My Story: Masked to Truefaced
I reveal a deep, dark past in this post—trusting God and others with who I really am. The entire truth is not revealed as I must protect the innocent. But much of the story is here.
We all wear masks not only to make ourselves look good but we are often motivated by a sincere desire to make God look good.
The authors of a book entitled Truefaced (Bill Thrall, John Lynch, and Bruce McNicol) explain that Christians wear masks because of sin—either sins committed by or against us. If the sin is ours, the response is guilt. If the sin is against us, the response is guilt, hurt, shame, blame, fear, denial and anger. I wore a mask for both reasons.
Living behind a mask makes me feel like I’m doing OK. But the mask is bondage to sin and shame. To live without the mask is to be known to God and others. Without the mask, I can walk in the Light and be loved for who I am. It is powerful and freeing.
The Truth Does Set Us Free
I am a recovering codependent and survivor of narcissistic abuse. Codependents tend to get involved in abusive, painful relationships with people who are unreliable and emotionally unavailable. The good thing about codependency is that once the light bulb is turned on, it stays on and gets brighter, revealing the truth. I’m still
Turning these details over to God and allowing Him to purge me of sin and pain. For most of my life, I have run on a performance treadmill, attempting to earn love and acceptance from God and others. The result has been a mess.
“We will never please God through our efforts to become godly. Rather, we will only please God—and become godly—when we trust God.”— TrueFaced
The development of codependence has its roots in dysfunctional family systems and occurs over a reasonably long period. I did not know about codependency and narcissism until I was in my fifties. My childhood was difficult. Due to family illness, I was often left alone, and as a result, I was sexually abused (by a nonfamily member) for over a decade, from the age of five to my teen years.
The shaggy hairstyles, bell bottoms, rock and roll, and make-love-not-war Seventies welcomed my rebellious spirit, and my life became even more broken and littered with hurts, failures, and mistakes. I smoked pot and experimented with other drugs. Each summer, I spent time with my sweet, godly grandmother who faithfully planted spiritual seeds in me. I saw Jesus in her love, and as a result, I longed for my own relationship with God and talked to Him often.
Seeking Acceptance in Religion
After a few years of teenage rebellion, I became a Christian (due to my grandmother’s influence) and got involved in the Salvation Army and Young Life. I sincerely wanted to follow Christ but continued to battle shame and guilt.
Married at 17
I married at 17. Soon after we married, I realized my husband was a drug addict. We had three adorable little girls in five years. I love babies and toddlers. We didn’t have much materially, but my hands and heart were full. I was either breastfeeding or pregnant during our seven-year marriage. I was determined to raise my children in a Christian home.
In my zeal, I went from the life of a sinner to a religiholic (a workaholic is preoccupied with work; I was preoccupied with legalistic religion). We moved to North Carolina to be near my grandmother.
Steeped in Legalism
We (“we,” meaning the children and me; my husband did not attend) joined a small, legalistic, independent fundamentalist Baptist church (IFB) and went every time the door was open. I kept the nursery during church and taught Sunday school. It was one of those churches where if you missed Wednesday prayer meeting, you’d better be sick or you got nasty condemning looks and attitudes. I wasn’t fed much spiritually because I was busy earning love and approval. Church attendance and Bible studies were duties. I tried to control our family with my lists of Christian rules, and I sincerely thought I was on the right path, but my artificial rules and regulations sucked the love of God out of our family.
The church members rejected my husband. On one of the rare occasions when he came to church with us, he went forward for the altar call but was told he could not join the church until he proved himself. He was so embarrassed he never came back to church. After that, he had several affairs and finally abandoned us when I was pregnant with our fourth child. I filed for divorce a year later, and we didn’t see him for the next fifteen years. His children never had any relationship with their father.
I was completely rejected by the church I had served for five years. I was told I had not been submissive enough to my husband. It was a small church, and they feared having a single pregnant mother with three children and no income. After the divorce, the churches we visited over the next few years were either afraid of us or were too legalistic for a divorced mother. After several rejections, I stopped trying to find a church. (For more, see IFB Flowchart and IFB Common Practices).
Single Mother with Four Children
I was left to raise four children without child support for six years. I was desperate to feed my children and did the best I could. I empathize with the millions of single mothers in America who struggle to feed their children every day. I supported our family with waitress jobs and selling Tupperware.
We slept on mattresses on the floor, ate our meals off a cardboard box, skipped many meals, and collected soda bottles from ditches to buy medicine. We lived in a two-bedroom duplex (we did not qualify for welfare because I had boys and girls and needed at least three bedrooms.) The church never helped me. We usually had no electricity and often had no water because I didn’t make enough to pay our essential bills (we pretended we were camping with candles). We never had any furniture and could barely afford clothes and shoes from the Goodwill store. I used an ice chest to keep food cold and filled up empty milk jugs with water from nearby church spigots in the middle of the night, so we could flush the toilets.
A few weeks of the children having the flu cost me two weeks’ work. Two weeks without pay resulted in an eviction notice. As I was preparing our old, rusted-out car to be our new home, packing our few belongings, and making beds in the seats, my neighbor saw me crying in the driveway and asked questions. She told me about a nearby Christian children’s home that could help us. She wasn’t a Christian, but she offered help.
I was devastated. I had never been away from my children overnight (except in the hospital having a baby). My neighbor took me to meet the directors of the children’s home, the Blues, who were loving, caring people. I had to choose between living in a car or leaving my children until I could find a safe home for us. In October 1980, I reluctantly left my children at Central Florida Children’s home.
The Blues were wonderfully sympathetic Christians and charged me an incredibly low rate to feed and house my children each week, but it was still the worst day of my life. After I had placed my children into the children’s home, I drove to a park and screamed at God, “You said you would provide for my needs, and now you’ve taken my babies!” I cried hysterically for hours…but the next day I realized He had answered my daily prayer, “God, give my children a Christian home.” It was hard to understand at the time, but it was a blessing that godly people were caring for my children, and they were attending a Christian school while I had a chance to get back on my feet.
My generous, caring friend JoAnn let me move in with her and her mom. I joined the Orlando Police Academy. I was a scrawny 100 lbs, but I made it through the academy. Once I became a police officer, I could work off-duty jobs for extra income.
I could only visit my children on the weekends. I worked 80–120 hours a week as a police officer, sometimes not sleeping for two or three days, but I was able to save enough money to rent a house with JoAnn and get my children back home before the end of the year, after being separated from them for months.
Six months later, I got the children back; I still had to work at least eighty hours a week to pay for childcare for the four of them. I was exhausted for years, going from one job to another and back and forth to different babysitters. We struggled for the next five years, but we did okay. I saved enough money to buy a small home in Orlando.
We had a bit of normalcy—at least for a family of four children and a single mother with several jobs. I took every extra job I could find, but there was still never quite enough money to live on. One trip to the dentist or car repair shop put us behind again. In the sixth year of being single, I was faced with foreclosure on our home. Childcare for four was more than my salary. I could only get ahead with help. I called Louise Blue at the children’s home, and she arranged for my children to stay again for a few months until I could get back on my feet. In 1985 my children returned to the children’s home for a few months. I’ll never forget the day I told them they would have to go back to home for a while. The look in their eyes haunts me to this day.
Soon after, I met an older man who knew I was desperate to get my children back, and he offered to marry me. I married him due to exhaustion and desperation, not out of love. I told him I did not love him, but he said it was okay; I would grow to love him. He promised to take us to church and put the children in a Christian school, so I agreed to marry him in April 1985. I was grateful to have my children back and for the security of knowing I could feed and house them. Instead of trusting God, however, I trusted a man to solve my problems, and my sin had a domino effect on many people’s lives.
We started attending a mid-size, balanced Southern Baptist church in Florida. Our pastor led my husband in the prayer of salvation. I believe my husband was sincere, and he was baptized that week. A year later, because of my husband’s business, we moved to Tennessee.
We placed the children in a private independent Baptist fundamental Christian school in 1986. Many other children were in the school because they had been kicked out of public school. Because the socialization was so negative and my six-year-old son struggled to learn to read, we decided to homeschool. Eventually, people from our church in Tennessee asked me to speak about raising children and homeschooling. Here is a photo after I spoke on Mother’s Day (with my girls and my sweet grandmother).
Homeschooling was very rare in 1987 but growing. I started traveling to give workshops in various churches in the surrounding areas to help people start homeschooling. I had three more children and worked hard toward becoming like the Proverbs 31 woman (a wife of noble character). I taught my children at home, sewed all their clothes, baked bread, and taught the girls to sew, smock, quilt, cook, and clean. I was grateful for my children, a home, and food. We joined a balanced Assembly of God church. I have fond memories of the close fellowship we experienced for over five years. We made many friends there that I still have today. The only negative was our experience with a liberal youth group that planted seeds of rebellion in my teenage girls.
This is a photo of my first seven children. We were happy in our church. We were very active and involved, and life was good—at least I thought so—for a while. See Our Homeschool Journey
I wanted to teach my children about running a business, so they started selling books in the back of the room when I spoke about homeschooling. Our little homeschool business snowballed. The children helped me send out newsletters and catalogs.
My husband had a roadside real estate office, so I asked if we could sell books there. The little store did well. In 1990, my husband started helping with our homeschool business, and we moved from Knoxville to Nashville. In Tennessee, you must register with the state or a Christian school to homeschool legally, so we began Family Christian Academy (a homeschool umbrella school).
In five years, the business grew to six homeschool stores in three states, a catalog business, and the school had six thousand students. I was determined to work hard and protect my children from the world's evil influences. I didn't know the evil was in our family.
We were in a patriarchal community (patricentric movement) in its infancy, which has grown to have a massive presence in homeschool conferences, online forums, and catalogs. Homeschooling in the patriarchal way brought in man-made rules and regulations (females always wearing dresses, men having “full quivers,” baking our own bread instead of buying ready-made, the right number of school hours, submissive daughters doing anything to please their fathers, etc.).
I had new rules to follow, too—and I thought that maybe this time I could get it right, and I was willing to work hard to do it. At this point, I thought our marriage had regular ups and downs, but I felt I could never please my husband. I read all the books on marriage and parenting, hoping to fix all the problems that resulted from our involvement in the patriarchy movement. Ninety-five percent of their goals are good, but there is also a very extreme and dangerous emphasis on submission and a “work harder” mentality that is a breeding ground for legalism and abuse.
Joining a Cult
My husband was an Italian from Rochester, NY. He met an out-of-work Italian fundamentalist Baptist pastor from his hometown. They had much in common—mainly, they were both control freaks. Family Christian Academy needed a pastor to be legal, so my husband joined forces with the Italian pastor. My husband supplied the building and administrative management while the pastor preached. I was completely against the association and made it clear that I felt he was a cult leader, but I was overruled.
This is when our family began to go downhill. Together they created a King James Only church. The teachings there were insane. They believed any Bible other than the KJV version was from Satan. When another version, such as NIV was mentioned from the pulpit, men in the church would scream, “Burn it!”
My husband didn’t even believe in KJV-only teachings, but he loved the doctrines of female submission and women being quiet in the church. The pastor was as controlling as my husband. We weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom during services. Our family relationships spiraled downhill rapidly. Looking good from the outside became much more important than loving one another.
“It is a grave disservice to the heart, soul, body, and spirit of a woman when she is given the subtle message that the truth of her pain is not as important as the reputation of the ones who inflict it.” —Quivering Daughters.
I tolerated the rejection, belittling, and constant name-calling by my husband because I was a submissive wife. He used the Bible to justify the abuse. After my seventh child was born, my husband became furious because I had gained weight and told me he did not love me often.
His focus went to my three young daughters, promoted and encouraged by the patriarchal movement. The women-stay-at-home movement encourages young girls to forgo college and outside employment in favor of training as “keepers at home” until they marry. In our family, most people thought my eldest daughter was married to my husband. It was sick, and it was wrong.
My husband discouraged marriage completely because he needed my daughters to work in our business. (Eventually, some of my daughters rebelled and ran off to get married.) Teaching young women cannot leave their father’s homes unless they marry is going beyond Scripture and focusing on man-made rules.
For more on the Patriarchy/Patricentricity movement, see Thatmom Podcast or QuiveringDaughters.com
I was in deep denial. My closest friend once told me, “If being in denial was an Olympic sport, you would be a gold medalist!”
My formula for coping with the dysfunctional mess went something like this:
- Step 1: Denial (Pretend there is no problem or pretend I don’t feel the way I think)
- Step 2: See some problems, blame myself, and wallow in shame.
- Step 3: Work harder, try harder, eat more
- Step 4: Fail.
- Step 5: Blame myself and wallow in shame.
- Step 6: Lose it. Eat more.
- Step 7: Blame myself for losing it, wallow in shame.
- Step 8: Emotional collapse.
In trying to fix our family, I ignored the cultic influence of the church because I couldn’t change it and just kept trying harder. I passed down to my children unhealthy performing habits to earn love and acceptance. Instead of teaching the love of God, I taught them (more by my actions, not my words) how to run on the performance treadmill and jump through behavioral hoops taught by patriarchal man-made rules instead of God’s Word. I was highly critical of myself and others.
While running on the treadmill, I had a judgmental attitude toward anyone who wasn’t on the same treadmill I was on. I worked on the outside instead of the inside, and externally we appeared to be a godly family, but internally each of us was unraveling. We lived like two separate families. My husband took my older children to work with him at eight in the morning and didn’t return home until after eleven each night, working them for fifteen hours a day.
They spent the day in the bookstore or the shipping department while I stayed home with the youngest children, homeschooling, and writing. My husband and I argued daily. I was so frustrated; our entire lives were so focused on making money that we no longer had a family, just a work crew. I was very troubled that my husband treated my oldest daughter more like a wife than a daughter.
I called our pastor for counseling, which was really strange. My oldest daughter (in her twenties), my husband, and I went together because the pastor was also concerned about my husband’s relationship with her. My husband cunningly turned every accusation of his inappropriate relationship with my daughter into an accusation about my anger. It was not productive. Eventually, even the pastor suggested that my husband choose my daughter or me. My husband told me to pack my bags.
The marriage ended in a messy divorce in 1998. I can never fully describe the impact the divorce had on our family. Divorce causes deep emotional pain and everyone involved wants to blame someone. Any military man will tell you that the way to pull a divided group together is to give them a common enemy. That’s what my ex-husband did. He insidiously turned each of my children against me by making me out to be the enemy—and I gave him the ammunition.
Almost twenty years after my first four children had been in a children’s home, my ex-husband used that event in our divorce papers to try to get custody of our three young children. It didn’t work, but it tore me apart—he knew my hot button and used it. He never spent more than ten minutes a day with our youngest children, yet when we divorced, he fought for custody—and I was shocked.
We settled on joint custody. My ex-husband convinced my oldest daughter—his stepdaughter—that it was her biblical duty to live with him and care for the youngest children three and a half days a week. He used her for the next fifteen years to cook, clean, care for his children, and run the homeschool business. She never dated until she was 39 years old. Years of toting children back and forth between families, re-opening wounds with every trip, was horrible. I was angry and bitter and fought weekly with my ex. I poured myself into work—I schooled the children and then wrote curriculum for sometimes up to ten hours a day. I repeatedly forgave my ex-husband and prayed regularly for him for many years. He had also grown up in a very dysfunctional family, and hurt people hurt people.
In 1999, I married Ron Sampson, a federal agent with ATF (after 9/11 with Homeland Security). We had two sons (I was aged 44 and 46 for my 8th and 9th pregnancies).
We lived in VA outside DC until Ron retired, then moved to Shelbyville (outside Nashville) to be near family. We had a small farm with horses, goats, and chickens. It was the perfect place to raise two boys, my other children were grown.
In 2014 my third daughter, Victoria, passed away, leaving behind three boys, so we sold all the animals and moved to Titusville, Fl, to be near them until they turned 18, then moved back to TN in 2018. I'll always be grateful for my time back in Florida as I attended Seed of Abraham Fellowship, the best church I have ever attended and I still consider it my church and can watch my teacher/friend Tom Bradford on Torahclass.com
In 2019, Ron became ill (oxygen 24/7 and wheelchair-bound). I was his caretaker for three years. He went to heaven in September 2021.
Sin Summary, i.e., Unmasked
What gives me, a divorcee with such a background, the right to write about God? My past includes rebellious teenage years, failed marriages, and judgmental legalism. I am a sinner. I have asked for forgiveness from God and my family. God has mercifully forgiven me, and some of my family has forgiven me, for which I am grateful. Should Christians who have been forgiven have to endure the results of their sin? Yes, sometimes.
Forgiveness and consequences are not opposite ends of the spectrum. Together they establish an essential part of the Lord’s plan for believers. Consequences are circumstantial. My wrecked relationship with several of my children—the most painful thing I have ever experienced—is a direct consequence of my sinful choices. I’ve repeatedly repented and apologized for those years I was wrapped up in spiritual self-reliance and cheated them of the joy of life in union with Christ. Most of my children have forgiven me. Most of us have a good relationship, but we are still healing.
One of the consequences is watching my adult children struggle with the aftermath of our broken family. If you have known the pain of a divorce, you have felt a small portion of the pain you feel when a child rejects you. If I wrote a book about our lives, I would title it “Separate Realities” because we all have drastically different views of what happened.
This photo is from a family get-together that my husband and daughters planned to surprise me in 2011.
Despite my desire and efforts to obey God and forgive my ex-husband, the bitterness and anger I carried toward him resulted in heart disease and other health problems. I had open heart surgery at 51 and three more heart surgeries in the next five years. Sin has consequences, but God uses His grace through sin’s consequences to draw us closer to Him!
Moving from Religion to Relationship
I made many mistakes, but I can say, as God is my witness, I have never met anyone that has sacrificed more for their children, and everything I have been through has brought me into a deeper walk with Him. I am learning to accept that the truth may never be understood on this side of Heaven.
“the change which the writing wrought in me was only a beginning—only to prepare me for the gods’ surgery. They used my own pen to probe my wound.” C.S. Lewis
My pain has led me to God. I go to Him with my hurts, cries, frustrations, and anger. The Christian life is dwelling in union with Him. I love the way Mike Yaconelli explains this:
Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about intimacy. Spirituality is not about perfection; it is about connection. The way of spiritual life begins where we are now, in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality; not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws, but because we let go of seeking perfection and instead seek God, the One who is present in the tangledness of our lives. We need to simply enter His rest and watch the freedom from our mess begin to unfold. As we dwell in union with Him we become transformed into His image, being changed by His glory. Without the Vine to bring nourishing sap to the branch there can be no fruit.
Freedom comes from knowing truth—and the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Freedom does not mean lawlessness. Freedom in union with Him is freedom from shame and not from responsibility.
We have a responsibility to submit. God’s Spirit can do His work only as we yield to Him. Jesus came to show us the love of God; when we yield, that love flows through us. Getting off the performance treadmill was a long, complicated, and messy process. I had a lot of shame and misperceptions to overcome.
“God’s ultimate goal is maturing us into who he says we are and then releasing us into the dreams he designed for us before the world began.”~TrueFaced