Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism


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why would someone want to keep their courtship secret?

As I went over my blog stats, I saw this question pop up in the search engine list. I thought it was kind of self-explanatory, but obviously not everybody understands why a courtship might be kept secret (in certain groups/families).

First off, not every girl (or family) feels the need to keep a courtship a secret. As you can imagine, some girls are so happy about being courted that they just can’t keep it to themselves. Openly talking about courtship is something you’ll see in the more “liberal” groups of the P/QF movement. It’s especially important to differentiate between P and QF here – strictly patriarchical families are more likely to keep it secret than families with a strong emphasis on the QF theologies.

And yes, there are families who aren’t patriarchical but live quiverfull. Others again are full-blown patriarchical families, but don’t believe in the quiverfull theologies (aka NFP and sometimes condoms are allowed, but it’s the man who decides when the wife will get pregnant).

The thing is simply that the patriarchs feel very much like they have to use the (successful) courtships of their daughters to show off how well they filtered potential suitors before hand. A failed courtship can imply that the father did not pick well and this might reflect back and his authority and leadership skills – at least in the public eye of the movements. Of course this isn’t true for every case, but the motto is usually “better safe than sorry”.

And it’s not just the fathers. In very strict groups, a girl turns into “damaged goods” faster than you might think. Even a failed courtship might label her as damaged goods and have a negative influence on the range of future suitors. It’s all about the “value of the bride”.

Imagine you’re in a store for soft pillows. The shelves are full of soft, handmade, expensive pillows. Lots of people come in to buy pillows. Now, some pillows might have attracted more customers in the past – they look a tiny bit “touched”, there might even be a little stain. They’ve never been slept on (no pun intended), but one or the other customer already picked it up to inspect it more closely. Now, if you do want a flawless pillow, you won’t even buy the “inspected” ones – you’ll go for the ones in the back, the ones nobody ever inspected, fresh from the storage room – if possible still wrapped in plastic.

It works very much like that in strict courtship movements. If a girl has one, or, even worse, more than one, failed courtships, there’s something “wrong” about her. A girl breaking off a courtship is something rather “wild”. The idea is that the girl will certainly like the man her dad picked out because, well, her dad knows her best. If you hear of broken courtships, the general idea that comes to mind is that the guy broke it off for some reason (or the dad, which then would be kept secret again because dad doesn’t pick “the wrong guy”). The girl’s value decreased with every courtship she goes through. She’ll be labelled damaged, easy to get, high maintenance and so forth. And simply because of that, it’s so much easier to keep courtships secret until the day of engagement.

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Training up this child – Part 20 – Hurt

(As some of you might have recognized I name many of my posts after songs or movies. I usually pick out a song that suits the mood of each post, usually googling “songs about XY” and then listening to my options. This time, I was torn between two song: Chris Isaak – Wicked game and Johnny Cash – Hurt. I ended up with Hurt because, well I think it sums up a lot of how I felt. I know that some of my readers are just as unworldly as me, so here’s a link to the song on youtube in case you don’t know the song.) Harry’s mother seemed a lot more excited than usual. She made compliments about how I looked, how nicely we decorated the house, how amazing the prepared food smelled. Everybody had a huge smile on their faces, a smile I immediately thought was… retarded. It felt as if the universe had shifted. I was no longer in the real world but in some weird dimension, full of retarded people who don’t even know that some sort of magical boss is shoving lies down their throats. I felt as if they looked at me like I was about to join their sect, go through a weird ritual where they’d take out parts of my brain to make me smile just as stupid as they did. I can’t recall much of this. I was in trance. I talked but it wasn’t me who talked. I heard myself speak and my voice was different, strange, not mine at all. My words didn’t come out of my brain – I didn’t know what I was saying and at the same time wondering how I came up with the things I said. Cold sweat was covering my entire body, my skin felt cold and tacky, but I still felt like that person wasn’t me. There must have been some sort of small talk, some sort of prayer, some words of encouragement but I memorized nothing at all. The only thing I can remember was looking at my shaky hands, covered in freezing sweat and desperately trying not to throw up all over the place. My insides were rotating and I was truly afraid my heart would stop beating any second out of sheer fear. I remember at some point Harry asked me to go outside with him, sit in the garden for a bit. I agreed, my face frozen in I don’t know what position and a very strong, sudden urge the really throw up. I think I held my hand in front of my mouth for a second, because my Dad gave me an encourage stroke on my head and opened the door to the garden for us. As soon as I was outside my mind started screaming: “RUN! Now’s the chance! Run away and don’t turn back!”. But I didn’t. Instead, I followed Harry to the bench in the garden and sat down. I was completely quiet and the sweat started to run down my neck and back. My hands were so wet, they sparkled in the evening sun as if they were powered with diamonds. Harry spoke up: “Do you like the flowers?” “Yes” I said, “Lilies are lovely. My favourite flower.” That was true. “I think so too. You know, you’re like a lily to me. As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” “That’s true” I said, not knowing how to react. “Lisa, you know, I have been watching you for such a long time. Years now. I can’t imagine that there is anybody more beautiful and lovely than you.” He said and took my hand, squeezing it, which embarrassed me because my hands were freezing cold and soaking wet. “I didn’t have to think much about if you were the one. I knew it all along. I would’ve done this so much earlier but I felt I needed to wait and be patient on you. I was doubting your feelings for such a long time but now I feel like it’s different. I feel like we’re made for each other.” Harry looked at me, but I just started into the grass next to my shoes. I hadn’t looked at him during this entire conversation and I couldn’t find the courage to look into his eyes now. He was silent for a few seconds, but then let go of my hand. He stood up, slowly. My stomach twisted, making me feel sicker every second, my heart skipped at least 10 beats. Harry stood in front of me. And then, he did it. He got on one knee, found a little box in his pocket, opened it with shaky hands and presented a lovely ring to me. I stared at the ring and the universe shifted yet some more, completely separating my body and my mind at this point. And as I stared at the ring with my body, and my mind stared at myself sitting there, not knowing what to do, Harry finally said it: “Lisa Franziska Bennet, will you marry me?” I didn’t say a thing. I stared at the ring in Harry’s wet shaky hands and almost heard my mind laughing. This is crazy, this is unreal. “Lisa?” he said after some time which could have been hours for all I know. And for the first time I looked into his eyes and what I saw there I will never forget. I don’t think one can describe the horror and fear I saw on his face that moment. I looked back at the ring, then back into Harry’s eyes. Terror. An entire world crashing down, hands shaking violently, tears starting to fill his eyes. My, a lot worse than I could’ve possibly imagined. I still hadn’t said a word but I felt the need to react somehow. I took the ring in my hand, not putting it on and looked at the pretty little diamond. I could almost feel Harry dying inside and wanted to hold on to him, to make sure he wouldn’t just stop breathing. I put my hand on his hand, then on his cheek, stroking through his hair and while I did that I just slightly shook my head. I was still a mute. “Does that mean no?” he asked and I nodded just as slightly. Harry now sat in front of me, on his knees, staring into nothingness. “Do you really mean no? Why not? What’s wrong? What did I do wrong? I can make it right, just tell me what I have to do, I’ll do it. I’ll do anything.” I shrugged, silent, just staring at Harry sitting there in the grass, at my feet, not knowing what he or I should do next. Finally I found some words somewhere in the back of my head: “I’m so sorry”. There were some tears on Harry’s face, but he wasn’t really crying. “Well, tell me why you’re saying no. I thought everything went well.” My cheeks were burning as I tried to explain. That I felt like I wasn’t ready for marriage, that I was doubting practices and beliefs in the movement, that I didn’t feel quite right about marrying him. He took a seat next to me again, thought about what I said for a bit and then asked me “Ok, so what do you want? I’ll give you anything you ask for if you marry me.” I told him how I wanted an education and maybe a job, how I was afraid of having so many kids, especially right now, and that I wanted a different life, not as set apart from the real world and other people. I wanted to have friends. I wanted to be normal. Harry was quick to answer. “You can have that. You can find yourself some friends once we settled down. You can go to school if we can afford it and you can work until we have kids.” I told him that by our beliefs, we’d have a kid within the next year. He told me that I couldn’t say that. God would time them. And if we did, God’s way would still be perfect. That he thought if I kept following God’s plan, I couldn’t possibly be happier. As he told me all that, the truth started sinking in, the truth Beth predicted: I couldn’t change his mind, I couldn’t make some sort of deal with him that our marriage would be different. He was too convinced of his beliefs. “This isn’t going to work” I finally said. “We’re too different in too many ways. You’re sure that your beliefs are right while I’m doubting everything. You can trust God while I can’t. You dream of a biblical family, I dread it. How can we possibly be happy together? It might just be a phase for me, but I don’t know that yet. If it is, and we are meant for each other, we will be together eventually. But if it isn’t, you’ll be stuck with a wife and family you’re too good for. Is that really what you want?” Harry was quiet, crying and so was I. “If that’s what you want, if that’s what you can deal with, I’ll marry you.” I hadn’t said that because I wanted it. I said that because at this point, I realized what I got myself into. Two families were waiting for a happy, engaged couple. They weren’t going to get one. I was very, very afraid of what waited for me back inside. I was clueless how to explain all of this. I think at some point I wished he’d agree and still want to marry me so that I could avoid what was sure to come: Anger, hate, disappointment, being kicked out of the house into a world I didn’t know, cut off from my family. I realized the extent of what I just had done and it was just as scary as my other option. I was trapped with no way out. “No, I think you might be right. You’re obviously not in the right state of mind to make a good wife. You need time.” Harry’s answer was partially a relief and partially the scariest situation I could imagine. I took his hand again and for whatever reason I said Thank you. I was emotionally broken down to bits and pieces and started crying violently. “What do I do now?” I asked him. “What will we say?”. Harry just shook his head. “I don’t know.” I cried even more at that and Harry must’ve felt sorry for me, because next thing I know was that he put his arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t resist and hugged him, crying harder, begging him “Please don’t let me do this alone, please help me, please do something, I can’t do it.” We sat there for a few more minutes, until I found a tissue in my pocket, cleaned up my face as well as I could. “We should go back in. I bet they’re wondering what’s going on.” Harry stood up, but I just couldn’t find the strength to do it. He took my hand again and pulled me off the bench. “Come on, we’re in this together.” He didn’t let go of my hand, which I’m deeply thankful in retrospective. We slowly walked over to the back door of our house. My mind was empty, fear struck me but somewhere deep inside I felt that I had done the right thing. Harry held the door open for me, and inside I went to wash away those stupid smiles off my parent’s faces.


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Fundamentalist weddings 2 – Planning a wedding in 6 weeks?

Now, as I was thinking about the actual weddings in the movement, I couldn’t find much of a difference to normal weddings. Obviously, there are differences, but there aren’t any strict rules the couple has to stick to.

If you were at a fundamentalist reception, you might not even realize it’s not a normal wedding, except you won’t see anybody dancing, and there might not be constant music. But there too is a lot of talking, eating, walking around and such. There are usually fun activities to do, too, like photo booths and different games to play. Let me try point out some of the most common differences.

Generally I found that big fancy weddings are considered somewhat selfish. Spending a great deal of money on that one day is considered foolish, as most would have to expect a baby really soon after the wedding and the money should be invested into the marriage, not just the wedding. It’s all about being frugal and smart on money, which doesn’t mean that everything is dull and boring. There are plenty of people, women usually, with amazing skills for decorations, flowers, cooking and sewing. I don’t think you can tell that the foods and decorations haven’t been done by a “professional”.

I also want to remind everybody that this scenario doesn’t only describe a very short engagement. Longer engagement periods don’t change the fact that the wedding should be frugal and a lot of work will be done by family and friends, not by hired caterers or decorators.

Before the day of engagement: Typically, the suitor of the girl will have to have some money saved up in order to get the blessing to propose to the girl. This can go as far as the bride’s dad wanting to see actual bank account numbers and all savings. Additionally, it is normal that the suitor already has some sort of living arrangement prepared, be it a house or a rental apartment. This sometimes may happen in the first week of engagement, but many times I have also seen that the groom already had it prepared prior to proposing. Obviously, it wouldn’t be fully furnitured, as most of that would be the bride’s job and many things will be given as a wedding gift.

As most girls don’t receive any sort of pricey education like college, the family of the bride will have some amount of money saved up for her wedding day. All of this money will go into the preparations. So, even before proposing, the financial factors of a wedding will be more or less cleared.

Another important factor in fundamentalist weddings is that the community helps the couple with all preparations. Sometimes, money will be gifted prior to the wedding by wealthier families. Most of the time, the community will offer all sorts of services: Sewing, catering, decorations and so on.

A room for the reception will be no problem either: Most of the time, the wedding will be outside in somebody’s garden. Other times, they will find a church which is bookable on short notice. They don’t care that much about the denomination of the church as they don’t consider themselves a member of either denomination. For the reception, they will have a range of places to choose from: A big room at their own house, their garden, family friend’s houses, or even a “community center” in areas with many QF/P families. Those community centers can be anything from old houses to barns to bigger garages which have been built into community houses and private churches.

After the proposal: The bride and her bridesmaids and her maid of honor will go hunting for dresses. Sometimes, a seamstress from the movement may sew the dresses all together. Others will look for used dresses in the community. Though some do buy on ebay, that’s not typical. They are a bit afraid that a used dress from outside the movement may mean bad luck. Used dresses from inside the movement are no problem. Some others have old wedding dresses from their own family. These will be altered and reuse if need be. I have seen a girl get married in a dress that her own grandmother wore – the dress had been altered four times at this point! She again kept it for her own daughters. Few ones will buy a new dress. Especially if the kids come from a big QF family, this is an exception. A new dress is a lot of work, too: You can’t usually use the dress as it is, as most new dresses are too “immodest”. They usually need to be altered, anyway. If the groom is generous, or the dad saved up a lot, the girl might nevertheless have a new dress. The same applies for the groom’s outfit, as well as the one for the best man.

Also, they will start looking for a place for their honeymoon. Sometimes, that is just one night at a fancier hotel in the area. Richer ones who can afford to actually travel will find and book a place. Again, it’s totally dependent on the money they have, but big fancy journeys to a far away place are a huge exception. An expensive honeymoon is not seen as desirable, especially since most people believe the money should rather be saved for the future babies.

The families will be trying to find a place for the wedding and the reception. Different places will be visited and evaluated. Typically, cheapest wins. Anything that doesn’t look great will be decorated, so it doesn’t matter that much anyway. Decorations like flowers may be ordered, but it’s more likely that the family/friends/community will make them themselves. They use their own flowers or maybe even ordered ones. That way, it’s not only cheaper, but also faster, as more people are working on them.

Lists will start going around, calculating how much food will be needed and who will prepare it. A professional caterer is something I have never seen. The families and members of the communities will provide all foods and drinks. I have seen weddings where a “traditional american BBQ” was the theme of the foods served. There were steaks, burgers, ribs, salads, everything. And a lot of cakes, cupcakes and candies, too. All of it was prepared by the families and some family friends (men) where responsible for the meat.

Decorations are sometimes borrowed from other families, or they will be self-made. Same goes for the flower arrangements. Many fundamentalist families don’t see a point in spending 100s or even 1000s of dollars for flowers. As most of the movement families I knew lived out on the country and had big pieces of land, there was always someone with a huge flower garden which were used for the decorations.

Jobs will be given out: Who is responsible for the food station? Who’s working as a waitress? Who helps decoration, who helps cleaning?

Also, “entertainment lists” are written. Who will give a speech? Who’s the band (usually community members)? Does anybody want to read stories, poems, bible verses? Do kids want to prepare a little play? Things like that. The individual entertainers will start working on their things.

There will be meetings for bible study together, evenings where stories about the courtship of the bride and groom are told, how God brought them together, how certain people felt when they saw God work in the couple and so on. Also, there might be meetings of the couple with older married couples to exchange experiences.

The last few days before the wedding is when “the talk” happens. Typically, it will be within the last 2 days of engagement. Though they most likely have somewhat of a biological knowledge about their own bodies, they will hear for the first time in detail how the other sex’s body works. Women’s groups and men’s groups get together with each the bride and/or the groom to tell them some last advises. This has been done during courtship already, but this time it’s really about marriage and normal life that the couple soon will face.

The wedding:

In the morning, the women are usually busy getting all the food cooked and ready. Last touches and decorations will be added to the cake. The bride and the bridesmaids will be helping with this until noon, or they will be doing the last decorations in the church and the reception hall.

The men do the “hard” stuff. Putting up chairs, transporting people around, transporting the food to where it’s supposed to be (if need be) and so on.

By late morning/early noon, the bride and her bridesmaids will be busy doing everyone’s hair and make up if they are allowed to wear it. Dresses are put on and everybody is getting ready.

Wedding pictures may be taken at this point already. Most fundamentalists don’t believe that seeing each other in wedding dresses before the wedding means bad luck.

All weddings I have been to started rather late during the day. 3 PM was the earliest as far as I remember. There’s a simple reason for that: The bride and groom are supposed to “sleep in” and have a relaxed day. Also, the celebrations are kept rather short as to not wear out the couple. The actual wedding would be late noon or even early evening and the celebrations would last until 10 PM on average, 12 if the couple is “wild”. Simple reason: This is the day the couple will have sex for the first time and neither of the two should be tired or worn out. It ends that early to have time for… well, sex. It doesn’t really matter if the couple wants it that way, they’d usually be pushed into this pattern.

The wedding vows usually include: “I will submit to you, obey you and serve you like the Church does for Christ” for the bride, and “I will provide for you, protect you and love you like Christ does for his church” for the groom.

Generally I found that fundamentalist weddings can be rather long. Sometimes, the couple doesn’t want to be the center of the party and wedding will have more of a church service feel to it than that of a wedding. Others keep it short and sweet, without long sermons and vows and music. That would be done later during reception then.

The reception is rather unspectacular and normal. Dancing is an exception as it’s too immodest and sensual for most groups. There will be a lot of speeches and such. There might be some group dancing done by the kids.

The reception won’t be so much about the newlyweds as it will be more about religion, God’s plan, prayer and bible readings.  Depending on the taste of the family, the reception could be that everyone sits on their chairs and listens quietly to hours of studies, or it might be like an actual, fun reception where people sit together and talk, discuss and have fun. It’s not like all fundamentalist weddings are boring.

As said before, the night will end early in order to give the newlyweds time to actually fulfill their marriage that night. The families might stay longer than the couple to celebrate into the night, but since most families have small children, they don’t last much longer than the couple.


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Further reading on betrothal

I have received many comments on my last post in which I made a short mention of betrothal. It seems many have not heard about this form of relationship yet and I don’t feel like I can answer all the questions since it wasn’t practiced in my group, but I gathered some links and articles for the ones who are interested in it.

As for the many questions, betrothal is still very rare in fundamentalist christianity, but it’s not an exception among the messianic jewish (or old testament christians, whatever you want to call them). These groups are very close-knit to the fundamentalist christians and I know of many fundamentalist christians who have decided to follow the OT law. We had several families in our circle of friends who didn’t eat pork and wore tzitzit. It’s not that uncommon among fundamentalists anymore.

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/09/us/new-christian-take-on-the-old-dating-ritual.html (Short mention of a betrothal right at the beginning of the article)

http://ylcf.org/courtship-stories/bowers-testimony-of-betrothal/ (A short story of a betrothed couple. Note the fact that they entered their relationship with vows which are considered unbreakable)

http://www.goodmorals.org/lyman.htm (Another article, betrothal is talked about especially at the end of the article.)

http://www.lifeandlibertyministries.com/archives/000195.php (Older article dealing with the differences)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09OXeGZcJQY (Video of an actual betrothal ceremony – I don’t know whether the rituals shows are typical or not)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnDlwPoou9g (Trailer for a documentary about Betrothal – I haven’t seen the movie yet as I can’t get my hands on it, but I would be interested if any of you guys have it where you got it!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rky0k7zP0ew&feature=related (An interesting interview with fundamentalist christians talking about betrothal)


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Fundamentalist weddings 1 – Courtship, Betrothal

I received a comment in which I was asked what fundamentalist weddings look like. I thought that was a great idea for a post! Also, since the commenter didn’t seem sure about the different concepts of courtship, I decided to first post a small collection of different courtship forms and then move on to the type of wedding I know from my group. So here’s about courtship! Even though the term “courtship” is constantly used in Christian circles, there are a TON of different concepts how it works. I don’t know all of them, but I’ll describe the ones I know, aka the most popular ones.

There are a few general rules about courtship: The parents are strongly involved, the father is approached by the men, not the girl, and the goal of a courtship should always be marriage.

First, there is a very worldly form of courtship. This is usually done by conservative, not fundamentalist christians. The girl and the boy meet and already have some sort of interest in each other before they even enter a courtship. The boy might even tell the girl he will talk to her dad before he talks to her dad. The father will evaluate the boy, but the daughter will be strongly involved in the questions he’s asking and has a big say in the decision he’s making. If the girl isn’t interested in the guy, she might even tell her dad to deny him right away in order to not hurt him personally. If the boy gets permission to court, he might be allowed to ask her himself (not dad telling her). Once the courtship starts, the girl and the boy sit together to make rules for their courtship. How far can they go? In most cases, holding hands is ok for the couple. They may also decide if they need chaperoning, and when they need it. They may go on dates alone if they wish to do so. Kissing is usually a no-no during courtship, but might be ok for the engagement. Same goes for saying “I love you”. The boy will need permission to propose, but if they have been courting for a year plus it’s very likely he’ll get it. Engagement times are longer, comparable to secular engagement times. The whole engagement and wedding process is comparable to worldly weddings.

In a more fundamentalist version, the girl will most likely not know that a boy is interested in her. The boy has to go to the dad first and be evaluated. If the boy gets permission to court, the girl will be told that there’s someone interested in her. In some cases, the girl might not even know her suitor, e.g. because the boy had seen and watched the girl at a conference, but the girl didn’t take notice of the boy. There will be a lot of contact between the boy and the girl’s dad and the dad can give his veto to the relationship at any point during courtship. They will always be chaperoned. Going into very date-like situations like movies or a restaurant usually doesn’t happen. It’s typical that boy and girl visit each other’s families in order to see their partner in “natural” environment. Kissing is off-limits until the wedding, holding hands may be allowed once engaged. “I love you” may be allowed, but not in every family.

Even more strict is a form used in some fundamentalist groups: The girl will not be allowed to have any emotions towards a guy. If she does feel something, breaking off contact entirely is encouraged. The guy pretty much has to walk around in the dark and take chances when he asks for a courtship. The father will evaluate (family might be involved). The dad often has long talks with the guy over a long period of time, several weeks even, before he gets permission and the dad tells the girl he has a suitor. Then she will receive counsel and opinions from her family, which she will use to either agree or disagree with a courtship. Usually the girl agrees as she fully trusts her dad’s evaluation. Evaluations are typically much harder to pass in this version. Once the courtship starts, the boy and girl are not allowed to be alone together. Chaperoning might not be enough to fulfill this in the first months, so they’ll always have to stay around many family members. Sometimes, girl and boy visit each other’s families. Emotions aren’t supposed to be evolving at that point – that’s for engagement or better yet marriage. Courtships may be very long, up to several years, depending on the boy’s financial situation, missioning work etc. Sometimes, the girl may be a minor (16 is eligible for courtship in some groups – in all other forms, that’s at least 17 or 18.) so naturally the courtship will be longer. Physical contact of any form is off-limits until the wedding, as well as verbal expressions of affection. If you see a couple where each the boy and the girl hold a stick or a band of some sort which the other holds as well, a “connection” of some sort, that’s the replacement for holding hands in this version. The family can veto the relationship at any point during courtship and engagement. The boy asks for permission to propose to the girl and will be evaluated again. He will have to work through the courtship with the girl’s dad and talk about different issues to get permission. This permission can be delayed or fully denied if for example the boy is struggling with some sort of problem the dad doesn’t like, or isn’t “financially ready” for a wife and baby within the next 9 months. This happens quite a lot and the permission to propose might be a long process. Engagement happens with somebody close (a chaperone). In some cases, the boy might not even be allowed to put the ring on the girl’s finger himself. The dad may be taking care of that and will put the ring on the finger. Touching is still off-limits and the first time they touch would usually be when the guy put the wedding ring on the girls finger during the ceremony. The engagement periods are rather short as the wedding is supposed to be frugal and cheap as well as all the “getting to know each other” was done during courtship. It’s really just the small time frame they need to plan the wedding. Breaking up in the state of engagement usually happens only in cases of adultery.

So much about courtship, but I feel the need to talk about another form of getting together. I have seen a slight rise of this in the last 2 years so I’m a bit worried. It’s betrothal and if you don’t know what that means, keep reading.

Betrothal is supposed to be even more biblical than courtship, and prevent heartbreak even better. Neither the girl nor the boy have any say in choice of partner. The parents of both parties will talk to each other, usually without the knowledge of the couple, to see if they fit together. The girl may already know the boy as a friend of the family, but it could also be a complete stranger. Either way, they will not know that their parents have picked them a spouse until they feel the deal should be sealed. Both girl and boy will be told that a match has been found. There is a chance of veto from both at this point, but they’d need really good reasoning and I personally can’t think of anything they could say to get out of it without making the parents look ungodly (“I’m not ready for marriage!” – “Yes you are, I talked to God, he says so.”). Then the girl and the boy will be betrothed in a small ceremony. I have heard of cases where they weren’t even in the same room together, meaning that they still don’t know each other at this point. The betrothal vows are like marriage vows – they are unbreakable. A betrothal is a serious commitment and can only be broken in cases of adultery, just like marriage. During betrothal, the couple gets to know each other. They may fall in love at this point but don’t have to. Not that it matters anyway, they are in a seriously committed relationship. Physical contact of ANY sort is completely off-limits and may be considered adultery in some groups, which would lead to an immediate breaking off of the relationships. Either way, physical contact would mean a harsh punishment for both parties. The girl will start planning the wedding, the boy will work to get a house and some money saved up. They wait on God to tell them the date when they will be married. Betrothal durations can vary from several weeks to several years.

Personally, I think betrothal is nothing but arranged marriage and should be under close watch. I’m sensing that in times where the fundamentalists grow crazier and crazier, this form of relationship will become more popular.

So much on the different types of courtship, the next post will be concerned with the question what fundamentalist weddings look like in groups with very short engagement times!


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Training up this child – Part 19 – Meet me at high noon

I spent a few days thinking about the little hint my mother gave me. Close to an engagement? My mom didn’t say that just out of a mood. No parent in the movement says that out of a mood. They don’t give us any idea of what’s going on until the last second. When a guy is interested in you, but they don’t like him, you’re not being told. If a guy has interest in you, and they tell you, you can be sure that they have been in contact with him for weeks and sometimes even months, examining him, and actually giving him permission to enter a relationship with you. As a daughter, you are usually the last to know about your own love life.

Now, the fact that my mother said something about a close engagement meant that Harry must have asked for permission from dad already, and that dad agreed and gave him permission to ask me. My mother would be involved in this process of evaluation at a very late time, about when dad had already decided to give Harry the permission to ask me, then he would ask for my mother’s opinion before telling Harry what his decision was. I now knew that Harry had permission to ask me, and he’s probably had it for a while. He might have even already bought a ring.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Within the next few days or weeks, I would be asked to marry him. Engagements were typically kept very short, and Harry’s and my courtship has been pretty long due to the big distance. Just to give you a short reminder: Harry and I’s courtship started when I was 18, almost 19 (I’m born in March and the courtship started December before I turned 19) so we were courting for over 3 years. That’s a crazy long time in the movement. I know it might have felt just like six months or something when you read my posts about my courtship, but they were condensed, not bothering with the time between the visits and big events were effectively nothing happened except for my daily routine of being a stay-at-home-daughter while Harry was on different mission trips and preparing to make a living and save up some money in order to be fully prepared to support a wife and a baby within 9 months of marriage. I didn’t even describe all of Harry’s visits because they were simply uneventful. So let’s get this back on track: My mother made the remark about the engagement some time at the end of March.

I knew I didn’t have much time left. Engagements are typically short. A three-month engagement would be a long time in our group. The average engagement time is around 4-6 weeks, and all of that time is used for marriage preparations as the majority of the “falling in love” and “making the decision” was supposed to be made prior to engagement. My insides were in a constant state of burning, my mind rattling. I saw the beginning of the rest of my life right in front of me. Once I was married, there was no way out anymore. I’d have to be obedient to my husband. I’d have to have kids, if I wanted or not. I realized that within the time of just one year at that moment, I might be sitting at home with a 2 month old. The thought alone made me dizzy. I was NOT prepared for any of that.

On the other side, I also started seeing things that were wrong in the movement. The engagement remark which left me so helpless, and feeling strongly in a position where every decision of my life was already made and agreed on didn’t suit me at all. I started dreaming of what I would do if I had the choice.

I wouldn’t get married for now. I’d started to regret hating school, so I also wished I could somehow go back to school and learn something useful. I always loved art, history and geography. I loved the universe and watching all the stars, wondering what they would look close up. I always loved big masses of ice and cold climate. I started to think that if I didn’t get married and wasn’t in the movement, I’d become a Nasa person, observing and calculating stars, thinking about big events in the universe. Or maybe I could become a geologist somewhere cold, like Antarctica, and research the processes in the ice and what happened a long time ago. I even considered becoming something like a paleontologist and study dinosaurs and climate way back. That was a thought unheard of in our family. All of these three professions were ungodly and against the bible, utterly humanist and naturalist. I was so curious to know things that are veiled to humanity, like times way before our time. But I was bad at math, I thought I might not be the right person for each of those three. If I couldn’t do it, I might just settle for some ancient culture studies. Egypt maybe, or south american ancient history.

During this process of thought I realized that I’d never make it anywhere close to that. I’d never be allowed to consider whether there’s life on other planets, or if the big bang is true. I’d never be allowed to think that humans and dinosaurs didn’t meet. I’d never be allowed to think that an old culture was anything but ungodly behaviour which died for a God reason – because God hated their unspeakable blasphemous acts.

I was getting frustrated with the life ahead of me. I knew I would die stupid and unhappy if I followed that road. The narrow path got really narrow, like walls coming closer and closer to each other, crushing your chest, leaving you unable to breathe. I decided that I had only one chance to escape this life. And that chance, funny enough, seemed to be Harry.

I went to Tiffany’s house with a plan in my mind. I needed to call Beth and ask for her help. After all, she was Harry’s sister, so she knew him much better than I did. Tiffany gladly agreed to let me call her. Beth was happy to hear from me after a rather long time of silence between us. She asked me a bunch of small talk questions but finally got to the point where she asked how things were between Harry and me. I explained her what my mother said, and she agreed with me that Harry proposing to me was very near, just within a few days range. I told her about my thoughts, that I wasn’t ready to be a wife and mother, that I wanted to be something else, that I wanted to decide some things on my own. Beth immediately suggested running away. I didn’t think of running away as the only chance for me yet, so I disagreed.

I told her about the plan I had come up with: I would ask Harry to leave the movement with me. We would keep the act up for our families, as I didn’t want to be cut off, but we’d live like the other people did. Normal. I’d tell him that he would get so many benefits from that lifestyle. That I’d make money, that we wouldn’t have to have that many kids, that we could have so much fun together as a worldly couple.

Beth didn’t sound convinced at all. “You know, Harry is deeply rooted in his beliefs. Some things he believes are outright stupid, but he believes that he loves Jesus more than anyone, that the movement is the only way to be saved. I don’t think he’ll give that up, no matter how much he loves you.”

“I can try. Maybe he secretly feels the same way.”

“Yes, Lisa, maybe, but then what? You’d still marry a man you don’t love. Do you know what that means? You’ll have to put up with his little faults every day. You’ll have to care for him in sickness, in poverty, and all that without love? Is that fair to you, or him? Can you really sleep with somebody you don’t love – every night? And act like you love him? That’s just a horrible thing to do.”

I hated how right Beth was. I was deeply ashamed that I had already acted like I was in love. My cheeks burnt at the realisation that the damage was done and I’d have to keep up this terrible act for the rest of my life. Out of sheer frustration, I told Beth:

“Well, then I’ll tell him the truth. And that he can have a girlfriend on the side who really loves him, so he gets the love he deserves and we’re both out of the movement!”

“Lisa, that is possibly the dumbest idea you’ve had since… ever. You know that won’t work. He could never do something like that. Not even worldly people do something terrible like that. That’s absurd and so crazy, I can’t even tell you just how stupid it is.”

She was right, of course, and I saw that I could never ask for such a thing from Harry. Too far was too far. But I still couldn’t give up.

“Yeah, you’re right.. I just don’t know what else to do. I’ll have to try to ask him though, that’s the least I can do.”

“Sure, go ahead and try, but you won’t get what you want. Just don’t break his heart more than you already have to. And if he says no, just run away and come to me, please. I’ll help you out.”

Beth gave me her address just in case, but I was sure I wouldn’t need it. I didn’t feel like I could sacrifice my family on the altar of my own desires just yet.

The next few days flew by, weekend came around. But something was different. Something was going on. My mother bought some expensive groceries and things we usually eat only for important events. She baked a lot of stuff and let me eat it. She kept hugging me constantly. My dad was nagging a lot about how I looked, how I acted. That it didn’t suit a grown woman. He’d never call me a grown woman. I knew the weekend would bring a change. Mom spent all friday cooking, preparing, baking, decorating, cleaning. She asked me to wear something pretty for dinner. Yeah, my parents were always terrible at surprising us kids. I knew that Harry and his family were coming over for dinner, even if they tried to keep it a secret from me.

Around 6 PM, the doorbell rang. In my mind, it sounded much shriller than it usually did. My mom asked me to open the door. I walked to the door in nervous, short-breathed steps. I slowly opened it, my face frozen in a helpless grimace, as if I had just watched an elephant eat sushi, and then fly away with his umbrella. In front of the door was Harry, flocked by his entire family. All of them had huge smiles on their faces and, almost simultaneously, they yelled “Surprise!”. I looked at Harry. He was wearing a rather fancy outfit. Dress pants, sparkling shoes, a white shirt and a tie. I stepped to the side in order for them to come in, still with my shocked expression on my face, murmuring something like “I didn’t expect you at all…”. Harry came in, looked into my eyes and gave me a little bouquet of flowers. Lillies. The ultimate engagement flower. I stood frozen until everyone found their way in. I pushed the door closed and the clicking sound of the lock reminded me that today was the day my sentence might be sealed.


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Eric and Leslie vs the mess of the world

I really have to get this rant off my chest. Please note that I’m not attempting to judge the Ludys for who and what they really are, I don’t know them so I can’t say; but I do judge them for the picture they show to the community.

The Ludys. The perfect couple within the home school/courtship movement. While they teach fundamentalist values and views, they still seem so “normal”, so “perfect”, so… everything a girl could ever want.

I grew up with the Ludy’s books. I used to be a HUGE fan of them, all of them, especially Leslie’s books on beauty and femininity.

While most people consider Eric the bold one with the harsh sermons, I tend to disagree. Eric might be just as crazy as Leslie, but Leslie is the one with the most dangerous message.

Her “hobby” of sorts is to pick on other women, specifically women with children, who don’t do as awesome as she does. In pretty much every book I remember reading, she comes up with a story of how she met a married woman who ‘was shattering her childhood dreams of the perfect marriage and family’ (not an exact quote). For example a woman who looked very ‘messy’. We do not learn what “messy” means by Leslie’s standards. On all the pictures we see of Leslie, she is perfectly styled. Perfect hair, perfect make up (yes girls, sorry to shatter your dreams now, Leslie ALWAYS wears make up), perfect dress and style. Maybe she has a good sense for it, maybe she has a stylist. Either way, not everyone is that lucky to have one of those two, or even both. We learn about that messy woman that she looks tired, her hair looks tangled, and her clothes look kind of… well, messy. That might just be that this woman has a different type of hair that’s hard to control, that she doesn’t like make up and that she hasn’t as good of a sense for clothes as Leslie does. But rigid old Leslie’s comment stands there, on its little throne, judging every woman who can’t be the way she is for whatever reason. And of course, that’s one of Leslie’s secrets for the perfect marriage. Be like Leslie, and your husband will treat you like the queen you are. If you want to convince yourself, I beg you to read an article in the July/August 2011 issue of her online magazine (the newest one with the red cover). The article starts on page 86, it’s called “Mothering with dignity”. You can find her magazine at setapartgirl dot com. I refuse to link directly to her.

Another thing that she loves to pick on (see aforementioned article) is the houses of people. Leslie seems to be a very clean woman, because so far I haven’t read a word of praise in her books or magazines about other people’s houses. Nothing seems to meet her standard. She picks on the messiness of the house, the interior, the furniture, everything. And she doesn’t stop there – she seems to never get enough of telling people just how great she’s at decorating and how much better her family runs when everything is tidy, clean and beautifully decorated. Again, she shows that she simply has an eye for style, but that’s not what I’m criticizing. It’s the fact that she actually has the money to do as she pleases with her house. She has the space, the money to buy beautiful things, the style. Not everyone has that. But by her judgement, these people aren’t to be accepting, they are just a negative example for a christian family. They don’t live what christianity means. She never fails to put people down when they don’t meet her standard of living.

Growing up as a girl, I wanted to be like Leslie. Well styled in my pretty white picket fence home with my awesome “warrior-poet”. She seemed like everything she did was because of Christ, because that’s where her energy came from. And growing up in a house with 14 people, I also knew that something was wrong with us. We didn’t have the money to decorate much, or paint walls, or buy pretty beddings. My mom didn’t wear beautiful clothes and perfect make up. Home school wasn’t heaven on earth with peaceful children. Much of the opposite is true. I wondered why we weren’t like the Ludys. And I’m glad to tell everybody that I now know why we never were like them: Because the Ludys, especially Leslie, is so obsessed with the picture she’ll see of herself in the christian community. She obsesses over details nobody would blame her for. She has a natural gift for style and beauty, and that’s fine, but she uses it against people who don’t have it. She puts everyone down who doesn’t reach her standard for a “christian” wife and mother.

Leslie’s standards are far beyond what is possible for a family with 6 plus kids. I’m sorry to be so harsh, but Leslie has only four kids. I have raised more than that before I was 18. If I had only four, my house might never be messy as well. I might have the time to style myself as well. But not everyone is made for that and I firmly believe there are people who are pushed to their limits by one or two kids. That’s fine too, until the Leslies of this world come along and judge everything you thought was ok in your life into oblivion.

At the end of the day, Leslie is nothing but a overperfectionist woman, something that reminds me of a OCD, with which she tortures everyone who can’t be like her. And I despise her for telling growing girls that they have to be just what she is up to a point where girl entirely lose themselves in the process. Where nothing but a mechanical shell is left, trying to achieve a standard set by her highness and goddess Leslie, and not by Jesus. Legalist anybody?