LDS Girls Camp led her to realize that she doesn’t enjoy camping. If her experiences were like what I’ve read on RfM, I can understand why camping doesn’t appeal. But what’s really sad is that her perfectly good father, who was not allowed any access to his daughters when they were growing up, knows a whole lot about camping and how to make it enjoyable. Bill is a retired Soldier, and he’s spent a lot of time in the field. He could have taught his daughters how to camp effectively. Maybe, if they had been allowed to go camping with Bill, those girls would have ended up loving camping. Or maybe younger daughter might not have liked camping, even if Bill had taught her how to do it properly and used good equipment. One of younger daughter’s complaints, for instance, was that she had to sleep in a leaky tent and didn’t get any rest. I’m not surprised, as people on RfM have written that the tents used at the camps were basically Army surplus variety– circa the Vietnam era. But she would have had a bonding experience that she might not have forgotten. I had a couple of camping experiences with my dad (in a pop top VW van, rather than a tent)… but then, my dad wasn’t as good of a father as Bill is.

I don’t know if Bill would have taken his girls camping if he’d been allowed to raise them. But there would have been the opportunity to camp. Maybe, if they came back after girls’ camp complaining about being outdoors, Bill could have showed them a better way. He was denied that opportunity, though, because his ex wife is a selfish person who is more interested in punishing people than doing the right thing by her children. And so, Bill and younger daughter have a lot of years to make up for. I’m glad they are, at least, getting that time now. As we’ve learned recently, tomorrow is never guaranteed for anyone. Ex meant for Bill to NEVER see or speak to his children again, all because– over Easter in 2000– Bill didn’t grovel enough. Bill didn’t succumb to her demands that he humiliate himself to an LDS bishop and confess to hating women… which he certainly doesn’t, and never did. Worst of all, in her mind, was that instead of refusing to divorce his abusive ex wife, who used his parents’ home to, once again, emotionally abuse and humiliate Bill, Bill decided to accept Ex’s proposal to split up. She very clearly did not expect Bill to say “yes” when she proposed a divorce; it injured her deeply that he agreed. She had expected him to fight for her, and the fact that he didn’t want to fight anymore deeply disappointed her. She was so aggrieved that she decided to try to destroy Bill’s relationship with his own children.

Now, we’re seeing the result of that decision, and Bill’s choice not to insist on having contact with his kids. In retrospect, he probably should have involved the court system and law enforcement. Or, better yet, he never should have gotten involved with her in the first place. Hindsight is 20/20, I know.

It’s hard for me to understand how a parent can be so hateful, selfish, and misguided that they would deny their children’s access to another loving parent. I mean, yes, if a parent is severely abusive and harmful, it makes sense to limit contact. Bill is not an abusive person. He’s a very kind and loving person, who simply couldn’t tolerate his ex wife’s abuse anymore. Now that younger daughter is an adult, we’re finding out that he was not the only one who could no longer take her shit. It sounds like she simply reached saturation. I relate to that. I am pretty saturated by abusive people, too. I can’t tolerate them like I used to.

As I was listening to younger daughter, living in Utah, and not long from adding her third child to her family, I felt sad that after her parents’ divorce, she never had a chance to go camping with Bill… or eat at a fancy restaurant… or visit a museum. And now, thanks to the way our lives have gone, she may never have that chance. On the other hand, at least they can exchange videos and talk on Skype. And now that the world has reopened, maybe Bill will go back to Las Vegas for TDY and take another side trip to Utah, to see his daughter and her family. Ex had wanted to deny Bill that. Thank God they’re no longer giving her that power to divide and drive wedges.

Every time I think I’ve evolved beyond the mess that is Ex, and the massive damage she’s wrought, I see evidence of more damage that was done. But again, I am grateful that she wasn’t able to permanently destroy Bill’s relationship with his younger child. There remains hope that maybe someday, the older one will wise up and reach out. Even if she doesn’t, though, Bill never thought he’d have what he has with younger daughter. So we can be grateful for that… and the fact that thanks to what happened on Easter 2000, Bill can still enjoy life.

However, I doubt he’ll convince me to go camping. 😉

Standard
marriage, nostalgia, religion

My religious “experience”…

It’s very early in the morning in the United States and I just traded comments with the man who hired me to work at a Presbyterian church camp back in 1993. At the time, I was definitely not a fan of church. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly laid back denomination as churches go. I still hated attending every week. I found it a colossal bore and a waste of time.

Going to church was something I was forced to do, and it wasn’t even something we did as a family, mainly because my mom was always the organist and my dad was always in the choir. My sisters were grown and gone for most of my childhood. I found church dreadfully dull, and I wasn’t interested in it at all. I didn’t listen to the sermons, sing the hymns, or want to be part of any of the activities, although I was frequently compelled to do things like go to vacation Bible school and take the church’s confirmation class. When I was a teenager, I was also required by my parents to go to a career counseling class at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. That school has since been renamed St. Andrew’s University. I remember not wanting to go on that trip and finding the experience “creepy”, although now I think I would have enjoyed going to that university myself. Fat lot of good the trip did for me anyway, although I ended up having some fun on it.

Despite going to church for many years, I didn’t know anything about church or religion or the Bible. I was basically a warm shell sitting in a pew, forced to be there every week and hating it. So why in the world would I have wanted to work at a Presbyterian church camp? It was mainly because I wanted to escape my parents’ house. I would rather be in a religious environment, sleeping in a platform tent, than living with my parents. In those days, my dad and I barely got along and my mom was stressed out keeping the business going. It was a hostile environment. Being at camp all summer spared me from having to be in that environment.

It turned out that church job was one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had. But I do remember being very nervous about working at a religious summer camp. Back in the 70s and 80s, a lot of churches had summer camps. In the area where I grew up, there was Makemie Woods. I remember being forced to go there a time or two when I was a child, though I never had to attend camp there. It looks like Makemie Woods is closed now. A lot of summer camps have ceased to operate, mainly because kids don’t want to go to camp anymore. They’d rather be online. I remember Paddy Run was at risk of closing, until my friend Amy got involved in saving it. Amy worked with me at Camp Paddy Run, as did a lot of other really cool people.

I remember the day I met my former boss, Simon. I walked up to him at a summer camp recruitment event held at my college. I had just spoken to a representative from Camp Fincastle, which was another Presbyterian camp located near where my dad’s family lives. I wasn’t all that impressed by the Camp Fincastle people, and it looks like now, Camp Fincastle no longer exists. But then I saw Simon standing by himself at a table. He wore jeans and a white sweatshirt that had the Very Fine juice company logo on it. He had short brown hair, wore glasses, and a cross around his neck. Before I knew what was happening, I was talking to Simon about being a camp counselor. He said they had enough counselors, but they needed a cook. And I said I’d be a better cook than counselor anyway. A few days later, after checking my references, that same man hired me. I remember thinking he was very uptight. Boy, was I ever wrong! But that didn’t change how I felt almost dread when it turned out he wanted to hire me to be the church camp’s cook! I wondered how I would cope with the religion.

I remember arriving at Camp Paddy Run in June 1993. It was, and still is, a very beautiful location. There was a huge meadow, enclosed by mountains on either side and a vast forest. There was a crude little church space out in the meadow, with weather worn splintery benches, a fire pit, and a cross that was strung together with rope. Deep in the woods, there was Paddy’s Run, a mountain creek, where kids would go rock hopping. There were cabins and “hogans”, and a garage that stored the canoes and camping equipment served as our staff lounge. I remember at night, the stars were absolutely incredible. There was no light pollution at all, so you could see so many stars in the summer sky. If I were inclined to be religious, I would say that God chose Camp Paddy Run to be a sacred place. I wish I had more pictures of it.

It took me awhile to get used to church camp life. I was pretty quiet at first. I wasn’t familiar with the Bible, despite going to church and Sunday School my whole life. I knew nothing about the origins of the Presbyterian Church, or the fact that my ancestry has a lot to do with why my family is mostly Presbyterian. I didn’t know anything about why church services are set up the way they are, and I didn’t enjoy “devotions” or “vespers”. I had nothing much to say during those meetings. Despite having gone to Sunday school and church and being raised in a religious extended family, I was never taught much about Christianity. My dad took me to church every week because it was something people did. It was the expected thing to do. But we never talked about religion at home. We didn’t pray before meals or bedtime (except when I was very little). So when I worked at the church camp, I wasn’t necessarily the best model of Christ-like behavior. I did get in trouble for cussing, too.

At camp, every day started early and ended late. It was my job to cook, and I was good at it. I had three teenaged guys working with me and we ended up becoming friends. I was introduced to canoeing, which was something I had never tried before I worked at camp. I also went on some wonderful hikes in the woods and found swimming holes, one of which had a natural slide. I slept on an uncomfortable cot in a platform tent with two or three other women, depending on the week. The pay wasn’t much, but I had few expenses. It was a healthy lifestyle, far away from “civilization”. I ended up enjoying the experience so much that I went back in 1994. Then, the following year, partly based on my church camp experience, I joined the Peace Corps.

I’m still not a very religious person, although I do enjoy sacred music. Perhaps that’s where my relationship with God is strongest. I don’t do a lot of praying and don’t feel comfortable in offering prayers to people. I still find religion kind of icky, especially since it’s been co-opted by powerful people who want to use it to promote their own agendas. And yet, that job working at a church camp gave me so much… especially in friendships. I still have many friends from that time period, including my former boss, who was a minister for some time and officiated at my wedding to Bill.

Simon has since left the ministry and become a Catholic. I’m not exactly sure what led him to take that step, although he clearly feels most authentic as a Catholic. His wife is still a Protestant. Talking to him now, I see that maybe it was a case of his being somewhat of a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. When I met him, thinking he was this very uptight religious person, I didn’t know that he was also a bit nuts like me. He has a great sense of humor, loves outrageous rock music from the 70s, wears nail polish, and has both earrings and long hair. In the 90s, he had to appear to be someone he wasn’t really. Now that he’s no longer a minister, he can be himself. That must be very liberating for him, although I’m sure the decision to leave his life’s work was extremely difficult. If I know him, he did a lot of praying and soul searching before he took that step.

Simon later became a certified nursing assistant and worked in a psychiatric hospital. I’m sure his skills as a minister were useful when he worked at that job. He recently had to stop working there due to health reasons and family responsibilities.

Like me, my former boss spent a lot of time in school. He’s earned a couple of master’s degrees that he doesn’t use for paid employment. He’s also a bit of an eccentric, like I am. Like me, he found his soul mate and has enjoyed a long, happy union. He’s married to a wonderful woman with whom he enjoys a great marriage and has three lovely daughters. I look up to my former boss as an example. He’s yet another person who didn’t take the conventional road through life.

Bill and I will soon celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Although the years haven’t always been easy… they’ve all been fun. We still love each other very much. I’m so grateful we were able to have our wedding officiated by someone who is a true friend. He made the ceremony very special and meaningful. We still talk about what he said to us during our wedding. And despite all of the little hassles that come up in our daily lives, we remain committed to each other and happy to be in each other’s lives. I realize how very fortunate we are every day, especially when I go a little nuts.

So… even though I know people read this blog and think all kinds of things about me, the truth is, I’ve been blessed with a lot of good things in life. And I have many good people in my life, too. Especially Bill… I could not have asked for a better partner. When I look back on my pathway through life, I realize that every decision I made, before we first encountered each other in a chat room back in 1999, led me to him. Even working at a church summer camp when I am not particularly religious myself.

I’m also really glad I grew up Presbyterian. If I had to go to church, I’m glad it was one that embraces education and scholarly research. I’m glad I didn’t come away from the experience with religious baggage. The Presbyterians also have the distinction of being from Scotland, too.

And now I have to decide what to get him for our anniversary, since we can’t travel anywhere. Wonder what Hallmark says the 18th anniversary present is. Guess I’ll go find out, especially now that the power is back on.

Standard