Mother, step-mother, wife, ex-wife, former overseas missionary and ex-fundamentalist Christian, just to name a few of the “hats” I wear. I also am an entrepreneur, seamstress, cook and hobbyist along with dozens of other hats that I no longer wear and new ones I am learning to put on like feminist, agnostic, atheist, humanist, naturalist, etc. And now, I have the privilege of putting on new hats as I interview women as the podcast host and producer of this Women Beyond Belief Podcast.
To give some background, I grew up on a homestead in Canada and was raised as a fundamental Evangelical in a Missionary Church. My home life was quite dysfunctional. Patriarchy, women’s submission and legalism was the culture my older brother and myself grew up with. I attended a church-school (A.C.E.), was home schooled and finally finished my high school at a Christian School run by the local Christian Reformed Church (CRC).
During high school, I met and dated a wonderful fellow classmate from the CRC church by the name of Ian. After he graduated, he moved away to college and I didn’t keep in touch with him but, in an interesting turn of events, he came back into my life over 2 decades later. During high school, I attended many church denominations. I went on 3 short-term mission trips with Youth For Christ to California, the West Indies and to Bogota, Columbia with Prison Fellowship.
When I was finished high school, I attended culinary school for a year and then went to Bible college and met and later married my 1st husband, He was an MK (Missionary Kid) from Papua New Guinea. After starting our family, we were career missionaries for 15 years with Wycliffe Bible Translators. 8 1/2 of those years we served in the Amazon region of Brazil, including getting the opportunity to learn Portuguese. We were “support missionaries” and helped maintain a mission base. We had 3 kids, 2 of which were born in Brazil. Being with this type of mission, one of our “jobs” was to raise 100% of our monthly salary. This involved returning to Canada on furlough every 2-3 years and taking cross-country road trips as a family, speaking at churches and mission conferences. We had over 350 individuals and 15 churches that supported us.
Since there wasn’t a high school on the mission-base in Brazil, as our kids got older we had to make the decision to either send them to boarding school or go to another mission location. We returned to Canada to get visas to go to PNG but ended up having reverse culture shock and feeling we needed to settle down in Canada. We were mission representatives for 2 more years and then resigned from the mission.
During that time, my marriage was falling apart but as a “good Christian wife”, I tried to keep it together. The local church was a place where I mainly interacted with other women.
After a number of pivotal moments, and life circumstances, I left organized religion and separated from my 1st husband a year later after almost 20 years of marriage. I became what I would later look back on as an Agnostic.
180 Degree change
At my 20-year high school reunion, I reconnected with my high-school sweetheart, Ian, who I had mentioned earlier. We started discussing theology, scepticism etc on Facebook. I felt I had “brother in Christ” since i was still married.
However, after I separated from my 1st husband there were a number of complicated years. I wanted to move across the country, live near my brother, go back to college, start a new career, start a new blended family with Ian and our combined family of 5 kids. I wanted my 3 kids to move with me. My 2 daughters did move with me but my older daughter decided she wanted to go back and finish high school with her friends so only my youngest stayed. My son visited us but remained living with his father.
I never realized that the family, friends and community would also label my kids as “black sheep“, just because they were children of divorced parents and they weren’t attending church any longer. I thought that if they chose to not move with me but to remain living with their father, that the community would still be there. The help and support ended up evaporating for my 2 older kids who decided to stay and finish high school. In spite of those difficult days, my relationship with my kids improved as I learned to take away the rules I had forced on them for the first 15 years and treat them respect. (You can hear more of my older daughter’s story as she is my first guest on the podcast where she tells her side of the story.)
After several more years, I realized I had moved from Agnostic to Atheist, not by choosing to “believe a new religion” but by default since Atheism literally means a “lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”.
Agnostic to Atheist
During this time, I listened to 100’s of hours of podcasts. As my journey continued – leaving my 1st marriage, leaving the church and living with Ian, I became estranged from approximately 95% of my friends since I mostly had friends, up to that point, that were Christians. I also became estranged from my parents.
Realizing that there were almost no podcasts with female hosts which focused on the unique journey for women of de-conversion and extracting oneself from patriarchal religions, I saw that there was a void that needed filling. I so desperately needed to know that there were others like me during those early years after leaving religion. At times, I was so lonely, I felt suicidal. If only there had been a podcast by women, for women – one that would deal with the issues I was going through as a wife, ex-wife, mother and stepmother living without the community of a church family. I was unravelling the code of ethics and morals that had failed me and I needed to hear that I was not alone.
For the past few years now, I have been trying to find community. I miss the women’s Bible studies; I miss the women’s retreats. I miss the women’s connections I had made for almost 4 decades in Church. And now, as I try to find community in the agnostic and atheist circles, I mainly hear men’s voices.
I have gone through many of the steps of grief since leaving the religion. Being betrayed and shunned by those I thought loved me and my children has been stressful. I did experience a lot of anger for a few years but now feel that I’m in another stage, where I want to help other women who are in the place I once was.
In early 2016, I really wanted to connect with other women who had left religion and I felt starting a podcast might be the way to do that. However, I realized I was not ready for the activist role I felt I needed to play if I was going to “put myself out there” as a women Atheist. Also, our family had to move again so life got more complicated.
The fall of 2016 was a dark time for our family with 2 months of uncertainty between when Ian was having tests done and being diagnosed with cancer. At the beginning, before he had his diagnosis, I was dealing with a lot of depression. I felt I had to reach out for help. I joined the Clergy Project and this started opening doors for me, including being interviewed on Everyone’s Agnostic Podcast. Near the end of that interview, the hosts, Cass and Bob, encouraged me in my goal of someday starting a podcast for women. The ball started rolling and here we are! Here are a few other podcasts I was recently interviewed on – Voices of Deconversion, Beyond The Trailer Park, Zachriledge Cast, Doubting Dogma, The Big Chew Podcast, and The Thinking Atheist.
An update on Ian’s cancer
– Thanks to science and research, his chemo treatments went very well and he his cancer is in remission.
I want to credit the name, Women Beyond Belief Podcast, to the recommendations of many of my new Facebook Friends. And, a special thank you to the Karen Garst for collaborating since she has edited a book with the same title, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life Without Religion. Her book is along the same theme as this podcast since it shares women’s stories of leaving religion. Here is a link to her book on Amazon, and her website, Faithless Feminist, where she blogs weekly. I also have her on a as a guest in Episode #2 and she shares her Audio Blogs.
I hope you enjoy listening!