Deer in the Headlights

by Lauren Covarrubia

"Ivan really seemed to look up to these young men who appeared to possess no more brains or divine authority than the next person, and yet his life was in their hands, in such a short amount of time."

Table of Contents


This is my story. It has been long in coming, but finally I have been able to say what I have needed to say for a long time, in a manner that I feel is concise with the voice of reason and darker emotion. At times when sleep eludes me, or when a certain voice, noise or aroma brings me right back to an image of the old me, huddled in bed, sobbing my heart out, I can readily say that I have lost a great deal, yet I have gained worlds…Now, I am no longer stuck in anger, but there is a persistent veneer of dread that I have been unable to shake, despite surrounding myself with loving faces and regaining my interest in hobbies long forgotten. I think I will always be afraid of losing those dear to me, now that I know there are things beyond my power to control. Something happened back there, something that changed me forever. I know I gained a sense of bitterness I did not possess before, a realization that life can hurt to the point of self-destruction if you let it. Yet I also discovered something I cannot yet truly define…perhaps the idea that a religious group is not always a healthy group? And a peculiar new way of looking at how something so infinitely crushing at one point in time, can be overcome. Something along those lines…my belief in friendship is restored, yet my belief in love still remains obscured.

Figuratively I was once on the other side of the glass, just as someone who is reading this may be as far as cults are concerned; they were disjointed things that I read about or heard about, they harbored crazy people, they practiced outlandish ideas, etc… Yet once you come out of an experience with a group like the ICC, you have to look in the mirror and realize that it has not only affected you, but those around you. I believe the worst sting is watching someone you love get caught up in this group, for then you are truly powerless…for the person in this situation, all I can offer is my experience and my way throughout it. I can also offer my comfort, wherever you are, you have my comfort. For whoever is reading this and is still in the ICC, please, please, think for yourself about what you are doing to your life, your friends, your family…

Everyday has been a stepping stone towards the person I know I can become, the strong, independent individual who is once again able to trust others. Thoughts and memories from the ICC haunt me on a subconscious level, not on a daily basis, but when the thoughts do materialize, they look as though the events I write of happened to someone else, a long time ago. Even in the bleak months immediately after this, my main objective for writing my story about my ICC experience was education. I want to grasp whoever is reading this out there, speak my words and then let the reader go, to form his/her own opinion and judgment of me. All I ask is that you, reader, own your opinion…nobody can take that away from you. The ability to argue and reason in a concise and intellectual manner is an incredibly valuable defense against those who would take advantage of you. Your beliefs, your thoughts…they are the most powerful defense you will ever have, besides the love of your friends and family. I thank God for giving me the ability to express myself through the written word…it is truly something that has saved me from a dark night.

This is what happened.

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"I loved reading the bible, not only as a holy work, but it is also full of great literature... I never dreamed it could be used for someone’s own purposes."

You have only got to figure for yourself a girl sitting in her room, talking on the phone. Toying with her long dark hair, she is lost in her own world. She is taller than average, with long legs and a wide, happy smile. She is smiling because she is talking to her boyfriend, a boy who has been with her since she was sixteen and full of ideals. He has been everything to her for the past year and a half…she secretly dreams of marrying him and having beautiful babies with him. For someone who does not see herself as the most beautiful girl, at least not the media version, this is a great thing. Yet there is a sparkle in her eye, a lightness in her step…yes, this girl is in love. She loves a boy who makes her feel like a blooming flower under his gaze, who takes her to the beach and the theater, who is happy to lie with her for hours and do nothing but talk with her. For the girl, this is the sweetest thing.

* * *

Summer was at an end, and I was set to begin school at Long Beach City College as an English Lit/ transfer student. Ivan, my boyfriend, was a sophomore at Cal State Long Beach. We had been together since my junior year in high school, and so had overcome the obstacles of different schools, peer groups, age, etc. Trust was very important; I trusted him with my very life. He showed me a gentleness that I never thought I could evoke in anyone, and in turn I gave him everything of me I could… he was quite intellectually smart, and yet so incredibly vulnerable when it came to certain things. In a very short period of time, he gradually became the center of my world, so much that I often neglected existing friendships and interests to be with him. This, I think, is the first mistake I made in regards to the ICC being able to cause so much damage in my life. I failed to retain a healthy balance in terms of my life itself…there was a time when I was a student of literature, a writer, an artist. I painted everyday in class and toyed with the idea of buying my own canvas and oils. I swam, I jogged, and I had a lot of friends, some dear friends who I loved as sisters. My huge family was relatively happy and encouraging in my endeavors. Yet when I became swept up in the sheer rush of falling in love for the first time, the truly important things fell away, and my life became a slim channel, with hardly any room for other things in it. I think this happened because I had so thoroughly convinced myself that Ivan was the only hope I would have for being with someone. (Dear reader, I cringe as I write this, I cannot understand my low self-esteem and why I felt this way…I am still completely bewildered.)

At any rate, there we were. One day over lunch, he said he wished to talk to me about something very important, and I listened.

“Lauren, I just wanted to let you know, I’ve decided to go back to church. I haven’t been in over a year, and I’ve decided it would be the best thing for me.”

“What church will you be attending?”

“The Calvary Chapel, the one my parents go to. I’d really like it if you came, too…I know you were raised Catholic, but I would be willing to go to a Catholic mass, and see what it’s like.”

I agreed, and we decided to switch week from week- one week my church, the next week his. I had no problem at all with the Protestant church he attended- I found the services light and full of happiness and singing. They also appealed to my sense of reading…I loved reading the bible, not only as a holy work, but it is also full of great literature. I saw the bible (and still do) as a fluid text, filled with many voices from different time periods and cultural influences. I never dreamed it could be used for someone’s own purposes. Personally, I think Kip McKean, among others, knows exactly what he is doing.

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A Storm Brewing

"He was searching for something that he could feel was the 'right' religion, one that would make him feel a certain way."

The first time I brought Ivan to my church, he seemed restless during the service. Afterwards, he said (and very loudly, in the company of other churchgoers) that he simply didn’t feel God in the church, and “couldn’t go there.”

I was stunned, but managed to control my anger at his lack of insight. I was raised to be tolerant of other people and their beliefs, and had assumed (up until now) that he was too. Of course, I’m not saying I believed that every religion was correct or had any precedent over another, but I would certainly refrain from outright insulting someone, even if I believed a religion was downright horrid. Later, he apologized, but there was an undercurrent of tension that simply told me, he wouldn’t come with me again. And, if he did, it wouldn’t be to worship, but to appease me. So I never questioned it, even when we began attending his church almost exclusively. This was my first mistake, my not questioning his supposed “authority” on religion…I never asserted my own opinion, I just went along with him for the sake of the relationship. I didn’t see the point in making a big fuss when I wasn’t even sure myself about aspects of the Catholic faith. After all, wasn’t it his idea to start all this religion stuff? It wasn’t that I wanted to convert him to my religion by taking him to my church, not at all. I just wanted to be fair to the both of us. However, when it came down to it, I was willing to ignore my needs and opinions, to keep from fighting with him and losing him to some girl who was already a Protestant. I wasn’t fair to myself.

I think Ivan’s attitude about religion in general might have made him more susceptible to the ICC influence, though I cannot say this for sure. He was searching for something that he could feel was the “right” religion, one that would make him feel a certain way. I think he was looking for a hand to lead him. Any hand that would reach out and beckon to him.

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“There’s This Church…”

"...everyone was laughing and happy. I was swept up with the tumult of it all, and couldn’t remember ever seeing Ivan so fulfilled.."

One Wednesday Ivan called me up. I was struggling with an algebra problem and making flashcards for a psychology class. I remember hearing the excitement in his voice and being slightly irritated with all this religious drama. Going to college and working full time made church seem like a time luxury I could ill afford.

“Lauren, I have got to tell you about this church at school. I studied with some of the brothers again today, and it was so incredibly awesome. I’m going to their service tonight. You should go.”

“I have to work, and there’s this test…” I was mildly amused at this term, ‘brother.’

“You can’t get someone to cover your shift?”

“I’m sorry, but I really need the money.”

“Well, ok. They have services on Friday and Sunday too. You can come with me then.”

“Wow. What’s this church like?”

“They’re…incredible. I can’t wait for you to meet everyone. Especially Juan and Benji, and Mark. He’s the campus ministry leader.”

His insistence passed me by as nothing to be concerned over; I’d always known him to be a passionate person.

A few days later, (I think it was Friday), he called me again. We hadn’t seen each other for nearly a week, and I was missing him.

“Do you want to come to the service tonight? Its really awesome, really enlightening. I think you would truly get a lot out of it. The people are so nice and friendly, and I’ve made tons of friends already.”

I agreed to go.

Ivan came to get me that night, and as we were driving in his car, all he talked about was Mark and Juan and Benji, and all the things they were teaching him. How cursing had no place in a Christian’s life, how everyone should give up everything in their life to follow the Lord, the proper places for men and women, dating only those who were committed to the Lord, etc. I looked out of the window and tried to think about anything else. I began to feel a bit uneasy as we headed into downtown Long Beach, and into a labyrinth of streets and stores I didn’t recognize. We turned onto a small side street and entered a dark neighborhood. I looked to my left, and there loomed a huge, antiquated-looking church with massive Corinthian columns outlined against the navy blue sky. It was breathtakingly stunning, and yet ominous in some way.

We parked the car and then walked across the street towards the church. A group of collegy-looking kids were loitering by the side of the church, and they greeted Ivan with shouts of joy, and everyone was smiling. Soon a throng of people surrounded us, and amongst the handshakes and introductions and hugs (I noticed that quite a few people made a point of hugging Ivan) I began to let down my guard a little. They seemed, after all, like normal college students. I noticed most of them were carrying bibles and notebooks, with pencils or pens perched behind their ears or stuck inside of buns. I was clutching the catholic bible my grandmother had given me for my confirmation, and felt the small, clean white leather book was inadequate compared to the floppy volumes the others carried.

We went inside and downstairs through a seemingly endless corridor, and in a short time I met several guys, and a couple of the girls. One of them, Marilyn, seemed especially friendly and happy to see me there. She sat directly behind me. We all sat in a small room in the basement with the rest of the group, and as the minutes passed more and more people flowed into the cramped room and scooted themselves around on folding chairs. It was loud and hot and everyone was laughing and happy. I was swept up with the tumult of it all, and couldn’t remember ever seeing Ivan so fulfilled. The only thing was that he didn’t hold my hand or keep his arm around me. Before, during our relationship, he was always touching me somehow…my hair, my hands, rubbing my shoulders, something. I had grown used to the tenderness and the sweetness of human touch. This subtle pushing me away was disconcerting, but I thought maybe he was distracted.

I met Benji, a handsome African American young man with glowing, wide eyes, and Juan, a short, friendly Hispanic with a winning smile. Both seemed more, how do I say this…alive than most other people I met. Wow, I thought. It’s as though they are being driven by something truly powerful. They sat next to Ivan, on the opposite side. I noticed Ivan and I were somehow seated so that we were in the very front row, in the center. Curious.

Soon a short, compactly built man with a quick stride glided into the room, and there was a loud roar of joy from the crowd of kids. He smiled and waved, and then as he caught my eye I noticed his smile grew even more. I smiled back. He lightly climbed up the stairs to the podium at the front, and the catcalls and cheers slowly died down. I remember beginning the service with six or more songs, and thinking how beautiful the singing sounded. I could feel pure energy surrounding me, at the time it felt like the collective joys and emotion of the group had somehow materialized so that it became something tangible. People hugged each other, lifted their arms to the ceiling, and sung from the depths of their souls. I saw all of this, and marveled. It was unlike anything I had ever seen in a Catholic mass or a Protestant service. This was the stuff that true religious fervor was made of, and I was right in the center of it. But I was not one with it. It was like a scent on the wind others became intoxicated with, yet for some reason, it seemed like the wave had chosen to pass me by. I looked over at Ivan, and saw he had the same joyous expression as everyone else on his face when he sang. I felt a momentary stab of jealousy as I realized I was incapable of feeling such blind worship, and quickly stifled it as he smiled at me. I would let this church make Ivan feel he had found this purpose and I would feign interest, if only he wouldn’t disapprove of me.

The singing ended, and we settled back into our seats. Mark began talking about the next weekend’s special event, a Men’s Day at the CSULB pyramid, and a smaller Woman’s Day event at a hotel in Long Beach. I was immediately barraged with urgings to attend this event, Benji quickly adding that I should take my mother with me. I felt slightly pressured and a little claustrophobic. I politely said I would see what my schedule was like, and was met with disapproving glances. Ivan turned back towards the podium, his brow slightly troubled. I felt a chill.

Mark then proceeded to divide the group into two sections, those who were newcomers and those who were already baptized. Those who were new were to go with him into another room. The others would remain in the same room and study the bible in groups. We filed away behind Mark, and he switched on a light. It was smaller, stuffier, and cramped, and we seated ourselves in a semicircle, with Mark standing. I looked at Ivan, and was met with a reassuring smile.

Mark immediately began extolling the virtues of being baptized into the group, for baptism was, according to the bible, the only way to be saved into the kingdom of heaven. He mocked the Catholic practice of baptizing babies who, he claimed, had no real conscience of their own…now I never entirely agreed with certain Catholic practices, but why diminish them so strongly in front of potential converts? Denouncing other religious practices as not having credibility while trying to lure me into this particular church was suspicious, but I kept my mouth shut. I have a religious background, but here was a guy who could quote blocks of scripture from memory. I assumed I was no match for him intellectually, and it didn’t seem like the place to say anything, anyway. Ivan was there. Mark then asked us to go around the circle, introduce ourselves, and talk about our religious upbringing. I distinctly remember one girl, Luz, who looked frightened and tearful. Later I found that she was a Catholic and was being pressured to break up with her boyfriend. There was a guy next to me, a big basketball player from Pomona, who looked clearly disgusted with the entire thing. I never saw him again. I remember Ivan talking, sounding extremely proud that he had already completed nearly all the studies with his discipleship group (in less than 3 days!), and that he was “totally on fire” about the church. Mark looked at each of us as we spoke, and when he started talking about this being the true church, it was like his face was aglow. The man has a gift with words and a way of making things seem rational. Yet, close examination proved many of his teachings to be unsound. Why must one go through a series of studies to become a “disciple?” Why must one have a discipler? If this was the one true church, that Mark fervently claimed it was, then why did it meet in dark basements at odd hours? Why the need to degrade other beliefs as being confused, or evil? Why three services a week? Did Mark have any sort of degree in theology? Why did it seem that he pulled most of his teachings from the New Testament? What about the Old? Apocrypha? The people who had lived in the Americas, before Columbus, and those before Christ, were they damned to hell? These questions flew through my mind as I sat there, and in the days after. What I think bothered me the most was that Ivan really seemed to look up to these young men who appeared to possess no more brains or divine authority than the next person, and yet his life was in their hands, in such a short amount of time. The rest of that talk is a big blur, because I was daydreaming about giving a speech for a class the next day.

When we were finally through (we had been sitting there and listening to Mark for almost two hours) I was tired and sleepy. We said goodnight to the other members, and I was advised to study the bible with Marilyn and attend the Women’s event. Mark stopped us before we reached the door, and asked us both to come to his house soon for Ivan’s Counting the Cost study. Ivan immediately agreed to go. Again I was noncommittal in my answers, and we finally left.

All the way home, Ivan wouldn’t stop talking about the church and how they made everything make sense. He was still talking as we pulled up to my house, and I leaned over for a kiss goodnight. It was a dry peck, nothing like the lavish ones we so often shared. Ivan was a sensuous man at heart, and I didn’t understand why he apparently had nothing more to do than kiss the side of my mouth, and pat my arm. For an instant I thought of all the pretty girls who attended the service that night, and had hugged Ivan. I went inside my house and fell into bed, troubled.

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'I have some confessions to make.'

The next morning I woke up, and hugged myself. Maybe things would turn out okay. Maybe he still loved me and was just trying to do the best for me. I would be nothing but encouraging and supportive. The phone rang, and I leapt up and grabbed it.

“Hello, Lauren.” He sounded somber.

“Hi! How are you!”

“I’m not doing too good… Lauren, I confessed my sins to the brothers today…I’m not going to heaven!!!” The last sentence was wracked with more than a tinge of hysteria.

“What are you talking about? What did they tell you?” I was aghast that someone could tell anyone with such conviction that they were doomed to hellfire. I mean, in the end, nobody really can say, right?

“I have some confessions to make.”

This next part is somewhat more difficult. He proceeded to tell me about his struggles with lust, and how he led me to believe in all the time we had been together, that he really didn’t have a problem as far as other girls were concerned. Out of respect for him, and myself, I will refrain from the exact nature of his confession, but I will say that it tore my heart at the time, and sent me into a crying fit. I remember shouting at him over the phone, and sobbing. He was quiet and very remorseful, but not towards me. He did not see that somehow, he had done me an injustice. He was more upset that God would be angry with him. In fact it was even not the idea of him doing this that upset me, but the deception he had created was what hurt me the most. Today, I realize that he was merely a young, healthy man, with needs that perhaps I was unable to meet, but I still believe that his untruthfulness about the entire matter injured my trust for him. I felt inadequate and unworthy, and I told him so. To which he remained silent.

I felt extremely angry and like a fool. After we hung up, I spent the day at the school library. His words kept repeating themselves… “This church is making me realize my sins and confess them. It hurts now, but really, Lauren, this is for the best. I realize I am not the true Christian I thought I was.” I was so tired and confused; when I came home I skipped dinner and lay down for a while. Ivan had promised to call me after his night out with Benji and Juan, but the phone lay silent. I called his house, and nobody picked up. Then I fell asleep.

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'You should really attend this church.'

Late the next morning he called. I refrained from asking him about the night before, but I was worried still. We had planned months before to go see a German rendition of The Odyssey – I love drama- and he asked if I was still interested in seeing Ithaka.

“Yes, let’s go. What time?”

“Well, I have the Cost study in a little while…I’ll come for you around 7 or 8.”

“Ok… Ivan?”


“I just wanted to say…I want to make this work. I love you, and that can never change, ever. I also still want to be with you, and I remember how things used to be so good between us. Yesterday…I was just upset when I shouted. Just remember that…I love you no matter what.”

“I love you too, Lauren.”

He pulled up, a little late, and waited quietly in the car instead of bounding up the porch like normal. I came outside, and beamed at him. I was wearing the special necklace he had given me at Christmas. His eyes grew warm as he looked at me, and then they clouded over. I felt another chill, and wrapped my sweater around me tighter. Getting into his car, I noticed the bible sitting on the floor, and averted my eyes. Instead of taking my hand or smiling at me, he drove onward, his eyes carefully staying off me. For the first time since the entire ordeal began, I let myself believe something was very wrong.

“How was the study?”



“I was thinking…there are too many distractions that make me unable to become a true Christian. I…was thinking we could concentrate more on the friend aspect of our relationship.”

A little too loudly, and with forced cheer I said, “Well, you know you are my best friend. Where’s the harm in that?”

He didn’t say anything, and I sat back, pensive.

We found the theatre, and parked the car. He walked quickly to the stoplight, his hands in his pockets. I reached for his arm, and he brushed me away. My breath caught in my throat, and my knees suddenly felt weak.

“Why are you…what…?”

He turned and faced the Queen Mary. “Lauren, I can’t be with you if I’m to be baptized tomorrow. You are not a true Christian sister, and I’m not allowed to be with you. The church has shown me the error of my ways. I need to distance myself from you, and give up all I have, like the disciples who dropped their nets of fish and followed Jesus, with no questions asked. Well, I’m dropping my net. I’m sorry.”

A faint memory flickered at the back of my mind, like a feather tickling delicate flesh. Ivan had told me, after his first study, that one of the brothers had found out he had a girlfriend, and told him, “Just get rid of her.” When Ivan told me this, I didn’t pay much mind, because Ivan had held me tight and told me that nothing, absolutely nothing, would make him get rid of me. But now…

I began to sputter and tremble. “But Ivan, we talked about this. Remember? I said I loved you…and you said you loved me…we talked about this, we did! Your going to be baptized?! Everything is going to be fine, because we talked about this. Not a Christian? What did I do? Look at me…LOOK AT ME!!” He kept trying to back up, as I reached for him with splayed fingers. His eyes scared the hell out of me. I had never seen him, or anyone, ever look at me with such lack of emotion. There was a cold emptiness there I hope I never have to see again. He was like an imposter. I realized dimly I was babbling like a crazy woman on a public street, but I didn’t care. All that mattered, all I knew was that this was a horrible nightmare, and my Ivan was leaving me.

The light turned green, and he started across the street. I followed, still too numb to cry. We reached the theatre, and were actually too early to even buy the tickets. As initial shock wore off, and I realized he was not going to take my hand, I started to cry softly. He glanced at me, with a look of mild disgust, and then asked if I was hungry.


“Do you want to find a restaurant? I’m starved.”


“Look, I never said this was going to be permanent. When I’m in the Kingdom (meaning, in the church, for this church is the true Kingdom), and you’re in the kingdom, we can date again.”

“Well, what’s the point of dumping me now?”

He winced.

“I need to devote myself to God, and God only. Jesus died for me, and this is the only thing I can do for him. I’m giving up watching wrestling, and cursing, and other things that take away from being saved. Even school. Being saved is my first priority now.”

“So I’m a distraction. I’m an…unholy distraction. But you said you loved me.” I was crying again. Being lumped with stuff like watching wrestling and cursing hurt me more than I can ever put into words. “You said, you said, you said…”

For a moment his face crumpled, and he tried to take me in his arms. I pushed him back with all my might and nearly fell into some bushes.

“Lauren, I’m so sorry. Please…let me love you like a sister now.”

I had a sudden flashback of us lying together on the beach under moonlight, and my temper flared.

“Ivan, don’t you understand? Things…don’t work this way…what if we don’t get back together?”

“Then we weren’t meant to be.”

It was a crushing blow. I kept crying, trying to avoid the stares of passerby on the sidewalk. He kept looking at me with that odd gaze. The next thing I remember, we were sitting in a small Mexican restaurant. I have no recollection of how we got there.

He ordered a burrito dinner, and I calmly asked for some water. Food was out of the question. If I ate I would throw up. He repeatedly offered to buy me something to eat, but I refused. I was angry and frustrated and bewildered. How he could do this to me, and then try to buy me dinner? My pride would not allow it. I sat there, scowling at him, with my chin thrust out. It was simply beyond me…I had gone along with everything he had said and done, and yet here I was being dumped. In a public restaurant, no less. I could still feel tears coursing down my cheeks, but I didn’t care. His food came, and he began to eat. I just stared at him, at his indifference to my pain, and wondered again about the church. What kind of people could so dramatically alter someone else’s personality? To what end? From my present vantage point, I know that had I spoken what I truly felt about the church from the start (they were manipulative, arrogant, unbiblical and taking advantage of young, impressionable people), he wouldn’t have listened. He had found people who were willing to love him with unconditional love (or so they said), people who were helping him to become saved in their eyes of God, people who were in essence taking over his life and laying for him a clear path, a purpose which, now I see, he’d always lacked. They were asking him to become loyal to the whims of the group, not to God. He’d never been confident in the social scheme of things, and so he thought he’d found an answer for the meaning to his life. I also knew he looked up to the young men who were “discipling” him, and admired their easy self-confidence, their drive. I don’t think making friends beforehand was ever easy for him, and yet here it was all so effortless. I know this would have fallen on ears deafened by rigorous, purposeful indoctrination, or what some describe as brainwashing. Yet sometimes I awaken from nightmares in the early dawn, and regret being stricken with such panic that I was unable to speak these things. I was unable to defend myself, or him, and so I sat there quietly.

He paid the bill and we left. The theatre was selling tickets, and a group of artsy people, all dressed in black, were standing in line. Ivan purchased tickets while I stood alone under a streetlight. I didn’t care about my messy makeup, or the fact that I had dressed completely wrong (I was wearing khakis and a turtleneck). He came to stand next to me, and I promptly sat down on the curb.

“I don’t want you to be angry with me, Lauren.”

My laughter rang out jagged and bitter. “Well, then, that’s so considerate.” Then I glared up at him and hissed, “Are you satisfied yet? Do you think you’re sacrificing enough?” I burst into tears again, and he hung his head.

“Mark said you wouldn’t understand.”

We went inside, and sat down. The theatre was simply decorated, with a center stage. I stared straight ahead and listened to Ivan talk about his plans as though nothing was wrong. After he dropped me off, he was going to drive back to Mark’s house, spend the night, and then attend the Men’s Day event the next morning. He asked if I was going to the women’s event, and I shrugged. He frowned.

“Benji, and Juan, and Mark. They put you up to this. This isn’t you.” It was the first real sentence I managed to form in some desperate effort to speak what I thought.

“This church backs up everything they practice with Scripture. If I want to pass judgment on someone or something, or do something, and I have Scripture to back it up, it is legal in the eyes of God. I’m setting you aside-dropping my net-for God. And it might not be forever. I have to get rid of my pride in thinking I can have everything. Part of a Christian is sacrifice…it hurts, but it is God’s will. I must give up what keeps me back.”

“Then give up your mom, or your car, or something else! Don’t you see how wrong that is? How can you say I keep you back? How can you set me on a shelf…and just make me wait…I love you…” I was incoherent with grief.

“I can’t give up my mom.”

“Then why are you giving up me?”

“I’m going to be baptized, and they said I would undergo persecution. Well, it looks like its happening. Satan doesn’t want me to be saved, and he’s working through you to try and hurt me.” He sat back, looking satisfied with this crazy argument, and I was flabbergasted into silence. Again.

I racked my brain, trying to think of something else I could throw at him that would rouse some sense.

“Your father!” I exclaimed. “What’s going to happen when you leave for Ohio to visit your father?”

“Oh, yeah.” He shrugged. “Its not a good idea to be away from the Body for too long. I guess I won’t go.

“And then when I’m a Christian, I can date the sisters in the Kingdom…just think, I’ll be dating girls who are of my faith. It will be so much easier.”

I felt my eyes burning and my head pound, and then the play started. Throughout, as the story unfolded, I felt keen sadness as I sensed Ivan’s presence next to me. At times I just sat there and sobbed quietly to myself. The second time I did this, Ivan suddenly grabbed my hand. I looked at him, dully, with the comprehension of a child who has been told for the first time that things in this world can hurt bitterly. He squeezed me, and I saw on his face the look of a trapped animal. He was scared, and unsure, and afraid of the pain he was causing…afraid of being damned to hell, yet at the same time wondering what if he was really doing the right thing. I also saw his love for me, bared on his face, and there was a brief flicker of comfort from his grip. I like to think his grabbing my hand was a remnant of the Ivan I fell in love with, who was gallantly trying to fight for us, to retain some sort of reason. I guess I’ll never know, because when I tried to lay my head on his shoulder, he jerked away as if I’d burned him.

We were driving home, and I could not get myself under control. I hated the sound of my crying, and yet I could not stop. I thought I sounded silly and weak. He looked tired, and sat as far away from me as possible.

“Ivan…I’m going to miss you.”

“You know, I’d love to see you at fellowship, and the events.”

“I…I don’t know…I just…I can’t think right now…I can’t breathe…”

“You should really attend this church.”

It was, honestly, dear reader, like speaking in another language to him. All he knew to be pious and right, was this church. Nothing I could say or do had any merit. That was a scary thing in itself-not being open to other points of view. Everything and everyone who was not a part of this church was not credible, not considered worthy of attention. These people demand such allegiance, they insist their members act and speak according to their distorted views of Scripture.

He stopped in front of my house, and without another word I began to open the door to slide out.

“Wait,” he said roughly, and pulled me to him. I went limp for a moment, and then roused the tired dregs of my temper.

“Let me go.” I pulled away with difficulty, shoved open the door, and jumped out into the night. Somehow, I don’t know how, I was stumbling up my driveway, and Ivan was driving away, and I was crying again, because he always would wait until I got safely inside my house before leaving, but he left, and I knew then he didn’t care. I went inside and ran a hot shower, and spent the next two hours shivering under the steaming water, too scared to cry, and too sad to think.

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"If only I knew what I know now, I would see that despite being the strongest force in the universe, love can also cloud judgment, for I was going into battle unarmed with knowledge of how destructive and manipulative this group could really be."

I was lying in bed later that night, famished, sleepy, and uncaring about everything and everyone. It was around two in the morning when my phone rang.

“Lauren? Its Ivan…Mark said you shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“Leave me alone.” I hung up.

Seven that morning, and I was still awake, in bed. My mind had been so tired and yet unable to sleep, my thoughts scurrying about like a hamster in a cage.

(He said if I were baptized…we could date again…my dad will never let me be baptized into another religion…Marilyn can help me…I love Ivan…if I become a sister he will at least listen to me, talk to me, and then maybe I can help him…what if I’m damned to hell? …Women’s event today…I miss him…why did he hurt me…I want my mother…just a few easy studies, a baptism, would it be so hard? …Ivan will come back, I know I can get him back…I don’t want to be alone…please God, don’t let me be alone…so hungry…should I go? What should I do? Oh, I’m so confused).

The phone rang again. I glared at it, and then picked up.

“Are you going today?” It was him again.

“What do you care?”

“Well, I think it would be good for you…I didn’t mean to hurt you last night.”


“Remember, we may date again, but I will only date Christian sisters.” He hung up.

I got up and dressed, then left the house before anybody could ask where I was going. I had made up my mind, my tired, broken, confused, sad mind. I would follow Ivan into the very fires of hell if I had to, if only to watch over him and keep him safe. I would go to the women’s event, alone, and ask Marilyn to start my bible studies that would lead to baptism. I loved him so, reader. So very much. True, it was heedless, thoughtless love at best, but…well, they say hindsight is 20/20. But I didn’t suspect that I would lose, I didn’t dream that I could be thwarted, not if I possessed such determination. If only I knew what I know now, I would see that despite being the strongest force in the universe, love can also cloud judgment, for I was going into battle unarmed with knowledge of how destructive and manipulative this group could really be. I knew they were ungodly and without grace, yet I was willing to sacrifice my very self for the man I loved. How brave of me, yet how naïve.

* * *

I arrived at the hotel, and there were groups of well- dressed young women milling around. I immediately spotted Luz, and we sought each other out. I never found out what happened with that girl, but I do know it was so nice at the time to sit with someone I had a lot in common with. We were both Hispanic, Catholic females, freshmen at LBCC, both scared (even though we didn’t mention it to each other), both there looking for something, some comfort. I think after that day, Luz left right before she was baptized, because I never saw her again, and every time I would ask about her, someone would change the subject. Later, an ex member told me she had refused to leave her boyfriend, and never returned to the service. I am proud of her, and wish I could see her again. Maybe someday.

The speakers were all female, and while the service was not as loud as the first one I had attended, there was an exorbitant amount of emotion evoked by the speakers. One had been molested as a child, another had had an abortion. Forgive me, I should have been more compassionate, but the tears I cried were not for them, but for my recent loss of Ivan. They encouraged us to seek out the ones who were already baptized, and to set up a day to study the bible. I looked behind me, but couldn’t find Marilyn.

After, I walked out alone, making sure that the girls from the CSULB ministry would see me, so that it would get back to Ivan that I had attended. It was raining outside, and I drove home. By this time it was late afternoon, and I hadn’t eaten anything for nearly two days, except for some water. But I didn’t want to eat, I wanted nothing more than to sleep and be left alone. When I came home, my mother took one look at me, and asked what was wrong. I started crying again, and she got really scared. Later, she told me I sounded so pitiful and weary, and she had never seen me look so broken before. I told her through my tears, that Ivan had ended it with me, and she hugged me. I didn’t tell her anything about the church, or the services, or what I felt about the entire thing. Just that I wanted to lie down and sleep. She tucked me into my bed, and I cried a little more, because of her sympathy. I slept like a stone for eight hours.

The phone jangled me out of sleep, and for a moment I considered not answering it. But, I couldn’t help it.

“Lauren? I just got baptized. Benji dropped me off. I feel incredible.”

I sat up and leaned against the wall, staring at the moonlight streaming over the bed. Everyone else in my house was asleep, and it was freezing cold. I wrapped my blanket around me and shuffled over to look out of the window.

“Where did they baptize you?”

“Belmont Shore. They asked me, ‘What is your good confession?’ I said, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Then, they did it. I came up crying, I was so happy. It was dark, and we were all rejoicing on the beach. It was the perfect ending, to the perfect day. The Men’s day was unbelievable. Very strong faith. I have never felt this way before. I’m saved, Lauren.” His tone was reverent.

I let out a small, nearly inaudible noise.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m fine…Ivan? I told Marilyn I wanted to study with her. We’re getting together on Monday, after class.”

“Really?! That’s so awesome! Oh, I’m so happy! I can’t wait until- I mean, you’re going to become a sister.”

“I did some hard thinking today, Ivan. You’re right, you were right yesterday. I wanted to say thank you for- for doing what I never could.”

“That means a lot to me…oh, I’m so excited. This Saturday I’m going on my first date in the Kingdom. This girl, Simone…” he trailed off.

I swallowed hard, and then said, “I hope you have fun. But I have to get some sleep…I…I love you.”

“I’m in love with Jesus. I’ll talk to you later.”

After, I stood there for a moment, quietly. Then I started to shake. Now, today, I know what was happening…I was experiencing despair, and for the first time. I felt strong, and angry, and heedless of who heard me. I smashed my fist into the wall (later I was unable to clench my hand for several days), and then knocked over a small vase on my nightstand. It shattered, and I sank to the floor, feeling sick because of my lies, and sicker because it seemed every time I said something to him, he would hurt me. After a long while, I returned to bed, and slept.

* * *

Monday morning came, and I skipped breakfast. I had no appetite, and it was beginning to show- my eyes were huge in my face, giving me the look of a prowling cat. I know my parents were worried, but I let them believe I was torn up over Ivan, and him alone.

I had a morning class, and then went to the library to meet Marilyn. She was there, along with several other girls, and they all greeted me cheerfully. We walked across the warm grass to the Nordic lounge, where we sat at a low table. Everyone pulled out her bible, and I slowly placed my white one on the table. Marilyn looked at it, then placed hers on top of it, and turned to the New Testament.

“We’re going to begin you with the Word Study, which is a study of what the Word of God truly means, and what a disciple of God is…”

There are many quality comprehensive outlines of the formulaic system of bible studies the ICC utilizes, posted on the REVEAL site. The first of these is designed to show that the studier, presumably the one being discipled, is not a true disciple of God. I honestly do not remember the specifics of several of my studies, if only because my heart was not there, and I was not in it for spiritual guidance of any sort. There are several swatches of Scripture, pulled from carefully chosen areas in the bible, to back up the discipler’s judgment of the one who is in the hot seat. Because Ivan had discussed nearly all his studies with me, I knew what answers to provide, what sort of air headed questions to ask in order that Marilyn and the others would think they were “leading” me, yet even they picked up on my “quickness.” They did not know, but I was in a rush to hurry up with the studies, so I could become baptized, and be with Ivan. I was mouthing words, playing along, lying. I didn’t care. I admitted to being unsaved and unclean. I knew they were suspicious at my quickness. I said I fully understood-and agreed with-everything Ivan said and did the other night, and in the same breath I asked when we could begin the next study. There were pleased glances all around the table, and Marilyn said I could call her whenever I was ready. We said goodbye, and I left the lounge.

Later that day, I was sipping orange juice (I had begun to feel a little lightheaded) and trying to read for class. But all I could think of was him. I grabbed the phone off the floor and called Marilyn, and left her a voicemail saying I wanted to study the next morning. She never called me back, and the next day, Ivan called to tell me Marilyn was a fallaway. We were not to speak of her or to her, since she had betrayed the kingdom of God, and was now driven by Satan. When I heard this I was very upset and asked Ivan what had happened. I was curtly told never to question someone who was spiritually “higher” than me, especially a man.

Feeling very confused, I went over to my friend Marie’s house to visit. I had told her about the breakup, but nothing about the church. When I began talking about why I hadn’t been around lately, she looked at me curiously, and then said nothing. We had gone to CCD together (Catholic school that prepares you for confirmation). Later she told me I looked and acted so different, it completely freaked her out. I wasn’t crying, I was too calm. She especially didn’t understand Ivan’s reasoning, the entire dropping one’s life for God, and I was too afraid of her getting upset at me to try and explain the church and their practices to her. I was so ashamed of myself for being needy of Ivan and upset that I couldn’t even tell my best friend everything I was thinking and feeling. I do recall asking her to go to a service with me, I’m not sure which one, but she never went. Nonetheless, she knew something was very wrong. She invited me to her Halloween party in a couple of weeks, and I said I’d go.

Ivan called after I got home, and asked if I was going to service that night, and maybe we could go together? I promptly said yes, grabbed my jacket, and yelled goodbye to my parents, who were sitting in the living room. By this time, they knew where I was going, and whom I was going to be with, but I don’t think they knew yet what kind of danger I was in. I hopped in my car and drove to Ivan’s house. His mother was standing on the porch, and she came up to my window, and squeezed my shoulder. Her eyes were questioning, and sympathetic.

“Lauren, how are you?”

“I’m okay.”

She leaned in, with a furtive look at Ivan coming out of the house, and whispered, “Is this church…ok?”

I feigned cheerfulness and quickly nodded. She saw the tears at the corners of my eyes, and patted my arm. I know she knew, and I know she saw what I meant to do. Ivan jumped in and slammed the door.

“Ready to go?”

I put the car in drive and zoomed off towards Long Beach. I didn’t look at Ivan the whole time, and we barely spoke, but I was in heaven, for I imagined driving away, far away, in a distant place where it was all right to hold him safe in my arms again, and rest my cheek against his.

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In The Midst

"How prideful this group is, that they claim to know how and who God would punish. All I wanted was my Ivan back."

Inside the basement again. I set down my jacket and bag, and smiled at Ivan.

“Want to sit down?” He was wearing my favorite shirt on him, green to match his eyes. I couldn’t stop looking at him.

“I think I’m going to fellowship first, before Mark gets here.” He set off towards a large group of people, including Benji, Juan, and Simone.

I looked around, at a loss of what to do or how to act, and walked towards the side of the room. My shoelaces came untied, and I stooped to tie them. When I stood up, there was a short, spunky-looking dark blonde girl sitting in front of me. I smiled, and she grinned back. Her name, I soon learned, was Jennifer, and she was strategically (I learned this later) placed so that she would become my discipler because of Marilyn’s departure. We started talking, but then Mark strode in, and I looked around for Ivan. That was when I first noticed that, generally speaking, men and women sit separately during ICC services, and bible studies are always separated by sex. This is so as to not “distract” from the true meaning of the study, and is only the beginning of the rigorous rules set up and enforced by the ICC as far as relationships and dating are concerned. Ivan was ensconced in a group of men, and I hastily sat down next to some girls I didn’t know as Mark began talking. I remember the sermon being titled, “Will the real Christians please stand up?” Mark always, always hammered into us the concepts of what a true Christian acted, thought and behaved. To do this, he claimed, we needed to DO WHAT HE SAID. Over and over, he shouted this at us. I doodled in my new bible that Marilyn had given me before she left, and pretended to nod with everyone else.

It was Mark’s birthday, and unbeknownst to him, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Janelle had smuggled in a cake to celebrate. The cake was sliced and passed around to everyone, and people began filing up to the podium to address Mark and Elizabeth, and talk about all the wonderful things they did, and incredible differences they made in the lives of the congregation. Ivan was in the line. When he spoke, he mentioned the love he felt for Mark, for all of the people in the group, and how they had changed his life for the better. His voice shook with emotion and his eyes were wet. I sat there holding an untouched slab of cake, staring into space. His daughter crossed my line of vision, and I felt so sad for her…she was all of five years old, and already being preached to. I was then led by someone-I don’t know who- to meet Elizabeth, and was introduced.

“Elizabeth, this is Ivan’s ex girlfriend.” The circle of women blurred suddenly when she said ex. I ran out.

I was sitting in the car when Ivan finally came out. I pulled away from the curb, and heard him from far away, asking about my previous studies, sin lists, confessions, how powerful that night’s sermon had been…so many other things I was sick to death of hearing about.

“I’m going to resume studying with Jennifer.” My voice sounded tired.

“You are? That’s so wonderful.” He smiled, and I thought my heart would crack. “You know, we all were afraid that you wouldn’t continue with the studies, because Marilyn was influenced by Satan, and you were studying with her.”

We drove on in silence. As I neared his house, I felt my throat clench, and my eyes well up.

“When will I see you?”

“Next service.” He was unbuckling his seatbelt, about to walk out of my life again, and I felt something in me rip.

“I love you. I still do.”

He looked at me, for a long time. I stared at my hands.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because I still think you are beautiful.”

The tears spilled onto my trembling cheeks.

“Even though I’m unsaved.” I was bitter.

Whatever was resurrected between us for that brief moment, I dashed with my anger. He got out, his face a bland wall, and went inside without a backward glance.

The next week was a tumult of school, work and bible studies. Halloween arrived, and I had but two studies left to complete before I could be baptized. I was wild with excitement, and ignored friends, family and school, to hurry up the process. By Christmas Ivan and I might even be back together. Halloween night I had planned to go over to my friend Marie’s party, after my study with Jennifer at Mark and Elizabeth’s house. She (Marie) was expecting me around seven.

The night before Halloween, I told my mom in the kitchen that I meant to be baptized, and she looked at me carefully. I don’t think she knew why I was doing it, but she knew it wasn’t for the right reasons one should get baptized. She told me I had better go and tell my father, and that was when things got ugly.

He didn’t shout, he listened carefully, and then said that if I was going to ignore the religion he had provided me with, I could wait until after my eighteenth birthday, and while I was at it, I could move out. Scared, I begged him to listen to me, but he was hurt and angry and scared, because my father works for a local community college, and knows all about the ICC. As he sat there and told me about how he heard bad things about the church, I stared at him, wanting to tell him I agreed with everything he said, but I couldn’t. I was so full of shame and guilt and grief, I could only scramble about for words. Now I realize that in fact one of my greatest protectors to walk this earth had eventually saved me in the only way he could-by being stubborn and willful. I suppose I take after him.

After, I went to my room and stretched out on my bed, brooding. I could move in with Jennifer, or any of other girls who shared apartments. But first, I had to finish the studies.

Ivan called a little later that night, and gushed about his first date in the kingdom. He had taken to calling me more than he had when we were still going out. Odd.

“How was it?”

“So much better than what I was doing before.”

After that, I ate an entire carton of strawberry ice cream.

The next night I pulled on a scarf, sweater and long pants, and drove to Mark and Elizabeth’s house, which is about three miles from mine. When I arrived, there were members of the church who greeted me warmly, then continued cavorting around the lush, brightly lit house, helping get Mark’s two daughters ready for trick-or-treating. I sat on the plush leather couch and gazed at how richly decorated and lavish the house was, the blueness of the huge pool in the large backyard, the tropical gardens, the shining floors. The vastness of the fireplace and the expensive looking kitchen and brickwork made me feel strangely ill. It wasn’t until that night that I began to realize the ICC is centered on money. It was obvious that Mark didn’t work, so where had the fancy house come from? The answer wasn’t all that earthshattering to me, once I realized it, but it made me more than a bit upset with Ivan for not figuring it out himself what a scam it all was. Then again, the ICC teaches their followers that tithing is biblical. I believe they collect money once a week, with larger contributions held occasionally. Everyone is pressured into giving more and more. This is a perfect example of distorting scripture to serve their own purposes. However, they fail to mention the entire business before you are baptized. The only reason I found out about it for sure, was because later that same week, I overheard something about “special contributions”, and put two and two together.

Jennifer and I sat on the porch and handed out candy to trick or treaters, and studied the bible in between. When Mark and Elizabeth led their daughters off into the night (each dressed as a fairy princess), he asked us to straighten up the house, as it was pretty messy. It still makes me ill to this day that I cleaned that house for those people.

Before I knew it, it was almost ten, and I hadn’t left for Marie’s party. I was pulling on my jacket, when Mark walked in unexpectedly.

“I overheard you and Jennifer. What’s this about waiting to be baptized after your birthday? Don’t you want to be saved? What if you die before then? You’ll go to hell.” He stood there in his leather jacket, looking up at me.

“Jennifer said I could wait…my dad won’t let me do this until I’m a legal adult…it’s only a few weeks away.”

“Is God more important, or your father?” His eyes glowed.

I was silent. But I wanted to shout at him.

“It looks like you have some choices to make, Lauren.” He was walking through his kitchen, making a sandwich, circling me. I looked at Jennifer. We’d discussed this, and she had promised me I could wait until I turned eighteen, and then I could be baptized…she stood there and looked at the ground. I slowly walked out in tears. It seemed I had nowhere to turn, nobody to talk to about anything. It was never a question of my thinking I was damned; I knew, deep in my bones, that God doesn’t operate the way these people profess he does. How He operates, I cannot say. How blatantly the line of authority was cast, that Jennifer did not dare to question Mark. How prideful this group is, that they claim to know how and who God would punish. All I wanted was my Ivan back. I wondered if this was the way my life would be as a woman in the ICC.

I halfheartedly drove to the party, and discovered it had been over for nearly an hour. I disappointed my friends. Marie barely looked at me.

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Walking Alone

'Lauren, listen to me. He’s different now…he isn’t the one you fell in love with.'

The breaking point came swiftly. My older brother, who was a silent witness to the above events, went to a service with Ivan one night, and I was in bed when they came back. I hadn’t gone, because I was falling behind in my art class, and needed to study. Already Jennifer had admonished me for my carelessness. I was upset, but since Ivan had been calling me every night, I wasn’t too concerned. I thought he still loved me, and that was all that mattered.

But, that night. My brother burst into my room, and said Ivan had told him that our mother was going to hell. My brother also said that he was afraid of the church, that they were a cult, and that Ivan had changed tremendously-for the worse. There are few things my brother fears in this world, and even fewer are the times when he is forceful.

“Lauren, listen to me. He’s different now…he isn’t the one you fell in love with.” I turned toward the wall. “Don’t you hear me? He said our mother, and our family was going to hell. The nerve…how dare they cast judgment on us! They don’t know you. One of his little friends even said if I didn’t get baptized, I might as well kill myself. I don’t like this at all.” He slammed out. I was shaking. Call me weird, or whatever, but I can take quite a bit of abuse, as you can see. I am even able to spring back fairly quickly. But, for whatever reason, I cannot stand it when someone violates (in whatever way) someone I love, anyone I love. I see myself as fiercely protective, and that night, the seeds of rage slowly germinated. I thought of everything my parents had ever done for me, and how despite it all they never left my side. There were sick days when my mom made chicken soup, times when I was injured as a kid and my dad bandaged my scrapes, all the sacrifice and work they did so I could have a warm, safe place to live. And millions of other things they had done, all in my best interests. I was beginning to see what a frightful mistake I had made.

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"Suddenly I had the indescribable urge to run, to run before any of them could get in my way."

The next morning was a flurry of arguments. I let my parents yell at me (my brother had told them all about his service with Ivan). Then I stood up.

“I promise you, I am going to end this. I don’t want either of you to worry.” Then I left for school.

During the middle of class I got a page from Jennifer, asking if I wanted to meet at Elizabeth and Mark’s house, just to hang out? I called her during the break, and said I would come down after class.

I drove down, and there was the usual bunch of ICC college members cavorting around the house. The two little girls, Mark and Elizabeth’s daughters, were also there. I sat on the couch and they promptly clambered on me, intent on playing with my hair. They were so lovely.

Mark strode in, with Benji and another young man, Mike, and they greeted me warmly. Then Mark popped a video into the VCR. It was a depiction of the crucifix of Jesus, and a stark, harsh, bloody portrayal at that. I knew what he was trying to do…he was trying to “break” me. Breaking is what the ICC calls the emotional anguish that eventually results in the individual succumbing to whatever the group decides for them. This is accomplished by steady isolation from outside friends and family, accusations and references to one’s personal sin lists, and feelings of: “Well, I have nothing else, I only have the group.” (Sin lists are mandatory prior to baptism, and must be shared with ones discipler, who often may share it with the leaders). This breakage is also done by showing the cruelty heaped upon Jesus with the intent of creating guilt in the person who is to be converted, so that allegiance to the group is the only way shown as being “right with God.” Turning away from doing this, is seen as being selfish or prideful. I was already being admonished for having such a short sin list, and being labeled prideful for wearing makeup and doing my hair.

Then, to my surprise, Ivan showed up. Everything and everyone else fell away, and I filled my sight with him. He looked tired and thin, and when he saw me, he looked annoyed.

“Girls? Why don’t you tell Lauren what happens if you don’t do as I say and follow God?” Mark had seen where I was looking and spoke up.

“He’ll bite you…and burn you in hell,” the little girls said, their eyes as solemn and shining as still waters.

There were exclamations of, “Oh, how amazing! How smart they are!” from the watching group, and I burst into tears. The words, “Do as I say” were not new to me, for Mark repeatedly had used that exact phrase throughout many of his sermons.

“Lauren? Have you accepted the fact that the romantic part of your relationship with Ivan is over?” Mark asked.

“Yes.” I lied.

“You should be begging me to baptize you. If you truly wanted to be saved, you should be pleading for it. You aren’t.”

I glared at him.

“You seem upset. Full of pride.” He smiled at me, showing strong teeth stained purple from the blackberries and cottage cheese he was eating.

I was screaming inside my head.

And so it went on. For three entire hours. Jennifer sat next to me, mute, and Ivan and Mark sat directly in front of me. Elizabeth accused me of not behaving as a Christian woman should, and said my pride was getting in the way of everything. Because I cried, they said I was too emotional. (They couldn’t, or wouldn’t comprehend that I was grieving! They see any emotion outside of worship as excessive and sinful). Mark hammered at me, tearing apart every aspect of my personality, from my inherent shyness to my love of poetry, denouncing these and others as being sinful, ridiculous and selfish. When in the ICC you are supposed to walk about the school or mall or wherever, and try to get people to go to organized events sponsored by the ICC. These events are breeding grounds for bible study setups. Because I am a naturally shy person, they said it might be a problem later. Because I wanted to do well in school and study, I was accused of forsaking God. (Didn’t they think that God had given me an inquisitive mind, as a gift? Shouldn’t I develop it?) I only cried because I was losing hope. I was beginning to realize I might lose, and the thought was so terrifying, I looked out at the pool, and wondered. I thought I was going mad. But something held me back from begging Mark. I think it was something indomitably obstinate in me, something God supplanted in me that would rather have me die before I begged this unrighteous man to give me something that had always been with me, had watched over me, given me my power to think and write and create, to love and laugh, to worship my creator in my own private, quiet way- in nature, in my books and writing, with my family and friends. Sudden realization that God was with me then and had never left my side brought a peaceful reverie to my face, and the words of Mark fell upon deaf ears.

“My peace I leave to you…my peace I give to you…” I desperately wanted peace back in my life again. I was beginning to see that if I kept going with this chase, not only cold I lose what I came in with-Ivan- but my identity as a person that makes me uniquely me.

But I wasn’t out of the woods quite yet. Someone-God, fate, whatever- gave me a battle to fight, and I was going to fight it, until my strength gave out. Abruptly I said I had to leave, and walked out, leaving them in the lurch. Ivan didn’t look up. He was praying. Mark had given me some writings on pride, and I tore them up. They fluttered like sickly white hands in the gutter.

The next night I dressed in dressy jeans, a sleek sweater, and another scarf. I carefully did my makeup and hair, then left the house with my bag slung over one shoulder. I knew that tonight was going to be important, and yet I don’t think I knew what I was going to do, what I was going to say to him. I only knew I was going to need all my strength, and that I had to stand on my own two feet.

I don’t remember the service. I know I told Jennifer exactly what I thought of everything and how I wasn’t coming back. Her eyes glazed over and slid across me without recognition. I was officially damned. I do remember seeing Ivan, and telling him I had to talk to him. I remember his voice, oddly quiet tell me he was no longer in love with me, and feeling a bleak, sinking finality.

“I can’t associate with you if you are not going to be saved.”

“This church is without grace.”

“This church speaks the truth.”

“Bulls___. You said dating them was easier, better. You have said things to me I never thought you could say on your own. I know you love me, I know it. Please, come away with me.” I held out my hand.

“I can’t associate with you.” He held me at arms length.

I felt my jaw tighten.

“Then…there is nothing left for me here.” My tears were quieter this time, and I slumped behind a tall potted plant. I saw him turn away, and I felt as though I were moving underwater. Everything slowed down, became fuzzy. It was like stretching after a good, long nap. Nobody noticed me.

Suddenly I had the indescribable urge to run, to run before any of them could get in my way. I stood up, and heedless of my bible and notes, and bag, I grabbed only my keys and wallet, and walked toward the door. It was raining, and thundering, and I felt the water on my face, God’s water, touching me, God touching me and carrying me on the craziest journey I had ever been on. He once said, Be still, and know that I am God. I knew it then.

I turned around, and I think Ivan saw me. Then I walked out into the rain, away from the people who never wanted me in the first place. I was immediately drenched, and I began jogging, then sprinting towards my car. I wanted to go home and hug my mom, my dad, my brother. I wanted to call Marie and tell her how sorry I was for everything, I wanted to tell everyone how I missed them so, but to be patient with me, because grieving for my lost battle was going to begin.

So that’s what I did.

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"Beautiful words cannot mend bridges that had to be burned hastily, and without a backwards glance."

It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. The memories were always there. I literally had to relearn to be alone in the world again. It was like growing pains, only I was unsure of myself, the future, everything. Ivan didn’t call me. I had given up hope that he would ever come back, because my birthday had passed, and he hadn’t called me in nearly three months. I got sick with the flu a week after I left him, and my fever didn’t break for four days. When it did, I was pale and thin. I spent a lot of time poring over my schoolwork, and managed to ace most of my final exams. Christmas came, then New Years, and I wept because I missed him. I spent a lot of time with Marie and my other friends. They were wary at first, but after awhile, things got better. I am the luckiest person in that aspect. Had things been the other way around, I don’t know what I would have done.

I visited my family during the holidays, and they literally threw their arms around me. Their eyes shone when they looked at me, and still do.

When my great grandmother heard about what had happened, she said, “Aye, mija, be careful.” Simple advice, but smart.

Food began to taste delicious again a few weeks after my illness, and I laughed long and hard for the first time at Christmas when my coworkers and I were goofing off. But it took a long time for me to sleep normally again. Usually I would wake up around three, and my pillow would be wet. I knew then I’d been dreaming. Sometimes I would remember them, sometimes not. I’d always be sad after, staring out the window. Wondering if he was safe, and happy. I wanted so badly to go to him, but in his eyes, I was unclean.

I began to think it was over, he was gone, and I was almost thinking I could live with it. That all my progress and work and rebuilding was finished, and the memories could fade. I would dash out of the house on cold winter nights towards my friends, breath misting the air in front of me, short hair bouncing on my shoulders. I sang in the shower. In a fit of grief, I got a haircut. Anything for a change.

Then, out of clear blue sky, he was back in my life.

He called late one night as I dozed in bed, and his tired voice sounded old over the line. My entire body hummed with hate, love, fear, and pity. He was leaving the church (after all his money was gone), and wanted to apologize. I think he also wanted to see if there was anything left. He said so many beautiful things to me, how he never stopped loving and missing me, how before things turned ugly I made life sweet for him, and how he would do anything in the world to have me in his life again.

What happened next, happened because there was still a great deal of emotion between us, and yet irreparable damage. Let it suffice to say that we did hold each other again, our lips kissed, and for a little while, it was as though nothing had occurred.

But something had happened, and I could not ignore it. Beautiful words cannot mend bridges that had to be burned hastily, and without a backwards glance. There was too much damage done, and while I forgive Ivan, there are just some things I will never forget. Those who know this church, know what it is I write of. I can’t ever hope to be with him without fearing his ablility of being so able to leave the way he did. Not even our friendship, which I once thought was so strong, was salvageable. I tried, God knows I tried so very hard, to forget about it all. But every time I looked at him, I would remember all the horrible things. If I ever was to leave that part of my life behind, he would have to stay behind as well. It wasn’t the kind of situation where one of us could draw comfort from the other. He was so angry. I was incredibly afraid of going through all this again someday, and at times, I felt I’d lost my heart. In the end it was I who cut him away. We don’t talk anymore, and it is just as much my fault as it is his. I still feel guilt for leaving him when I tried so hard to help him, it was a terrible choice, but the risk I would have incurred on those dear to me was far too great. I still think it wrong that I was put in that position, that this group is able to do the things they do. But, it is important to note that they can only do these things if they are allowed. Ivan didn’t have to be taken if he didn’t want to be. He would rather see it as him having no choice, no free will, being brainwashed, but that is far too easy for me. Because I was able to run away.

Ivan and I are now completely different people. I don’t think he ever faced his inner demons the way I did, but I cannot stand in judgment, because sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if I hadn’t. I wonder if I was right in some of the things I said and did. Whatever I have in terms of inner strength compells me to examine what I do or don’t do. I guess this will always be something I will have to deal with…that someone who I once loved more than my own life, is out there somewhere, without me. The only remnant of all this that still haunts and saddens me in a queer, faraway nostalgic sense is that fact that after all, our promises came to nothing.

I don’t expect to see Ivan again. If I do, it will be as though none of this was written, because we will pass each other like strangers. I used to be mad that this group pulled us apart as easily as a cluster of grapes, but I realize that it must have been for a reason, some purpose as to why we met briefly and then parted. I have put my rage to rest, stilled my bewilderment, and quieted my uneasiness every time someone mentions religion. The most unsettling idea was that a cult had crossed my line of fate, and that I allowed it to hurt people I loved through me. Something evil had touched me, and provoked a change that resonates even today. How close I often came to the point of self destruction, too close. I conquered something great, yet in return I gave up so much of myself I don’t know if there is enough to give to someone else. We’ll see.

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"One of my reasons for starting this story was to try and move on, but it already happened in between days, when I wasn’t looking."

Months ago when I began writing all this down, it was an all-consuming affair that had me writing at odd hours in the weirdest places. It totally absorbed me. Then, I honestly don’t know how it happened, but my life exponentially grew fuller and busy with school and work and friends and nights out and other writing projects and so much more. One of my reasons for starting this story was to try and move on, but it already happened in between days, when I wasn’t looking. There has been a great deal of joy recently, if only because I feel truly grateful for people, family and friends alike who stuck by me throughout all of this and after. There is nothing more for me to say here, except…now I see and feel God in unexpected places, in the crashing of ocean waves on my skin, the merry flutter of a hummingbird across daffodil petals, the dancing of clouds. He is in the voices of beloved and in the brilliance of the sunset. I know this is not the only test I will be given to take, but I know that I will never be alone.

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