part eight

Three times during the year, Jehovah’s Witnesses hold conventions or assemblies. Usually there is one in the early part of the year, one in the middle of the year and one nearer the end of the year. During the summer, the conventions are larger and longer. When I was a small girl, the summer convention was 5 days long. From morning ’till night. Hours upon hours. With a break for lunch and a couple potty breaks in there somewhere. It’s a long time to sit for an adult. Imagine being a child and knowing that if you moved too much or talked too loud you would be removed from the meeting area and disciplined. I don’t remember ever being in trouble for moving around or talking however I also know I spent my life terrified of getting into any kind of trouble. My history had prepared me well.

Even the smallest child was to pay attention as much as possible. As the children got older, more was expected of them. Most of the parts on the convention program were about half an hour long although there were several that were an hour at a time. Children were encouraged to listen respectfully and take notes in line with their abilities. Some would fill entire notebooks with notes. I have no idea if anyone ever went back to look at these notes but I do know I had a gazillion note books and never looked at one of them when I was finished. I’m sure I was expected to remember all that was said and refer to my notes if I couldn’t but all I never opened one of those notebooks again after I closed it. If there was anything new, it would be gone over again during our weekly meetings so I simply tried to keep up with note taking and absorb the spirit of the gathering. I adored being there. Surrounded by so many others like me was some degree of relief because with all these people, I was normal. I was just like them.

I haven’t been to a convention or assembly in years however I am pretty sure I could tell you what would be on the program for any event happening this year. First would be a welcome talk reminding everyone that while they are there it’s important to soak up every word Jehovah has sent them through the spirit directed organization. Then there would be several talks about the youth in the organization being on the watch for ‘worldy’ behavior and how parents can keep them close to Jehovah in the face of the trials they endure at school and in their daily lives. There are talks about parenting and witnessing to unbelievers and there are talks about what will happen as this system of things winds down to the end. The brothers and sisters will then get an update on the work being accomplished around the world by the congregations in various countries. During the summer conventions, there is usually a new publication released and at least one bible drama that aims to compare bible times to current times. During the summer, if they’re really blessed, the people will get to hear from a brother sent directly from headquarters in New York City.

I just wrote and deleted an entire paragraph of miniscule details I remember from different conventions and assemblies I attended over the years. I read through it and decided those tiny things aren’t important to me anymore. What is important as I sift through the details is what I took from them and what I’m getting as I write them down now. What I took from those meetings was a sense that I could never be good enough. Never good enough for god, never good enough for the people I attempted to served him with, never good enough for my family and never good enough for myself.  

No matter what I did or thought or said, there was always someone somewhere telling me it wasn’t enough. If I spent 60 hours a month out in service, I was told that I could do just a little bit more. If I went to the meetings that my parents insisted I go to when I was younger, they told me I really needed to spend more time with them when I was older. If I had friends at school, I was told they were inappropriate. If I had friends at the meetings, I was on the watch for what I did and said because I could be talked to by elders at any moment about wrong or unwise behaviors. I didn’t view it as a no win situation back then. I simply knew I was never enough just the way I was. I knew it. Deep down inside where we hold the thoughts and feelings we don’t often acknowledge even to ourselves.

I spent the summer between my junior and senior years in South Carolina. With a Witness family I’d never met until I got off the airplane. That story is for another time however, while I was there the above mentioned thoughts and feelings were cemented even stronger inside me. I got a taste, first hand, of what a real Witness family was like and I fell short in so many ways. It was a life changing experience for sure. When I returned home, I was determined to be better than ever.

As I began my senior year, I was making decisions that I was positive were the right ones. While I was a junior, I had secretly taken all the necessary tests to get into college. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that I could go to school. In reality I knew I’d never get to do it. College was frowned on in the organization. It was extra worldy stuff that wasn’t required to serve Jehovah. Everyone in the congregation knew I was going to pioneer when school was out. I knew I was going to pioneer when school was out because that’s what I supposed to do. I have no idea what I thought I would do to provide for myself though. I just knew it would be taken care of. My mom had spent my entire life telling me I didn’t need to know how to do anything because I was going to get married and have a man to take care of me. I spent my whole life in the congregation being told that Jehovah would take of me.

My parents were disfellowshipped in October of that year. I was 17. They hadn’t been to a meeting in almost 10 years and still they were ‘tossed out’. This not so simple act of discipline would affect my life for all the years after it. Right up to the time of my parents deaths.

to be continued 

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Your “assemblies” and “conventions” sound just exactly like my “campmeetings”! Aaaack! The words that resonate most with me are whe you’re describing your fundamental understanding that you were inadequate. My childhood church fed me that, too. I was merely fortunate that my parents, although deeply devout, nonetheless delighted in their children. Truly. And that made a big difference for me in terms of self-concept. But in terms of spirituality? I was supposed to perfectly reflect the character of God, and every failure was a betrayal of God himself for which I was directly and personally responsible. Yikes.

    Reply

  2. “College was frowned on in the organization. It was extra worldy stuff that wasn’t required to serve Jehovah.”

    An educated person is always a threat to people like these.

    That part you wrote about being on the watch for worldly behavior? That struck me. Heartbreaking, Traci.

    I lived most of my life in a way that was very detached from my environment. I was so used to not feeling, that I didn’t even know when to wear a coat because I didn’t feel the cold. One day, in the beginning of establishing a bit more contact with my physical feelings and my environment, I was sitting in church with my mother. The pastor was going on and on about sin and the evil of ‘worldly ways’. We were sitting right up front and he said, “Raise your hands if you’re dead to the world!” Everyone was raising their hands. I did not. This statement dug at something in me. I guess I ‘knew’ that I had pretty much started my life dead to the world. What he said made me very indignant and I sat there and crossed my arms over my chest and gave that little weasle the hard-core stink eye while every other fool in the building waved their hands around because they wanted to be dead. They had no friggin’ idea!! If they wanted to know what it is like to be dead to the world they could have asked me and then they would NOT have been waving their hands around like idiots just because someone told them to. I LOVED being the only one sitting there embracing being alive just for a freakin’ change! I was taking a stand. The pastor was looking at me and I was really giving him a hateful look and I knew he noticed and felt uncomfortable and I did not care. This makes me sound brave and wise doesn’t it? Not so brave when I add that I was 36 years old!!! So much of my life has been stolen from me by tyrants.

    Reply

  3. I linked with you over here, Traci. I hope that’s okay. I really admire your courage in examining this. Please know that I support you wholeheartedly.

    {{{{{{{{Traci}}}}}}}}

    Reply

  4. I just found your blog from Lynn (Spilling Ink)’s blog. I’m so glad to be reading this. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  5. I just read all 7 parts and on pins and needles waiting for part 8.

    Reply

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