Prior to, “falling in LOOOOVVVVEEE” I was a very compliant,...

My Story 
Prior to, “falling in LOOOOVVVVEEE” I was a very compliant, respectful young woman. But eventually I was in FULL ON rebellion… NO ONE saw it coming. I eloped with a boy they didn’t approve of and they, in effect, disowned me because of it. SUDDEN as my departure from the faith was, my return was gradual over the course of years. I went from being married to a professing atheist to self help, to the New Age Movement, back to my roots… back to MYSELF – older and wiser.
What are some things your family did well in responding to your departure from their faith? 
I didn’t really GIVE them an opportunity to respond well. In my mind, he was the best thing since we got off the party line. The harder they pushed, the more stubborn I became. I know they prayed for me – that was the ONLY thing they could do, but also the best.
What are some things your family could have done better in responding to your change of faith? 
I wish they had not disowned me after we were married. But my ex WAS so smug in his “victory” and in my mind at the time, we (my husband and I) were a package deal. They were hard-liners and wouldn’t back down from their stand (but neither did I). There was stubbornness and stupidity on BOTH sides. They did try a couple of times to reconcile and were rebuffed. Finally, I think they realized that I CHOSE that life and lifestyle and they ended up leaving me to it. I was ANGRY with them and ANGRY with God. Had they softened their stance JUST a little, I don’t think we would have been estranged as long as we were--13 years
Can you share an example of how the church responded well during the time you were leaving faith? 
My pastor actually helped us elope. I’m not sure that was entirely good, but I would not be swayed and things at home were escalating. I think he did the best thing he could in a bad situation. Later in my marriage, I thought all my problems were ALL my parents fault (not yet having come to the realization that MY HUSBAND AND I MYSELF… not to mention SIN, were at the root of my issues.) I had a pastor who helped me to understand that the reaction of my parents to my marriage “nuked me” – that is, totally changed my inner landscape and reality. And it did. This pastor helped me heal some from my feelings of abandonment.
Are there ways that the church or those in the church could have responded better to your departure from their faith? 
Too many times Christians put on a “show” and it comes off SO fake… especially to a prodigal. I tried to get back to church SEVERAL times during my marriage. Perhaps I was judging them too harshly, but I definitely observed, uncompassionate, selfish, sinful behavior and holier-than-thou, better-than-thou attitudes of believers when I was on the outside looking in. Even taking this survey and being honest in doing so carries with it some trepidation.
In the responses of Christians, what surprised you most? 
I felt JUDGED, ostracized and “not good enough.” Looking back I truly don’t know how much of it came from them (although SOME did) and how much of it came from ME. But it DID contribute because I felt damned anyway so WHY NOT just give up hope. I think that, while I was a prodigal, the MOST surprising times weren’t when Christians misbehaved, it was when they behaved as they ought-- as Ambassadors of Christ.
Was there a particular event that had a negative impact on your leaving the faith? 
Meeting and falling in love with my ex-husband was the underlying reason for the disintegration of my faith and familial relationships. The rejection by my mom and stepdad who raised me as well as the reaction of the rest of the family contributed as well. I felt like a pariah. It was a modern day, good old fashioned Quaker shunning… which fed right into my ex-husband’s plans. Our relationship was co-dependent and verbally abusive pretty much from the get-go although I didn’t SEE that until many years later. My dad and stepmom who lived in the same metro area we moved to didn’t disown me; but, over time my ex tried to poison my relationships with that side of my family. In retrospect, I now understand the signs and symptoms of abuse. It frustrates me that I traded my faith for LIES and that because of that I didn’t raise my girls in church. However, I feel that the REASON I chose someone like him goes back to my early childhood… unbeknownst to my parents, I and my sister were sexually abused by a family member for a number of years. Truthfully, I think the REAL event happened then. Our abuser, from toddler-hood on till I was in grade school, was a church Deacon so it certainly was a contributing factor to my sense of low self-worth and low self-esteem. It was also a contributing factor to my rebellion, anger and SINS (addictions to drugs and food, sex sin, and even aborting children I wanted because he was going to divorce me if I didn’t to name a few) while in that bad relationship. It also colored my opinions of Christians while I was a prodigal. I saw many of them as hypocrites and their religion devoid of any real meaning… forgetting my own EXPERIENCE of Christ as a child, pre-teen and teenager.
Was there a particular event that had a positive impact on your return to faith? 
Strange as this may sound, the particular event in my case was my little sister’s sudden, unexpected death by suicide. She was my BEST female friend as well as my baby sister. I found that I NEEDED my faith to recover from her loss. So YES it had a positive impact and was the final piece of the puzzle. Pastor Will, my dad’s pastor, came to her hospital room to minister and pray with my family. When we heard him pray, my new husband made the comment, “He KNOWS who he’s talking to… he’s praying to his Daddy. We should try out their church.” Because of his and his wife Susan’s witness, we began going to their church. We’ve attended there since… almost two years now.
Since God is willing to make something good of all things, have you felt that some good thing has emerged from your journey? 
ABSOLUTELY! While I don’t recommend it, my foray into this world has given a lot of perspective and meaning to my rededication. I understand scripture in a way I never did before. I KNOW the depths I was saved from – not only in life but in death. I KNOW the emptiness of what the world has to offer. I received blessings, miracles and answers to prayer time and again… even though I certainly didn’t deserve it. The challenges you face in life very often, if you allow it, become your ministry. As you start to heal, mentors appear to help and guide your way. As you continue, people who are a little behind your on the path appear and blurt out things like, “I was abused as a child” or “My daughter ran away.” You don’t even have to say anything and they will be attracted to you – not knowing WHY. You are then able to pass on what you’ve learned along the way and help another… which aids in your healing even more.
If you were able to step back in time and chat with yourself what might you say to yourself? 
Experience is a dear teacher and fool will have no other. Listen to that still, small voice. . .please.
How would you advise parents of a prodigal today? 
#1 Start young. Though my mom started going back to church when I was 11 or so, as a single mom she worked 3 jobs (teacher, waitress, night clerk at a hotel) to make ends meet. As a result of that unfortunate circumstance, my sister and I had too much freedom. The world tries to seduce as many children/teens as it can. If at all possible don’t allow too much freedom. (That includes TV, movies, internet, and pop culture. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s harmless. #2 That being said, don’t try to hold on too tight. I was bound and determined to rebel. I was 19. There is a balance between too much restriction and too little. #3 Too many parents try to be their kids’ friends. THAT is not your job. Your job is to parent… to be the bad guy. Your kids will not like you (might even HATE you) at times. TOUGH – get over it and BE the adult. DO the hard work of parenting. Friendship comes when they are adults. #4 Teach your children through what my husband calls “cause and consequence”. The first offense is without punishment. It is explained WHY it is a bad decision and what the possible consequences are. Then the parent and child discuss and agree on a punishment should the offense reoccur. If the child re-offends FOLLOW THROUGH… no matter how much they whine, cajole, or manipulate. He’s done this with his kids their entire lives. When they get busted, they KNOW their actions are the cause and they KNOW in advance what the consequences are because they agreed or decided upon the punishment in advance. #5 Have family prayer/devotions DAILY. Train them up in the way they should go and in the end they will not depart from it. My step-dad did this. Many times while I was a-prodigaling, a verse would pop into my head. God wouldn’t leave me alone. (Now it’s a comfort, not a sting to my conscience). #6 Read the bible to see what God says about proper parenting… daily. You’ll need it. #7 PRAY for your children DAILY and don’t stop… even when, especially when they’re teens and/or grown. I’ve done it the WRONG way. I’m grateful to have a second chance. The right way is better… for the parents and the children. #8 Even if they aren’t young, START NOW. My stepdad really putting the word into our daily lives starting when I was 12 IS what saved me… eventually. My girls KNOW I’ve changed. They don’t understand or agree with everything I believe, but they know where I stand and they like me much better NOW. #9 MODEL correct behavior. Don’t be a hypocrite. Kids see through it and it’s a recipe for disaster. You WILL reap what you sow.