Tuesday, April 19, 2011

There But For Grace: Why Good People Make Dangerous Choices (Pondering Pearl and Lydia Schatz) Part VIII

When I first heard about dear Lydia Schatz and her sister Zariah, I felt an eerie chill run up my back and a sick creaturely feeling in the pit of my abdomen, deeper and more cutting than just my stomach. The term “pit” could not be more fitting.

Not having managed to carry a pregnancy very far myself, most women at my old Gothard-influenced church held me at a distance. Two or three mothers who knew me well let me into their worlds, but I kept my own distance when they discussed some of the “methods” that they used with their kids. In the early nineties, one set of close friends followed the Ezzos meticulously, and I didn't ask much because I felt my own grief and insecurities when I did. I also learned that my honest questions about too many details were always followed with an equally defensive response from some of these moms asking, “Why do you want to know?” I learned to stick to matters that concerned cooking and gardening and the other topics featured in Gentle Spirit magazine.

My dearest and best girlfriend has great kids, and I have only ever seen her be loving with them. Discipline that took place while we were together had more to do with consequences of one's actions and sitting alone in a bedroom as a type of time out. I knew of one occasion when one child who kept running out of the fenced yard and into the street was taken into the house and paddled. It seemed an appropriate trade-off for the young child who did not yet appreciate the risks involved and would not listen, putting themselves and a younger sibling at great risk. My friend and her husband loved and cherished their children. I did hear rumors of how willful one little girl happened to be, the one that I grew to be closest to over the years, probably because she was as willful as her mother whom I adore. I respect and honor that trait in her, for it makes her capable of great determination to do the right thing in the face of hardship. And I have said that I suspect that this one daughter may have been harder for my friend to raise because of all of the many similarities they share.

I moved away but stayed in regular and close contact with my friend and continue to do so today. The relationship strain that we do have comes because of some of these doctrinal differences. The worst stressor involves her embrace of the writings of Michael Pearl, followed by her ambivalence when listening to me express dissatisfaction with various teachings of Bill Gothard. And, in fact, I did not know that she followed Pearl's methods specifically by name or in much depth until I started blogging about patriarchy, though I knew that the method presented problems.

The phone rang one evening almost ten years ago, and my dear friend called me, in tears. She was in great distress, and it took some prodding to find out why she was so upset, because it was difficult to get her talking – and this was not typical of her. She blurted out that she feared that she was going to kill her daughter. I would have laughed at her and thought her comment to be an exaggeration, but I clearly knew from her level of distress that it was not an expression of sarcasm. As I asked for specifics, she spelled out for me that she believed that she was required to break the will of her daughter by continuing to spank her (mentioning an mind-numbing number of whacks) but feared that she would truly harm her if she continued. At one point in the painful discussion, she did say that she had failed to work things properly with the daughter that is deemed as willful (though I see her as a gifted young woman with good discernment and determination). Yeah, I know... I don't have to live with her. And it takes one to know one, too.

I asked only the bare minimum questions, still a bit confused but definitely aware of my friend's distress. I felt terrified, and I felt terrified for her and her daughter I didn't understand much of anything except the level exasperation and fear and a whole host of other emotions in my friend. What I found most significant was my friend's insistence that she had to follow a specific plan, or the world would unravel, or so my friend believed. She had to break her daughter's will or she would never listen again, and it would affect her relationship with God in the most negative way. (At this point, there was no mention of love, only a duty that my friend could not bring herself to carry out without guilt and fear for her daughter's ability to survive. She was also confused because she did not get the results she desired.

With my fresh perspective, I brought some other information to the table. Back when I used to listen to Focus on the Family, I'd heard Cynthia Tobias talk about Gregoric Learning Styles and knew from my own experience that I was a “Concrete Random,” the kind of kid that will call your bluff and will likely die like a martyr before doing what is expected of them on principle. They are principled thinkers, and things have to make sense to them. (Concrete Randoms don't do well under authoritarian parenting. It is not rebellion but a reflection of how their brain makes sense of the world and best takes in the information around them. It is more brain and personality based than anything else, one of those things we tell our kids is their precious gift from God to them, part of His expression of love and care for them.) Not long before and thankfully so, I'd shared a copy of Tobias' Redefining the Strong-Willed Woman with this same friend. I came up with a plan with which my friend agreed to comply, just because she felt so trapped. I suppose that she'd only agreed because she liked this other book, and for that, I am grateful.

I explained how Einstein said that true insanity was defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time. It seemed that the stakes were getting high, and for whatever reason, whatever was happening and whatever was being done had failed to work. To continue doing something that was painful for her and dangerous (per her tears and admission of fear) did not seem wise to me, particularly when she readily admitted that it wasn't working. She was deeply distressed, and I encouraged her to consider that the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit. God has not given us a spirit of fear but one of love, power and a sound mind. She felt alienated from all of these things.

From a purely pragmatic position, it seemed reasonable for her to at least take a break to rest and think. There were older siblings in the home at the time that could be assigned to watch this little five year old for the next 48 hours, and they seemed to have fewer problems with their sister than mom did at the time. I asked my friend to do this and to merely take a 48 hour break at the very least. I then overnighted a copy of Tobias' other book entitled You Can't Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded to her, asking her to read it and then decide what to do after that little break. I think that my friend only agreed to this and found it reasonable because she was in such distress. She also felt uncomfortable talking with anyone else about it, fearing some kind of reprisal. I didn't understand that at the time, either.

The plan worked. My friend enjoyed a break, and I sent the book as a Fed-Ex first morning delivery because I was literally terrified and very confused about what I'd been told about all this. And I couldn't just get in the car, drive over, and “fill in for mom” to give her a break. It was the best I could do from my helpless vantage – 1,700 miles away. She devoured the book when it arrived. I'd also like to note that this child turned out to be her last one, so there were no new dilemmas with other younger children.

Inspiring her daughter and fostering her natural problem-solving skills through the use of the wisdom that Tobias offered her in an hour of need worked remarkably well. I still ask from time to time, and in what is quickly approaching ten years at this point, this young “concrete random” has never had another significant discipline problem. She is loving and sweet, and a sheer delight to her family. I love engaging her on the phone when I call, and sometimes her mom will have to ask her who she's talking to on the phone. She and I chat at length and she's sometimes reluctant to hand the receiver over to my dear friend.

Fast forward to 2007. I learn from one of my many fine teachers about the Quiverfull/Patriarchy Movement, Corrie, that this child training teacher whom my friend followed had a name – Michael Pearl. When I called and talked with my friend later that day (the one with the daughter who had success with the suggestions made by Tobias), she readily admitted her unwavering devotion to Michael Pearl and the wisdom she'd learned from him. I was really quite shocked. I asked her several questions that day, but I said nothing about the trouble she'd called me about and the problems we'd discussed years ago. It was clear that this was not a comfortable subject. I was mortified to discover that my dearest friend had used the Pearl Method! In retrospect, we realized that many of our other friends did as well.

When word of the circumstances surrounding Lydia Schatz became public in early 2010, I approached my friend about the topic of Michael Pearl and about the death of poor Lydia. I never anticipated the response that I received from my friend who I expected to become humble and melacholy. My friend who had once called me in tears, expressing terrible fear about actually hurting her daughter and feeling capable of doing so lashed out against Elizabeth Schatz in particular in her defense of Michael Pearl. Her strength that I love so much swelled up and with angry boldness. My otherwise compassionate, forgiving, humble, and empathetic friend said that “only animals” would have done such a thing and that none of the tragedy could possibly ever be any responsibility of Michael Pearl. I was astonished and a bit in awe.

Several weeks later, I broached the subject again. I didn't push things at all but mentioned that I felt badly for the parents (Kevin and Elizabeth) who must be in a terrible state, having to go through such agony and realizing how “out of touch” with reality they'd become. I stopped talking about it for awhile and stated later that I had to ask my friend if she honestly could feel no empathy toward this couple. Initially, her answer shocked me, until I had a chance to think about it more deeply.

It seems that the events of those few days were so traumatic that my friend does not remember anything specifically about calling me and crying, expressing fears about her potential to “acutally kill” her daughter by “breaking her will” through spanking. I asked her if she remembered crying about how she gave her daughter over 50 whacks and lost count but stopped because she just felt so wrong about it. (At the time, I was so sickened and terrified by the number of lashes that was given to this little one whom I knew and loved by her mother whom I knew and loved, I never asked about what was used as an instrument of discipline. I don't know if they actually used the plumbing line.)

My friend said, “What are you talking about?” She and I had a discussion about You Can't Make Me..., about what Tobias taught, about how this little girl was no longer a discipline problem, about specifics in the book, etc.. She told me, “Well, I sort of remember that you sent me a book. Was it you that sent me THAT book? I don't remember. That was a long time ago.”

She also could not remember the specific turning point that changed things with her daughter. She remembers that they did have a big problem with this little girl, but she's never had a discipline problem with her since, well... and she goes on to name a specific event that corresponded with the general time frame. But my friend did state that this little girl in question is now her most well-behaved and good-natured child. In fact, she's described as the most gentle and kind of all her daughters.

When I heard about Lydia, Zariah, Kevin and especially about Elizabeth Schatz, I did little else but think back on the week where I prayed and paced the floor and placed several calls all week to check on my dear friend. The first thing that my husband said – the first thing out of his mouth when I told him about Lydia Schatz – was “That could have been [our friends' daughter]. It could have been her that died that time. Remember?” And I said, “How could I forget? You know how sick I was and how painful it was for [our friend].”

I would love to offer a post here, written by my dear friend who has been a true blue and faithful friend to me over what is now quickly approaching two decades of walking together through both seasons of joy and dark nights of the soul. I called with the plan to ask her to write about her experience for me to put here on my blog. That week of pain that she so humbly shared with me in desperation was so traumatic that it has passed out of her memory, and she remembers only her duty to Pearl after using his methods with the rest of her family's full quiver. Those painful events that followed with her youngest have passed from her memory, too painful for her to remember. She only recalls using the Pearl Method somewhat successfully with the older children, though I don't know how true that is and could debate that it was ineffective with her other “more determined” daughter.

Though I am glad that my friend was spared tragedy, in my own estimation, I believe wholeheartedly that it was only God's intervention that protected everyone concerned in her case. As wonderfully stubborn as my friend can be (a quality I tend to like in a person because of how beautifully it glistens when God transforms it into determination to do that which is right and good), I know that it had to be God's own work. And I tremble. For whatever reason, death visited Lydia and not [my friend's daughter], as I believe that it well could have. I might have sat here last Spring, blogging like Laurie M. did a year ago, talking about my friend instead of reading about a stranger for whom my heart breaks.

I understand the pressures that my friend faced and some of the pain that she felt. I also understand that I was a safe person for her to seek out and am humbled by that. I know that her friends in homeschooling would have rejected her and shamed her for wanting to give up on the Pearl Method while her family who did not follow Pearl would have shamed her for following his recommendations.

I wonder how many other followers of Michael Pearl can't remember the nights when the feared for their child's well-being, just as my own, dear friend? It's in their best interest to forget, after all they've invested in the promises of the power of the rod.
Click to read the entire series on the archive.

There, but for grace, go I. And I am grateful for all the grace that I am given, over and over again every day – God's unmerited favor.