Friday, August 11, 2017

Leila's Story, Part Two

This is Part Two of Leila’s Story, a guest post. (For Part One, go here.)

In college, I blossomed. I created friendships with people from all walks of life, and debated subjects I had never been able to before. I began to attend regular therapy and am slowly healing from the emotional scars I carried around and hid for so long. While I felt guilt over causing my mother pain (a year later my father left the church, and my parents separated), I determined my own happiness was more important than going home. 

I began modeling, a huge boost to my self-esteem. I knew at last that my non-Scandinavian features did not make me any less attractive. 

I happened to fall in love with the most amazing man which was and remains the deepest, most genuine feeling I have ever experienced.

Two years ago, I graduated with a Masters in Economics (at the top of my class!). After graduation, my boyfriend and I moved to Portland, where I built a new relationship with my family. My mother may never accept my decision to leave the church, but I love her deeply, and — if her faith makes her happy, that is all I care about. I simply do not discuss religion with her.

This fall, I will start law school, and prepare for a field that is frowned upon in the OALC but which my peers and professors consider a good match for me, with my skills in rational-thinking and problem-solving. The adventures ahead excite me.

I feel free. The constant fear of hell has been lifted. 

Personally, I am no longer religious by any definition, but turn my beliefs towards science and the search for solid evidence before forming a decision. I believe in the need to continually educate oneself on the current world; the urge to gain knowledge is a very important part of personal growth and belief. However, I do not want to portray a message of hatred or bitterness towards the OALC community. Many are amazing, loving individuals, and I fully believe everyone should be able to practice whatever faith brings them satisfaction. My personal experience does not speak to all members. 

While my choice to leave was a painful and heartbreaking journey, it was the best decision I've ever made. I gained self-confidence, genuine friendships, and constant positive reminders from a community of people who are open to the idea that anything they hold as truth can change, given new information. I encourage anyone who feels trapped or has experienced any form of abuse to reach out to people on this blog, or anywhere in life. I am always open to talk if anyone were to want.

To those who remain the church, know that my decision to leave is concrete. I will never return. If you want to say I have "lost my faith" or how sad you are for me, you are more than welcome to; your opinions do not bother me anymore. The OALC is by all definitions a cult, and those who deny sexual abuse exists (and is covered up) are lying. I fear for their children. The denial is also extremely offensive to anyone, anywhere, who has experienced abuse. Aside from the moral aspects, abusers are dangerous and not reporting them is illegal. 

What happened to the person who abused me? He died without ever being required to atone for what he did.

With my law degree, I hope to bring sexual offenders to justice and make more people aware of the pervasiveness of covered-up sexual abuse. No child should experience the isolation and helplessness I did! 

Without books, I may not have survived this far. I am glad I did, and I am glad I can share my story, and remind people that everyone is important. You matter, you are beautiful in any form, and help is out there, so never give up. 

Thank you for reading. Feel free to talk to me in the comments section.

Leila

7 comments:

  1. You are badass. Keep going and don't stop! Success is the best revenge.

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  2. Leila, The higher your education level the more you will see the absurdity of modern day Laestadianism. I refer to it as 'modern day Laestadianism' as I do not think the original intent was to keep people dumbed down and living in fear of a vengeful God. However, that was the message that was delivered to the backwoods hicks of that time period. Unfortunately, modern Laestadianism has attempted to keep itself isolated from mainstream life and subsequently has ignored changes and progress in technology and human understanding. Hence, they still try to hang onto the religious concepts of 150 years ago despite church members now living on a different continent and in a post agrarian and post industrial age. So your decision to leave was not only the best one it was the ONLY one as you would have been pounding your head against a rigid doctrine for the rest of your life. You mentioned you had 'non Scandinavian features' and how your church friends pointed this out at times. Well I was one of those Finns who did fit in feature-wise, but I realized that there was a strong under-current of racism amongst many within the Laestadian movement. I even hear comments such as the 'Laestadian Movement was only meant for the Finns' and that non-Finns should NOT be invited to the services. So there definitely was a 'Finn-Swede-Norwegian' centric outlook on things. As far as your history of abuse...I would say there are many cases. A feature of cults is that they maintain an rigid outer shield towards anyone outside the group but within the group basically anything goes. That feature helps explain why there is a fairly high incidence of sexual/physical/emotional abuse within the group/families which is frowned upon but accepted, while at the same time there is rigid enforcement of not reporting the abuse to outside authorities who could actually do something about it. When an abuser can be pronounced 'forgiven' it basically makes the problem go away thus maintaining the status quo that, 'we live in a blessed Christianity'. Many Laestadians believe that mental illness/depression is somehow possession by an evil spirit or the devil. Thus your emotional issues over your abuse were probably regarded as possession at some level by some or because of unrepented anger by others. Either way it was a lose-lose situation for you. You are on the right track having escaped from the asylum and publicly exposing the hypocrites for what they really are. Keep on going and do not look back. Old AP

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    1. Old AP, I would like to thank you for your many insightful contributions to this blog over the years. Every time I read your posts, I feel like you are somehow speaking to me and all of the church issues I had been dealing with for many years. In 2004, I found this blog while I was looking for information on Laestadianism. More than thirty ears ago, I saw the 1947 work of Sarnivaara which detailed some of the beginnings of the movement and the splits and divisions. My parents had a copy of it at home though I was told not to take it very seriously. I am a history and culture buff so of course the history of the church was interesting to me. Instead of finding the 1947 work, I found this blog. I started to read it regularly. I was absolutely miserable in the church but didn't see how it was even possible to leave. There were certain social phenomenon and unwritten rules that I knew to be true, but I didn't understand the reasons why this was so, and your writings touched on so much of these issues. I eventually took the plunge and jumped, and even though it has been a mid-life reset, I have never regretted leaving as my life has improved so much over the past eight years. I feel like I have become the person I was always meant to be. If I can measure my happiness by tears no longer shed, I would even say I am even doing terrific. I don't know if I even know you or have ever met you but I would like to give you a virtual hug and a big "kiitos" for your contributions on this blog. I could have never done it without you and I suspect many readers of this blog could say the same. Also thanks to Free for seeing the need for this platform and her dedication and diligence.

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  3. Punahilkka, Thank you for your kind words. My insight into Laestadianism & the mentality is probably due to the bitter physical & emotional suffering which I endured growing up in a Laestadian home & eventually escaping from all of it. We endured violent assaults, electric shocks, humiliation, the preaching of guilt, death, hell & fire as well as living in working class blue collar semi-poverty. However, I was able to obtain to strike out on my own and obtain several college degrees including one that is medically related & gain enough insight into the totality of the movement so that I can look at it as an outsider but with an insider's understanding of their mentality. I would not be surprised if we are related as I have a huge extended relationship. However, I have not been involved with the movement since I was labeled, 'persona non grata' many decades ago. I am familiar with Sarnivaara's book & I did see the man one time when he was alive. However, he was surrounded by sycophants so it did not seem possible to talk with him. His book is actually quite accurate but many from the various groups condemned him since he did not take their particular side. I am also familiar with Warren Hepakoski's writings having briefly met him. I think you would find that his writings are insightful and they can be found online. The core of my journey was one day while in my Laestadian Church I realized I had never been born again and I realized that no one in the church seemed to be either. I realized that the church was really just an 'echo chamber' where people kept repeating the old lines and old lies yet no one had any real insight on how to become a Christian. From that point on I began to question things until finally some one was able to point out Christ in his totality to me and at that time I was born again. Yet when I began to speak to the 'speakers' and the Pharisees I ran into a firewall of resistance and I realized that the blind were leading those with blinders over their eyes. Essentially I realized that there was no point in me debating issues with those who were not even born again in Christ themselves. I realized I could end up spending my whole life just hashing over the same old issues that had been hashed around 50 years previously & end up never serving the Lord. So I left and I eventually was led to an independent Bible believing congregation that is still active in local and international ministries and also welcoming to people of all nationalities. I have had a good life and I am blessed with a family and I have traveled a lot. Due to my professional work, I have saved many lives of those who would have otherwise died. I also believe in tithing to my church to support their mission efforts and God has seemingly richly rewarded me for having done so. The difficulty leaving is that there are so many choices whereas when one is a Laestadian Church member there were only two or three choices if you were a man and probably less than that if you were a woman. So leaving the movement takes determination and choosing a future with positive milestones. In contrast I have seen others who seemingly left without a rudder or a plan and they have ended up as dysfunctional alcoholics or even worse as leaving Laestadianism always means one will suffer from some level of depression for a period of time. So the structure of the Laestadian lifestyle must be replaced with a new self-designed life structure which will take a person to wherever they want to go. My recommendation is for a person planning to leave to pursue a technical degree that will allow them to obtain employment as well as geographically moving away from the movement. This will give the person the financial livelihood to survive as well as the distance to begin to explore a life of freedom. My only regret about leaving Laestadianism is that I did not do it sooner. So keep up your good work and make sure you have some fun with your friends going through life too. Old AP

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  5. Good for you for immersing yourself in learning! That's the best way to break through any fear cycle. Congratulations on your growth and successes and best wishes for your future. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Leaving the group is not the end of the world. It sort of comes down to an individual choice between living one's own life as they see fit versus living to meet the church's norms, simultaneously having to stay abreast of the prevailing opinions in the church, as well as living in fear of criticism for any deviations. Some people are happy as clams living within the confines of Laestadianism and for them they have no interest in life outside the group, while others are malcontented but they squelch their personal aspirations in order to remain a member in good standing. But there is always a certain percentage who can not resolve the inherent contradictions within modern Laestadianism and they are the ones who are, "Learning to Live Free". Guess that is why we are here. Old AP

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