Robin Sampson has written several homeschool and Bible study books see them here.
I reveal a deep, dark past in this post—trusting God and others with who I really am. This was extremely difficult to share but I feel God wanted me to be open and transparent. The entire truth is not revealed as I must protect the innocent. But much of the story is here. We all wear masks, not only to make ourselves look good, but we are often motivated by a sincere desire to make God look good. The authors of a book entitled TrueFaced (Bill Thrall, John Lynch, and Bruce McNicol) explain that Christians wear masks because of sin—either sins committed by us or sins committed against us. If the sin is ours, the response is guilt. If the sin is against us, the response is guilt, hurt, shame, blame, fear, denial and anger.
I wore a mask for both reasons.
Living behind a mask makes me feel like I’m doing okay, but the mask is bondage to sin and shame. To live without the mask is to be known to God and others. Without the mask I can walk in the light and be loved for who I am. It is powerful and freeing.
The Truth Does Set Us Free
I am a recovering codependent and survivor of a narcissistic abuse. Codependents have a tendency to get involved in abusive painful relationships with people who are unreliable and emotionally unavailable. I’m still in the process of turning these details over to God and allowing Him to purge me of the sin and pain. Most of my life I have run on a performance treadmill, attempting to earn love and acceptance from God and others. The result has been a mess.
“We will never please God through our efforts to become godly. Rather, we will only please God—and become godly—when we trust God.”— TrueFaced
The development of codependence has its roots in dysfunctional family systems and occurs over a fairly long period of time. I did not know about codependency and narcissism until I was in my fifties. My childhood was difficult. Due to family illness I was left alone, and as a result I was sexually abused by different non-family members beginning at age 5. It lasted over a decade. The shaggy hairstyles, bell-bottoms, rock and roll, make-love-not-war Seventies welcomed my rebellious spirit, and my life became even more broken and littered with hurts, failures, and mistakes. I smoked pot and experimented with other drugs. Each summer I spent time with my sweet godly grandmother who faithfully planted spiritual seeds in me. I saw Jesus in her love, and as a result I longed for my own relationship with God, and talked to Him often.
Seeking Acceptance in Religion
After a few years of teenage rebellion, due to my grandmother’s influence I became a Christian and got involved in the Salvation Army and Young Life. I deeply wanted to follow Christ but continued to battle shame and guilt.
Married at 17
I married at 17. My husband was a drug addict and a pathological liar. I had three adorable little girls in five years. I love babies and toddlers. We didn’t have much materially but my hands and heart were full. I was either breast feeding or pregnant during our seven-year marriage. I was determined to raise my children in a Christian home.
In my zeal I went from the life of a sinner to a religiholic (a workaholic is preoccupied with work; I was preoccupied with legalistic religion). We moved to North Carolina to be near my grandmother.
Steeped in Legalism
We joined a small, legalistic, independent fundamentalist Baptist church (IFB) and went every time the door was open. (“We,” meaning the children and me; my husband did not attend.) I kept the nursery during church and taught Sunday school. It was one of those churches where if you missed a Wednesday prayer meeting you’d better be really sick or you got condemning looks and attitudes. I wasn’t fed much spiritually at church because I was busy earning love and approval watching children. But I was learning about the Bible at home. I had a deep desire to read the Bible and began buying devotionals and Christian books. I asked question of the pastor reading through the Old Testament. I always got the same answer “the
Old Testament was done away with.” Church attendance and Bible studies were duties. I tried to control our family with my lists of Christian rules, and I sincerely thought I was on the right path, but my artificial rules and regulations sucked the love of God out of our family. My husband was rejected by the church members. On one of the rare occasions when he came to church with us (twice), the second time he went forward for the altar call but was told he could not join the church until he proved himself. He was so embarrassed he never came back to church. After that he had several affairs, and finally abandoned us when I was pregnant with our fourth child. I filed for divorce a year later, and we didn’t see him for the next fifteen years. His children never had any relationship with their father except one daughter who got to know him a few years before he died in 2012. I was completely rejected by the church I had served for five years. I was told I had not been submissive enough to my husband. It was a small church and I think they were afraid to have a single pregnant mother with three children and no income. After the divorce, the churches we visited over the next few years were either afraid of us or were too legalistic for a divorced mother. After several rejections, I stopped trying to find a church. (For more see IFB Flowchart and IFB Common Practices).
Single Mother with Four Children and No Support
I was left to raise four children without child support for the next six years. I was desperate to feed my children, and did the best I could. I empathize with the millions of single mothers in America who struggle to feed their children every day. I supported our family with waitress jobs and selling Tupperware. I met a man who knew my grandmother from church. We dated briefly and then married. He had custody of his three teenage children and I had a newborn and three children under five. It was a disaster, and the marriage ended after seven months when I found out he was having an affair. Two failed marriages by the age of 25 meant more guilt and shame. I moved back to Florida from North Carolina and struggled to make ends meet. I worked several waitress jobs at the same time, and even got a job in a nightclub for a while.
We slept on mattresses on the floor, ate our meals off a cardboard box, skipped many meals, and collected soda bottles from ditches to buy medicine. We lived in a two-bedroom duplex (we did not qualify for welfare because I had boys and girls, and we needed at least three bedrooms.) The church never helped me. We usually had no electricity and often had no water because I didn’t make enough to pay our basic bills (we pretended we were camping with candles). We never had any furniture and could barely afford clothes and shoes from the Goodwill store. I used an ice chest to keep food cold, and filled up empty milk jugs with water from nearby church spigots in the middle of the night so we could flush the toilets. My rent was always late.
A few weeks of the children having the flu cost me two weeks’ work. Two weeks without pay resulted in an eviction notice. As I was preparing our old rusted-out car to be our new home, packing our few belongings and making beds in the seats, my neighbor saw me crying in the driveway and asked questions. She told me about a nearby Christian children’s home that could help us. She wasn’t a Christian but she offered help.
I was devastated. I had never been away from my children overnight except when I was in the hospital having a baby. I can’t tell you how painful this was for me. My neighbor took me to meet the directors of the children’s home, the Blues, who were loving, caring people. I had to choose between living in a car or leaving my children until I could find a safe home for us. In October 1980 I reluctantly left my children at Central Florida Children’s home.
The Blues were wonderfully sympathetic Christians and charged me an incredibly low rate to feed and house my children each week, but it was still the worst day of my life. After I had placed my children into the children’s home. I drove to a park and screamed at God, “You said you would provide for my needs, and now you’ve taken my babies!” I cried hysterically for hours…but the next day I realized He had answered my daily prayer, “God, give my children a Christian home.” It was hard to understand at the time, but it was a blessing that godly people were caring for my children and they were attending a Christian school while I had a chance to get back on my feet.
My generous, sweet friend JoAnn let me move in with her and her mom. I joined the Orlando Police Academy. I was a scrawny 100 lbs, but I made it through the academy. Once I became a police officer, I had the opportunity to work off-duty jobs for extra income. I could only visit my children on the weekends. I worked 80–120 hours a week as a police officer, sometimes not sleeping for two or three days, but I was able to save enough money to rent a house with JoAnn and get my children back home before the end of the year, after being separated from them for five months.
Once I got the children back in 1981, I still had to work at least eighty hours a week to pay for childcare for the four of them. I was exhausted for years, going from one job to another, and back and forth to different babysitters. We struggled for the next five years, but we did okay. I saved enough money to buy a small home in Pine Hills, Florida. We had a bit of normalcy—at least for a family of four children and a single mother with several jobs. I took every extra job I could find, but there was still never quite enough money to live on. It was a continual stress and struggle. One trip to the dentist or car repair shop put us behind again. In the sixth year of being single I was faced with foreclosure on our home. Childcare for four was more than my salary (why I worked three jobs) I could only get ahead with help. I called Louise Blue at the children’s home and she arranged for my children to stay again for a few months until I could get back on my feet. In 1985 my children returned to the children’s home for a few months. I’ll never forget the day I told them they would have to go back to the home for a while. The look in their eyes haunts me to this day.
Soon after, I met an older man who knew I was desperate to get my children back and he offered to marry me. I married him due to my exhaustion and desperation, not out of love. I told him I did not love him, but he said it was okay, I would grow to love him. He promised to take us to church and put the children in a Christian school, so I agreed to marry him in April 1985. I was grateful to have my children back and for the security of knowing I could feed and house them.
Instead of trusting God, however, I trusted a man to solve my problems,
and my sin had a domino effect on many people’s lives.
We started attending a mid-size, balanced Southern Baptist church in Florida. Our pastor led my husband in the prayer of salvation. I believe my husband was sincere, and he was baptized that week. A year later, because of my husband’s business, we moved to Tennessee.
We placed the children in a private independent Baptist fundamental Christian school in 1986. Many of the other children were in the school because they had been kicked out of public school. Because the socialization was so negative and my six-year-old son was struggling to learn to read, we made the decision to homeschool. Eventually people from our church in Tennessee asked me to speak about raising children and homeschooling. Here is a photo after I spoke on Mother’s Day (with my girls and my sweet grandmother).
Our Homeschool Story is here. Homeschooling was very rare in 1987 but growing. I started traveling to give workshops in various churches in the surrounding areas to help people start homeschooling. I had three more children and worked hard toward my goal of becoming like the Proverbs 31 woman (a wife of noble character). I taught my children at home, sewed all their clothes, baked bread, and taught the girls to sew, smock, quilt, cook and clean. I was grateful for my children, a home, and food.
We joined a balanced Assembly of God church. I have fond memories of the close fellowship we experienced for over five years. We made many friends there that I still have today. The only negative was our experience with a liberal youth group that planted seeds of rebellion in my teenage girls.
This is a photo of my first seven children (see family photos from the 80s here). We were happy in our church. All of us were very active and involved, and life was good—at least I thought so—for a while.
I wanted to teach my children about running a business, so they started selling books in the back of the room when I spoke about homeschooling. Our little homeschool business grew rapidly. The children helped me send out newsletters and catalogs. My husband had a roadside real estate office, so I asked if we could sell books there. Our first store was about 500 square feet. The little store did well.
I cut and pasted photos of my favorite books and made a catalog in MS Word and began mailing them out. Orders came in and we ran out of room so we turned our barn into a shipping department.
After a few years my husband started helping with our homeschool business, and we moved from Knoxville to Nashville and rents a 2,000 square foot building, part of it was a retail store the back was the shipping department. It grew. All of the children worked at the store and we hired employees.
One of the best thing I ever did was have the children work in the stores as they all grew up to become business owners. In the state of Tennessee you must register with the state or a Christian school in order to homeschool legally, so we began Family Christian Academy (a homeschool umbrella school). In five years the business grew to six homeschool stores in three states, a catalog business, and the school had six thousand students. I was determined to work hard and protect my children from the evil influences of the world.
We were in a patriarchal community (patricentric movement) in its infancy, which has since grown to have a huge presence in homeschool conferences, online forums, and catalogs. Homeschooling in the patriarchal way brought in man-made rules and regulations (females always wearing dresses, men having “full quivers,” baking our own bread instead of buying ready-made, the right number of school hours, submissive daughters doing anything to please their fathers, etc.). I had new rules to follow too—and I thought that maybe this time I could get it right, and I was willing to work hard to do it. At this point I thought our marriage had normal ups and downs but I felt I never could please my husband.
I read all the books I could find on marriage and parenting in hopes of fixing all the problems that resulted from our involvement in the patriarchy movement. Ninety-five percent of their goals are good, but there is also a very extreme and dangerous emphasis on submission, and a “work harder” mentality that is a breeding ground for legalism and abuse.
I truly believed I was on the right path, but the “fruit” I produced proved otherwise. I lost my temper a lot, among other things, and when my children hit their teenage years they rebelled.
oining a Cult
My husband was an Italian from Rochester NY. He met an out of work Italian fundamentalist Baptist pastor from his home town. They had much in common—mainly they were both control freaks. Family Christian Academy needed a pastor in order to be legal, so my husband joined forces with the Italian pastor. My husband supplied the building and administrative management while the pastor preached. I was completely against the association and made it clear that I felt he was a cult leader, but I was overruled. This is when our family really began to go downhill. Together they created a King James Only church. The teachings there were insane.
They actually believed any Bible other than the KJV version was from Satan. When another version such as NIV was mentioned from the pulpit, men in the church would scream, “Burn it!” My husband didn’t even believe in KJV-only teachings, but he loved the doctrines of female submission and women being quiet in the church. The pastor was as controlling as my husband. We weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom during services. Our family relationships spiraled downhill rapidly. Looking good from the outside became much more important than loving one another.
“It is a grave disservice to the heart, soul, body and spirit of a woman when she is given the subtle message that the truth of her own pain is not as important as the reputation of the ones who inflict it.” —Quivering Daughters
I tolerated the rejection, belittling, and constant name-calling by my husband because I was a submissive wife. He used the Bible to justify the abuse. After my seventh child was born, my husband became furious because I had gained a lot of weight, and often told me he did not love me.
All of his focus went to my three young daughters, promoted and encouraged by the patriarchal
movement. The women-stay-at-home movement encourages young girls to forgo college and outside employment in favor of training as “keepers at home” until they marry. Most people outside of our family thought my eldest daughter was married to my husband. It was sick and it was wrong.
My husband discouraged my daughters from marriage completely because he needed my daughters to work in our business, but eventually some of my daughters rebelled and ran off to get married anyway. Teaching that young women cannot leave their father’s home unless they are marrying is going beyond Scripture and focusing on man-made rules. For more on the Patriarchy/ Patricentricity movement see Thatmom Podcast, Themommaknows.com, or QuiveringDaughters.com and How Christian Legalism Leads to a Culture of Sexual Abuse
I lived in deep denial. My closest friend once told me, “If being in denial was an Olympic sport, you would be a gold medalist!”
My formula for coping with the dysfunctional mess went something like this:
- Step 1: Denial (Pretend there is no problem or pretend I don’t feel the way I feel).
- Step 2: See some of the problem, blame myself, wallow in shame.
- Step 3: Work harder, try harder, eat more to comfort myself.
- Step 4: Fail.
- Step 5: Blame myself, wallow in shame.
- Step 6: Lose it. Eat more.
- Step 7: Blame myself for losing it, wallow in shame.
- Step 8: Emotional collapse.
In trying to fix our family, I ignored the cultic influence of the church because I couldn’t change it, and just kept trying harder. I studied my Bible at home and had Bible study with the children but I also passed down to my children unhealthy habits of performing to earn love and acceptance.
Instead of teaching the love of God, I taught them (more by my actions, not my words) how to run on the performance treadmill and jump through behavioral hoops taught by patriarchal man-made rules instead of God’s Word. I was extremely critical of myself and others. While I was running on the treadmill I had a judgmental attitude toward anyone who wasn’t on the same treadmill I was on. I worked on the outside instead of the inside, and externally we appeared to be a godly family, but internally each of us was unraveling. We began to live like two separate families.
My husband took my older children to work with him at eight in the morning and didn’t return home until after eleven each night, working them for fifteen hours a day. They spent the day either in the bookstore or in the shipping department, while I stayed home with the youngest children, homeschooling and writing.
My husband and I argued daily. I was so frustrated; our entire lives were so focused on making money that we no longer had a family, just a work crew. I was very distraught that my husband treated my oldest daughter more like a wife than a daughter. They went out to restaurants almost nightly while I stayed home. He often took her on trips and bought her jewelry. He never bought me birthday gifts but often bought her gifts like a diamond bracelet for her birthday.
I called our pastor for counseling. Counseling was really strange. My oldest daughter (in her twenties), my husband and I went together because the pastor was also concerned about my husband’s relationship with her. My husband cunningly turned every accusation of his inappropriate relationship with my daughter into an accusation about my anger. It was not productive. Eventually even the pastor suggested that my husband choose me or my daughter. My husband told me to pack my bags.
Divorce and PAS
The marriage ended in a messy divorce in 1998. I can never fully describe the impact the divorce had on our family. Divorce causes deep emotional pain and everyone involved wants to blame someone. Any military man will tell you that the way to pull a divided group together is to give them a common enemy. Thats’s what my ex-husband did. He insidiously turned each of my children against me by making me out to be the enemy—and I gave him the ammunition. This is known as Parent Alienation Syndrome. It is an insidious form of child abuse resulting in decades of pain.
Almost twenty years after my first four children had been in a children’s home, my ex-husband used that event in our divorce papers to try to get custody of our three young children. It didn’t work, but it tore me apart—he knew my hot button and used it.
He never spent more than ten minutes a day with our youngest children, yet when we divorced he fought for custody—and I was shocked. We settled on joint custody. My ex-husband convinced my oldest daughter—his step-daughter—that it was her biblical duty to live with him and care for the youngest children when they had them three and a half days a week. He used her for the next fifteen years to cook, clean, care for his children, and run the homeschool business. She never dated until she was 39 years old.
My ex brainwashed every one of my children. I was falsy accused for over ten years and didn’t even know the lies were being told. By the time I found out it was almost impossible for them to accept truth. To this day, one of them deals with false memories (even when we show them photos and documents to show they are false.) Years of toting children back and forth between families, re-opening wounds with every trip, was horrible. I was angry and bitter and fought weekly with my ex. I poured myself into work—I schooled the children and then wrote curriculum for sometimes up to ten hours a day. I repeatedly forgave my ex-husband and prayed regularly for him for many years. He had also grown up in a very dysfunctional family, and hurt people hurt people.
Re-Marriage, More Children
In 1999, I married a man who had two adult daughters, and together we had two more children, so together we have eleven children and fourteen grandchildren.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross,
scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Sin Summary, i.e., Unmasked
What gives me, a divorcee, the right to write about God? My past includes rebellious teenage years, failed marriages, and judgmental legalism. I am a sinner. I have asked for forgiveness from God and my family. God has mercifully forgiven me, and some of my family has forgiven me, for which I am grateful. Should Christians who have been forgiven have to endure the results of their sin? Yes, sometimes. Forgiveness and consequences are not opposite ends of a spectrum. Together they establish an essential part of the Lord’s plan for believers. Consequences are circumstantial.
My wrecked relationship with several of my children—the most painful thing I have ever experienced—is a direct consequence of my sinful choices. I’ve repented and apologized repeatedly for those many years that I was wrapped up in spiritual self-reliance and cheated them of the joy of life in union with Christ.
My of my children have forgiven me except one who I pray for fervently. She was the quiet one, deeply damaged. I believe with everything in me she will heal one day.
The rest of us are extremely close have a good relationship but we are all still in a healing process. One of my consequences is watching my adult children struggle with the aftermath of our broken family. If you have known the pain of a divorce, you have felt a small portion of the pain you feel when you are rejected by a child.
If I wrote a book about our lives I would title it “Separate Realities” because we all have such drastically different views of what happened. My children know I love them. But it took years of un-brainwashing. To the right is a photo from a family get-together that my husband and daughters planned as a surprise for me in 2011.
Despite my desire and efforts to obey God and forgive my ex-husband, the bitterness and anger I carried toward him resulted in heart disease and other health problems. I had open heart surgery at the age of 51 and three more heart surgeries in the next five years. Sin has consequences, but God uses His grace through sin’s consequences to draw us closer to Him!
Moving from Religion to Relationship
I made a lot of mistakes, but I can say, as God as my witness, I have never met anyone that has sacrificed more for their children, and everything I have been through has brought me into a deeper walk with Him. I am learning to accept that the truth may never be understood this side of Heaven.
“the change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.” C.S. Lewis
My pain has led me to God. I go to Him with my hurts, cries, frustrations, and anger.
“I cry out to You, God in my pain, because You, alone, know me and understand all that is going on around me and in You alone do I look for help. I give You my hurt, confusion, and all the mix of emotions I feel now, and ask for Your mercy and grace. I cry out to you for my children who are grieving as well and claim the power of Your Holy Spirit to minister to them. I thank You, O God, that You are our refuge and strength, our help and our God.”
The Christian life is dwelling in union with Him. I love the way Mike Yaconelli explains this:
Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of spiritual life begins where we are now, in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality; not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the One who is present in the tangledness of our lives. We need to simply enter His rest and watch the freedom from our mess begin to unfold. As we dwell in union with Him we become transformed into His image, being changed by His glory. Without the Vine to bring nourishing sap to the branch there can be no fruit.
Freedom comes from knowing truth—and the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Freedom does not mean lawlessness. Freedom in union with Him is freedom from shame and not from responsibility. We have a responsibility to submit. God’s Spirit can do His work only as we yield to Him. Jesus came to show us the love of God; when we yield, that love flows through us. Getting off the performance treadmill was a long, complicated, and messy process. I had a lot of shame and misperceptions to overcome.
The Rest of the Story
I continue dealing with the consequences of my life of sin. It’s a journey; we have come far, and we have far to go. It’s easy to lose focus and rely on working overtime to please God through our good works and righteous behavior, but we can never do it in our own strength.
At the very root of all Christian life lies the thought that God is to do all—that our work is to give and leave ourselves in His hands, in the confession of utter helplessness and dependence, in the assured confidence that He gives all we need. ”
The great lack of the Christian life is that, even where we trust Christ, we leave God out of the count. Christ came to bring us to God. Christ lived the life of a man exactly as we have to live it. Christ the Vine points to God the Husbandman. As He trusted God, let us trust God, that everything we ought to be and have, as those who belong to the Vine, will be given us from above.” —Andrew Murray, The Secret of God’s Love
Due to the divorce and the many lies my children were told, I was on very shaky ground with several of them for years; but after my ex-husband died in 2013 (no longer here to twist the truth) they have all reconciled with me. I will always regret missing precious years of some of my grandchildren’s childhood.
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. —1 Corinthians 4:5
I still struggle daily but God reminds me how much He loves me and that I can rest in His strength. He reminds me that He used David, the woman at the well, and even a stubborn donkey—and He can even use me.
- My oldest daughter, Belinda, married in 2013 and has two lovely, sweet step-children Victoria and Alex. Belinda (Lori to our family) continues to run Family Christian Academy in Nashville while living in Alabama helping her husband run his restaurant.
- My second daughter, Rebecca (Well Planned Gal) is mother of five (Jenny, Abby, AnnMarie, John, and JoeJoe) and CEO of HEDUA she designed (Well Planned Day Planners for homeschoolers and publisher of Family Home Education Magazine).
Why Am I Being So Transparent?
- God can redeem all the empty, pointless pursuits of my past, which means He can redeem anyone.
- When we are open and honest about our messy spirituality, it encourages others who may be feeling that everyone else has it all together.
- I trust God is doing something good for all of us. Romans 8:28
- I don’t want to wear a mask. I want to be TrueFaced. I want to trust God and others with who I really am. Healthy relationships can exist when you feel free to peel away the mask and become who God created you to be.
- Submission does not mean you have to be a doormat. A controlling, abusive marriage in the name of God is an excuse for abuse.
“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” ― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child
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