“Keep a sharp lookout! For you do not know when I will come, at evening, at midnight, early dawn or late daybreak. Don’t let me find you sleeping!” – Jesus Christ (opening quote of the 1972 movie A Thief in the Night).
“Things are either of God or of the World.” My father looked at his new wife for reassurance as he explained things to me. “The World is under the control of the devil right now. The Force these movies describe is not of God, it is a lie from the devil, trying to convince you that he is just as powerful as God. So, your Star Wars toys and all other Worldly things need to be cleansed from our lives.”
Tears ran down my face as he mechanically told me I would never see my Star Wars toys again. I had come “home” from my new school—Calvary Baptist Christian Academy—to find that my room had been emptied of 75% of the toys and books I had brought with me from my mother’s house a few months earlier—my Millennium Falcon, gone. My X-wing Fighter, gone. Two to three dozen figurines of various Star Wars figures, never to be seen again. Dozens of books, from about 50 Hardy Boys Mysteries to several Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, gone. Stuffed animals, gone. The only things remaining were a stamp collection kit I had been given at Christmas, and other non-bedeviled things such as a slinky, a yo-yo, and a checkers board.
My father and stepmother had just returned home from a conference where they learned how much the devil had infiltrated their home. The Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, founded by Bill Gothard in 1974 (later to become the Institute in Basic Life Principles—the infamous organization of the Duggars and supported by Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Sarah Palin), had built up a massive following of young Baby Boomers throughout the country. There they learned all about how to save their children from the tools of the devil-worshipers overtaking our country through toys, books, music, television, and movies.
The transformation of my stepmother and father’s home continued—syncopated music, out, playing cards, out, sugary cereal, definitely out. The list seemed never ending. From now on, we were a family that would “pray together to stay together.” We would not be left behind when Jesus came back to rapture his faithful followers to that mansion in the sky.
“Oh, one more thing, Jesus wants you to write with your right hand. The left hand is the hand of the devil.”
“You never think you are in a cult when you are in a cult... We talked about how it was a cult, joking at first. … But as I spiraled closer and closer to the center, the realization began to sink in. The jokes became real.” - Micah J. Murray, who was a student in the ATI program and later worked for IBLP in the mid-2000s
I don’t remember visiting my mother’s home very much during this time. I do know I was fed a regular diet of terrible misinformation about her so that when I did visit, I was afraid she was going to be left behind in the rapture. Afterall, she didn’t go to church, didn’t pray, and let me play with and fed me things that were “of the World.” Most significantly, she was also left handed.
Why am I dredging-up these memories from my childhood? To tell you the truth, at first, I wasn’t sure why they were surfacing either. I mean, in part it was obvious; I was working with my therapist to reprocess the traumatic day when my father showed up at my mother’s house to bring me to live with him. I had discovered through these sessions how a chronic pain in my left shoulder had been tied to this particular event. I had personified this pain in order to work with it, understand it, acknowledge its role as a protector—trying to snatch me away from situations that weren’t true to who I really was. But while I was getting to know this protector part whose signature characteristic was the feel of talons sinking into my left shoulder, I kept coming across situations in my everyday life where memories of life with my stepmother and father would surface. One of these was a recent visit to Lily Dale.
Lily Dale has to be one of my favorite places to visit on this planet. The home of the Spiritualist movement, Lily Dale, NY is a small community of about 200 people, many of whom practice mediumship and various other metaphysical arts. Although it stirs up a bunch of conflicted feelings, I can always find peace in the 300-year-old protected forest that is to the south of the hamlet. There you can find a Pet Cemetery, and the Inspiration Stump—a place where people gather for community readings by local and guest mediums.
Some of the conflicted feelings this community stirs are connected to my upbringing in the conservative Christian church—This place represents everything I was warned against during that time of my life. Lily Dale, according to Bill Gothard (who, by the way, in 2014 was accused of sexual harassment by as many as 34 women and consequentially stepped down/was dismissed from any Institute responsibilities) would have insisted Lily Dale was a community completely given over to the devil.
Although I don’t hold much faith in the Spiritualist movement, I noted while I was walking in Lily Dale’s protected forest, Tali, the name I’ve given to the part of me who digs her claws into me when I’m in a situation she considers dangerous, let go. Instead of wanting to snatch me away, she took off and soared above the treetops, soaking in the beautiful sunshine as I meandered through the forest.
Temporarily relieved from her talons, I felt as if I was returning to my true nature while walking along these paths. I found a walking stick, perfectly balanced for my gait. Peace emanated from the ancient trees, recharging my soul. After several hours of walking, talking, reading, and listening, my companions and I made our way back to the car and out into the real world.
As I drove away, I could feel Tali’s presence settle back into the place she inhabits in my life. Her role in my life isn’t over yet, but for now, she was content and kept her talons to herself. I sighed as I wished I could root myself to this oddly sacred space and allow my newly identified protector part to experience her true nature more often.
If you’d like to share part of your journey with me, you can connect with me at: WillKoehlerLCSW@aTraumaInformedLife.com or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.
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