And so, I knelt.
"Say the prayer, admit that your life is a failure and a mess."
I said the prayer.
"You didn't say it like you meant it," she said. "You're going to say this prayer until you're fully contrite."
Shame, like a knife, pierced my stomach. I was trembling. I glanced over at my husband--he wouldn't look at me. We'd been called into this meeting because someone had reported to my grandmother that I was "rebellious" and "unsubmissive." I had committed the unpardonable sin of asking questions about why my cousin was being beaten by her father, a pastor in our church.
As the grand-daughter of our church's founder, my questions were a threat to their ministry. I had to be stopped.
I knew what was required of me: a full, complete breaking. Total surrender. She wanted to see me cry.
But I had trained myself not to cry in front of her. Crying was a sign of weakness, of surrender and I didn't want to give my grandmother the satisfaction of seeing me cry. Through a series of these meetings, she had already achieved her goal of breaking me down psychologically.
Every day I was battling suicidal thoughts. I was cutting myself. I had asked God to kill me so I wouldn't have to live the rest of my life in this godforsaken cult.
But I did, in fact, cry that day. I wept on my knees until my grandmother was satisfied. She didn't know that I was really weeping for the long, miserable life that stretched ahead of me, for the dreams I would never fulfill, for the children I would bear and bring into this misery, for the stupidity of ever hoping I'd be free.....
Something changed after that day. I lost hope. I resigned myself. I stopped fighting. I often wept tears of despair.
It's been thirteen years since that day and I've been free for almost 9 years. I still marvel at this freedom, this precious, precious freedom.
The tears I cry now are tears of freedom and gratitude. The first Thanksgiving I celebrated after leaving the cult, I gave thanks for freedom.
Sometimes I still weep for what was lost. My husband asked me recently if I would ever want to reconnect with my grandparents. I said no. My grandparents set out to break me. They were successful and I very nearly paid for it with my life.
But I will weep for them and for the lives they destroyed. I will weep for their souls.
I will weep with thanksgiving because it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.
This Thanksgiving, I will weep tears of gratitude because I am free.
And I will never, ever take this freedom for granted.