The Calm Before… Part Twelve of My Life Inside the Narrowgate Cult at Messiah College
The last entry was pretty traumatic for a lot of people and perhaps as a result of reading this, they were re-traumatized to spiritual abuse in your own life. One dear friend who was not in Narrowgate reached out to my wife this past week and said that reading our experience re-traumatized her to some instances in her past of spiritual abuse. I wish it were some other way – my intent with writing this is not to traumatize others. I hope that this writing helps you understand how abuse can spring up and decimate others. I hope this writing helps you maybe feel the deep and wide range of emotions that we felt. And I hope that this writing helps you to find the bravery to share your own experiences in a safe place. You own your story, and have the right to share it if you so choose.
We were traumatized by the events that transpired there in the Delbrook apartment. And I cannot fathom the trauma that Charlotte went through. We were not to speak to her – or of her – as she was excommunicated. I learned that she moved out of the “girl’s house” that Pooky had lived in earlier with her, and went home to live with her parents. And certainly Elijah was traumatized – their wedding and entire relationship was most certainly over. He was miserable for days, though he hid it as best he could. What else could he do? Was he really allowed to mourn for someone who was determined by Liam to be so evil that she had to be cut off from the group?
Sitting closer than my pain, He knew each tear before it came. Soon He will perforate the fabric of the peaceful by and by (Flyleaf)
Pooky and I got home and talked about that night, we both knew what had happened was so terribly wrong. We rationalized the events, and tried convincing ourselves that it really wasn’t that bad. Classic Stockholm Syndrome at its finest. And we tried assuring ourselves that it could not get much worse. But that, too, was just wishful thinking – It did keep getting worse. We drove over to Olivia & Noah’s one evening and Sophia met us at the door and told us we couldn’t come in. Olivia was “getting saved” and we could not interfere. She apparently had a hard time agreeing with everything, so Liam was there convincing her. I felt mixed emotions about Olivia, given her very obvious relish at my pain and suffering during the hazing. I was told she finally did “get saved” that night, after her husband and Liam were through with her. She really didn’t have a chance. But what was done to her to get her “saved”? I shudder to think what they did to break her. No one should ever go through that kind of abuse.
A week or so later it got a lot worse. Olivia & Noah seemed like they were having a rough time in their relationship. Noah seemed totally sold on Liam’s new philosophy, and seemed like he hung on Liam’s every word as if he were God himself. In my opinion, he seemed aloof and harsh towards his wife, and their relationship more closely resembled a master / servant relationship than a true marriage. They finally asked the group to go through their home and “clean it out”, since they could not do it themselves. James and Elijah were given the task to through Olivia & Noah’s house and pray over everything that they owned, and throw it out if they thought God didn’t want it to stay. I was told they threw out a few things, but that was about it. Olivia & Noah stayed with someone else in the group for a few days, and seemed like they were hoping this event would help them to re-center their relationship. I was there in their apartment when they came back for the first time. If I expected some joyful event, I was sadly mistaken. Noah went into a rage at the things they had left in the house. He yelled why would God want me to have this? And this? He threw stuff around and yelled. Olivia cried and tried to calm him down, but to no avail. He later cleaned the apartment out himself and supposedly little survived. I later heard that they even tossed their hamster cage – supposedly with the hamster still in it – into the dumpster.
I know they say you can’t go home again. I just had to come back one last time. (Miranda Lambert)
I don’t know precisely how we wound up in this next situation. We were told (though now I would be hard pressed to say who told us this) that every house would be gone through and that whatever was holding us back from God would be thrown out. I was also told that Pooky and I were next on the list. Again, I do not recall who told us this, and to this day no one has enlightened us. Pooky and I lived each day in stark fear that we would come home from work or from the grocery store, and everything we owned would be gone forever. We were told that we were only afraid because we were still making our belongings into an idol, that our reluctance showed we still had not given ourselves completely over to God.
We spent many long hours talking in secret about what to do. We wanted to take our most precious family heirlooms like our wedding photos and hide them until the deed was over. For some reason, I remember worrying about the boxes of old Star Wars figures I owned that were still in the package. And what about my musical instruments and equipment? Were they all idols, or just belongings that I was rather fond of? We had no idea what to do. On one occasion, Pooky was sobbing, and said she would rather burn our apartment to the ground than let Liam and Noah go through our home and pitch all our stuff. We were still at this point just a few months into our marriage and all our wedding gifts still smelled new. We were literally and figuratively sick about this, but what could we do?
It would not have been too challenging to sneak our choicest belongings out under cover of night to some hidden location. But could we even do that? We struggled with that – God would know we were holding back. And assuming (as we did) that God could speak to others within the group, He would certainly not allow such a secret to go unchecked. The Biblical story of Ananias and Sapphira in Chapter 5 of the Book of Acts weighed heavily upon us. In that story, they sold a piece of property, then kept some of the profits from the sale for themselves. That, in and of itself, isn’t a big deal. But then, they supposedly gave the rest of the money to the church, and acted as though they had given it all. They wanted to appear to the church as though they had sacrificed everything to God, while holding back. In the Biblical account, Peter asked them “What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” Then God killed them both – just snuffed them right out.
I imagine that some of you may wonder at how juvenile we seemed back then. I’m not sure where or how this Biblical story fits into modern theology, if at all. But at that time, we were plagued by fear, guilt and doubt in a religious system that was using all three to control us. We were once again completely trapped. At this point in time, the group was so closely tied to God and Truth. We really did feel like leaving or even taking a stand against the group was synonymous with being apostate, lost forever.
A few days later, Elijah cleaned out my car. He threw out just about everything, including my High School and College graduation tassels that I hung from the rear view mirror. They had always been for me a sense of personal achievement – something I had accomplished. They were gone. All my cassette tapes of my favorite music, all my tools in the trunk – just about everything was gone. It was a tough blow, a warm-up act to prepare us for when they did our house. I was a wreck at having lost some of my personal belongings that were in my car. Someone later cleaned out Pooky’s yellow station wagon, and Pooky was a wreck because her Grandmother’s antique silverware that was left to her when she passed away was thrown out when they cleaned out her car. That silverware had been a family heirloom and now it was gone forever. Instead of helping calm us about the future house cleanout, our anxiety was cranked up to eleven. We told each other that we could not allow it to happen, that we would lock our doors and flee, but we were powerless to do so.
Living in this perpetual state of anxiety was a terrible way to live.
We packed our bags and were prepared to stay with other people in the group at a moment’s notice if we got the notice that they were going to clean out our apartment. Several days went by and they still didn’t go through our house. We lived on pins and needles in a perpetual state of anxiety and panic for days on end. James told us one day that he and Elijah never wanted to or felt like they needed to go through our house, but Liam was pushing them to do it. We lived on the edge of fear and panic, not knowing if we could return home after work, or even if we had a home to return to. Would we get moved into someone else’s home, like Mason had been moved into ours?
Thankfully, “God” never told James or Elijah to gut our apartment – and Liam never ordered them to, either. In spite of how terrible things were in those days, I can still look back with some level of gratefulness that it wasn’t worse than it was.
I don’t want it no more, And It’s mine, this pain in my heart is all mine, Yes it’s mine all alone (Candlebox)
Elijah and I grew much closer during those days. He would just show up and we would just hang out. We took long drives and he would share mostly about how much he missed Charlotte, now that their plans and relationship were now over. I remember one time he drove through a housing development down by the creek, and showed me the house they were planning to rent once they got married. It stood as a gruesome specter of broken dreams, it was so tough hearing his pain and anguish. I like to think that our growing friendship was able to help him through that time of mourning and loss. I shared with him that it was so hard for Pooky and I, that we were facing challenges in our marriage because of the demands of group. It felt good to have someone else that I could be honest with about my doubts and fears. We hung out together and grew much closer.
Noah and Liam finished cleaning out Mason and Oliver’s apartment. Many of their belongings wound up in the back of Oliver’s trusty old pickup truck. One day, Liam told Elijah and I that we needed to take the truck to the dump and empty it. Elijah told Liam that God hadn’t told him to do this. Liam yelled at him and told him that God had told him (Liam) to tell us to do it. Elijah pushed back that said that didn’t make much sense to him, how come God had not spoken directly to us himself? We were already listening to God and were doing what we believed God told us to do. Liam told us that whatever God told him (Liam) to do took priority over whatever God told anyone else to do, and that we must obey. There it was – once again, another ultimatum from Liam.
And so Elijah and I climbed into the pickup truck and rode off to the dump. I was happy that Elijah was with me, because at least then he wasn’t at my apartment cleaning it out. The funny thing (if any part of this story could be considered funny) is that we arrived at the dump only 5 minutes after it closed and the owner would not let us dump their belongings. I inwardly wondered about this. If God told Liam that we were to do this right at that time, why didn’t it work out? Was God wrong? Was Liam? In this specific case, what he had told us God wanted did not work. It planted seeds in my head that something was very wrong with this concept that Liam was infallible.
Around this time, Liam quit his job, and so did a lot of other people in the group. God would provide rent and groceries, he declared. I was unhappy at work, and felt mounting pressure to quit my job too. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy my job all that much. The pay was lousy, the hours were lousy, and it was demoralizing that my coworkers – some of which made more than I did – didn’t even have a college degree. It hit me hard that all my college student loan debt I now owed in pursuit of my Bachelor Degree, did not guarantee me a better job from those without a college education. What was it all for, then? What was the point? This turned me off from ever again working in the health care field.
I believe the pressure from the group was a significant factor when one day I decided to turn in my two-week notice of resignation. I now had two weeks to find a new job, the unforgiving clock was ticking. But I was certain it would all work out for good – we were on God’s side! God would provide! Half of me believed that, and the other half was in complete denial.
In these days, Narrowgate met any time, day or night, at any house we chose. We would just have random meetings whenever we were together, which was pretty much always. We thought this more closely modeled the early church after the day of Pentecost. We believed were living out God’s original plan, before organized religion messed it up. And we were all striving so hard to listen for God’s voice. Isabella shared how God told her to get up out of bed at 3 AM and go to Liam’s house and wake him up to sing the song Forever Friends (made famous by Sandi Patty) to Liam. Though I should have been saving every dime, I was instead running to the local 7-11 convenience store to buy Emma a Slurpee because I thought that was what God told me to do. It was an absolute circus. We would roam around at meal times, hoping God had told someone to make dinner.
Around this time, some of the parents of Narrowgate members had a meeting behind the scenes to talk about their concerns about the group. As a result, suddenly several parents kept showing up at different locations to try and rescue their children. In terms of chronology, I had written in my journal that this was when Sophia’s parents came to town to try and talk sense into her, because they were upset that Sophia was living house to house – in essence, homeless. As I wrote before, Liam and Sophia went out to dinner at a diner to explain to them what God was up to. As a parent, this would have done little to ease my concerns. It was also around this time that Mason’s family came to town. His firebrand of a mother (and I say that with a great measure of respect) yelled at Liam, calling him David Koresh. Liam apparently chased them off and Mason was discouraged from ever talking to them again. I believe it was also around this time that Rose’s parents showed up at Liam’s apartment in Delbrook and wanted to see their daughter. I was later told Rose climbed out a window on the back side of the house to get away from them. Her parents apparently brought in the police, and unfortunately they could not do anything – Rose was over 18 and was there of her own free will. Unfortunately, things weren’t all that much better with our families – since we were hardly ever home, we hardly ever spoke to them. We didn’t return any phone calls. I can’t imagine how that must have made them feel. I learned, years later, that God – the true God, not the bizarre “voices” and impulses we were chasing after – was active and moving in the lives of our parents. They were very aware that things were wrong – and were praying for us. More on that, later on.
I can’t go on living this way, but I can’t go back the way I came. Chained to this fear that I will never find a way to heal my soul. (Evanescence)
The theory of the “big bang” explains how some believe the universe came into being. Like the sudden snap of Thanos’ fingers in the Avengers movie, in just one instant everything can change.
Our “big bang” came at us from out of the blue, and without much warning. One evening, Elijah and I were out driving around to calm me down from my mounting anxiety. Pooky was at Emma & Liam’s apartment, along with a few others from the group. We drove around and talked about stuff. I had a lot of concerns about the house cleanout. I also said that I was upset at how my marriage was so confusing, as we were hardly ever together anymore, we would only sleep together and then we were off on our separate ways. Oh and I had two weeks to find a new job. He offered little advice, mostly just encouraged us to keep pressing in on the philosophy from The Answer. We went back to Emma & Liam’s, only to witness carnage. We walked in the door and Liam and Isabella were in the living room, alone. Everyone else was crammed into their small kitchen. We went into the kitchen and asked what was going on. Oliver told us that Liam was casting devils out of Isabella, and that we needed to leave. So we did leave. We sat in the car for a while, listening to Rebecca Saint James and watching the stars. I finally dropped Elijah off and went home and went to bed, alone.
The next thing I remember is being frantically shaken awake by Pooky and Robert. It was still dark outside, the middle of the night.
The end of our world was at hand – while I slept, everything had changed in an instant.
(to be continued)
Narrowgate Blog Series: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part Ten; Part Eleven; Part Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen; Part Seventeen