I Won’t Back Down
by Meagan Elizabeth Cox, ex-member Remnant Fellowship
It’s hard to know where to begin when there is so much to tell. My entire life feels like it’s been a bizarre experiment on just how much one person can endure. I know I’m not the only one to feel that way about my life experiences, I’ve made my peace with never being the first or last. I have always been right in the middle, right where no one notices and it’s easy to look past me. My husband calls me an esoteric wallflower. I like being on the fringe. As time has passed, I’m being pulled away from my comfortable wallflower status. If you take anything from this, please know that you are not alone. If this touches your heart or opens your eyes, then I’ve done my job. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not wanting pity. My life and my own well being have turned out better than I ever could have hoped. I am thriving. I just want to be heard.
To give some background on me in case I leave details out; I am the oldest of my five siblings, I have two brothers and two sisters that I adore. I am the only child with a different father; I am my birth father’s only child. My mom and birth father split up when I was a baby and bitterly fought over me, even to this day there is still a small rivalry for my loyalty. I remained in my father’s custody until 1996 when I chose to live with my mom at 12 years old. I was happier at my mom’s. I felt loved, cared for and free. Living with my birth father and step mother was a lonely existence in which I felt nothing but control, no affection, no attention and constant criticism and discipline. When I made the decision to live with my mom and go from Clyde, Ohio to Prospect, Ohio, my birth father signed his rights to me away and my step dad adopted me. Without any say in it at all and not really understanding what was going on, I went from Megan Cooner to Megan Schleenbaker before I turned 13 in 1997.
I thought my step dad loved and accepted me like his own, but that really wasn’t the case I saw as I got older. There was a constant favoritism I came to observe that he extended toward my siblings. I was consistently told how bad I was, asked why I wasn’t like the other kids, why can’t I just do what I’m told, why do I only like negative attention? There was worse said, but to spare feelings and protect my parents, I will keep that to myself. I struggled with weight because my diet and portions were controlled while living with my birth father. When I was with my mom I was allowed to do whatever I wanted.
Besides being ignored, chastised and controlled by both sets of parents, I endured sexual abuse by two uncles and a step-grandfather before I turned 13. The first incident happened when I was so very young and didn’t remember it fully, but somehow I knew what sex was when I was 5. In 5th/6th grade I started having flashbacks, almost like a movie reel of everything my uncle did to me when I was little. I didn’t understand what it meant, but it troubled me. I felt safe talking to a school counselor to see if she could help me understand and of course she had to do her due diligence and report it. My parents were so angry with me. They accused me of lying for attention and that I was trying to ruin my uncle’s life. I wasn’t listened to, I was just ignored. How could this be true? I was just a horrible child that lies all of the time according to my parents. I just wanted to know why I was experiencing these flashbacks. I was scared and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I never got those answers or any kind of healing until I was in my early twenties unfortunately. In fact, my step mom still believes to this day that I made it all up for attention.
It was because of their reaction that another uncle molested me and I let it happen because I was scared. I never told my parents because I didn’t want to be screamed at and accused of trying to ruin someone’s life again. When you know that is going to be the reaction, why bother? It was more than likely my fault, I did something to make this happen to me. The third time, the step-grandfather groped me in front of my entire family while I was paralyzed with fear. I never got justice, comfort or empathy for any of it.
It wasn’t until the first uncle that abused me messaged me in 2008 asking for my underwear and telling me that he wished he could sleep with me did my mom actually start believing me.
After that I snapped because my now ex husband blamed me for him behaving that way towards me and I snapped. All of the years of swallowing that trauma came out in an ugly way. After I separated myself from him, I started seeking personal counseling as well as the court ordered counseling. It was in my first personal counseling session that I realized I’m not bad, I’ve just been suffering in silence for so long. I don’t know how that counselor knew that I was sexually abused when I sat down and talked to her, but she knew. I felt truly heard and understood for the first time in my life. Sadly I couldn’t continue because I was a single mom going through a divorce, working two jobs, living with my birth father and step mom and trying to survive.
But I’m a little ahead of things, so we need to go back to when tough times became worse still.
Enter The Dragon
Our introduction to Remnant Fellowship started in 1996 when Gwen Shamblin was first introduced to my family through the Weigh Down Workshop diet seminar. Through the Weigh Down Workshop, Gwen taught us that over eating was a sin and we needed to fill that void with God instead of food. We all have a void, she went on to teach, that we try to fill with food, antidepressants, anger, selfishness, etc. Gwen was here to teach us that was wrong. That wasn’t what God wanted for us or called for us to do. God wanted us to rely on him for everything and we could be free of all of these sins or “idols” she would call them. She equated food/over eating and anything else you could possibly put before God as an idol like the Israelites. Once God delivered the Israelites from Egypt, they melted all of their gold to make an idol to worship instead of God which angered him and caused him to punish them. This is what Christians were doing except with food, medication, gambling, so on and so forth. Being “saved” was equated with being delivered out of “Egypt,” or the worldly ways of a life lived apart from God’s revealed boundaries on diet, relationships and other lifestyle choices. We were hurting God by rejecting him and turning to overeating.
Gwen was here to teach us how to become more focused on being a servant of God and making him happy by turning to him to be delivered from the shackles of “sin”. The best part was that we could eat whatever we wanted, but we had to wait until our stomach growled physically and we had to cut our food in half. We would box up or put away the leftovers so we wouldn’t be tempted to eat all of it. We had to drink non caloric drinks and eat slowly, taking small bites until our hunger was satisfied. The slower we ate, the sooner our stomach would signal to our brain that we are full. We were also encouraged to eat our favorite things first or only our favorite things. Nothing was off limits except taking one extra bite over full.
My mom and I immediately heeded her message, obeyed the WDW teachings Gwen spun out in her curricula and saw amazing results in our bodily weight loss. Our relationship with God seemed better and we were thin! My mom even quit smoking using the Weigh Down Workshop principles. We attended local churches once to twice a week – we attended LaRue Baptist for a while and then switched to Prospect Baptist Church. I protested going every Sunday and would pray that mom and my step dad would over sleep so we would have to miss service. I disliked going because I never felt included and could never make connections. I also didn’t understand any of the sermons and quite frankly I didn’t believe it. The Weigh Down classes were held in our home and eventually at the Baptist church in Prospect. We progressed with this program until at least 1999, but Gwen’s teachings and spiritual direction were always at the forefront of everything we did. This is how the indoctrination started.
At one point Gwen hosted conferences for the Weigh Down Workshop in Nashville, TN and one year we went. I am sure there were more, but I only recall attending that one conference during the summer of 1997. I remember it being quite a big deal, I know I was excited because this was a first for me. The only part of the conference I remember was being able to explore Nashville and meeting Gwen Shamblin and her son Micheal Shamblin, I remember him singing for everyone at the conference too, I believe this was when he started his music career and became more involved in Gwen’s ministry. In the winter of 1998 when I was a freshman in high school, we took a family trip down to Nashville and even visited the Weigh Down Workshop building in Franklin, TN. I’m not fully sure if we toured the building as I don’t remember, but I know my mom just wanted to be close to Gwen because she was truly a Godly woman in my mom’s eyes.
Almost overnight, my siblings and I found ourselves thrust into a new world. Our family life became highly restrictive – the new objective for living was a principle of absolute obedience to authority because that’s what God wanted. Period. We weren’t to have emotions other than happiness, joy, gratefulness, etc. We weren’t taught or allowed to stand up for ourselves or respectfully disagree with our parent’s authority or any authority for that matter. You do not question those older than you, they know better than you! I often joke that I was raised to be a perfect partner in an abusive relationship or a cult member. It’s not funny, but as you’ll see, humor is how I cope. If you couldn’t have surmised by my introduction, I wasn’t exactly raised by mentally healthy and prepared adults. To be fair to them, they truly were trying to do the best they could, no matter how horrible it was. Because I was constantly having my autonomy stripped from me by my mom, I rebelled and did the exact opposite of what she wanted me to do. This never went over well as you can imagine.
Looking back on my childhood and teen years now, I rebelled to try and gain control over my life and find who I was. Was my mom always right? No, but there were moments where I had to eat crow and let her know that I made a mistake. Being constantly belittled, controlled and not given any room or encouragement to explore my likes, wants and interests was so detrimental to me. I was taught only to be a good daughter a homemaker because my mom needed my help at home and with my siblings. That was to be my assigned identity, to be submissive and obedient. Everyone around me had the space to become whoever they wanted to be, to do whatever they wanted and to me that was such a luxury and a dream. I never had the chance. I knew never to ask because I would always be told “no”. So I ended up turning to sex, drugs, smoking and drinking to seek out the love and acceptance I was missing. I allowed people to treat me like absolute garbage because I thought that was what you were supposed to do. All I wanted was to be free, but I felt my cage grow smaller and smaller the older I got.
I remember discovering the Downward Spiral album by Nine Inch Nails in my mom’s CD collection when I was in junior high. I played it and fell in love. My mom discovered it and was so upset because it was “bad” music. I was so confused because if it was “bad”, why was it in our house? From then on I just stuck to whatever played on the radio to avoid getting in trouble. There was also a time during church I found an article about letting your children have freedom to experience life and to be free. I was thrilled because someone put into words exactly what I wanted and needed. I cautiously showed my mom the article, trying to keep the excitement off of my face. I was immediately yelled at and punished. It was so defeating to be denied what I felt was a reasonable ask. A classic line from both my parents to me was, “I give you an inch, you take a mile”. I always did take a mile because I would be so excited to be given the chance or room to do something myself and so of course I went nuts. This was bad so I would be punished to the extreme. No amount of punishment ever stopped me from trying though, I was a tough child to break.
The Shadows Fall
By winter during my senior year in 2001, mine and my mom’s relationship was completely fractured and we could not exist under the same roof. I called my birth father and asked him to come get me. He agreed and off to Huron, Ohio I went. My time there didn’t last long because I walked into a complete shit show there too. At first all of the partying and the illusion of freedom was fun, but then it got dark. Nothing had changed from the time I was 12. It was as if I time traveled back to 1996, except now my father was a full blown verbally abusive alcoholic. I also attended school with people I barely knew and didn’t really care to know me. I managed to make a few friends and find a part time job, but I was severely unhappy because of course the rules and control slowly crept back in.
Spring break 2002 rolled around, I called my mom and begged her to come get me. I left my birth father’s home without a single explanation. I had no regrets either because it was absolute hell. Of course he was mad at me and upset because he felt that I had better opportunities with him than I did living with my mom. He wasn’t completely wrong. I was ready to swear in to the Coast Guard because that seemed to be my only option and chance at freedom. My mom found out and said absolutely not, I couldn’t make it. I wasn’t tough enough for the Coast Guard according to her. I didn’t have any say in the matter. Mom said “no, so don’t bring it up again.” When making the trip back to Marion, Ohio, I had no idea what was awaiting me. My mom had found a new and exciting church…
Meanwhile, in the Nashville, Tennessee suburbs, Gwen was launching her own church she called Remnant Fellowship in 1999. Those that joined her were worshipping in the warehouse of the Weigh Down Workshop offices in Franklin, Tennessee. They also did conference calls with the offshoot chapters that started across the nation through her ministry. Gwen was doing a “Rebuilding the Wall” tour as a reinvigorated new WDW seminar. In 2002 my mom attended the Fort Wayne, Indiana stop of the tour and was hooked. When I got back home in that spring of 2002, I was informed that I was no longer allowed to carry on how I was before. No smoking, partying, dating, nothing. I was of course not thrilled, but I needed to graduate high school so I had to do what I had to do. I don’t remember attending Remnant Fellowship services at this time, but I was able to avoid doing so until June of 2002 when I moved out with my boyfriend “Bill” that I had kept secret. I was so ready to be done sneaking around just to see him and my friends. I have to admit though, I did get super good at it. It also helped that we lived in Marion, Ohio now instead of Prospect, Ohio. Of course this was a shock to my mom and she was angry with me. I was promptly cut off and not allowed contact with her or my siblings until I was ready to come home and live according to the Remnant Fellowship message.
My relationship and living arrangement with “Bill” did not last at all. We were on two different journeys and did not have a clue how to communicate and be in a relationship. I just wanted to live my life and he wanted me to do the exact opposite. I was homeless for a short while as I had no one to turn to. My friends at the time were wrapped up in their own things and my own family was absolutely no help, so I couch surfed and lived in complete debauchery until the fall of 2002.
My aunt had contacted me and saw how miserable I was and that I was not doing well and told me to move up to Norwalk, Ohio and live with my grandma. I had reached the end of my partying and I could not maintain that lifestyle anymore. I was living a miserable existence which left me sad and empty. I felt that no one loved me and no one truly cared, not that I would let anyone get close to me anyway. I managed to find a job, make friends and even started dating a guy named “Robert” during this time. We met through one of the friends that I made. “Robert” was home for Christmas break and was open to meeting me and seeing if we clicked. We met and had instant chemistry, he was very good to me and we got along great. I enjoyed being treated with love and respect. It was something so foreign to me so it was absolutely wonderful.
It’s 2003 and my 19th birthday is approaching. “Robert” had to go back to school in Orlando after his holiday break was over. I never had a long distance relationship before so I was excited when he said that he was going to fly me down for a week as a birthday gift. I went and spent the week with Robert and managed to have some fun, but I was starting to realize how incredibly unhappy I was. I was overweight, I had no money and was absolutely miserable. I had absolutely no direction and no idea what I wanted out of life. I felt like I had no options and no hope. It was around Easter 2003 that I decided to call my mom and ask to move back in. I was ready for a change and needed to do something different with my life. I was ready to see what Remnant Fellowship was all about. Maybe this was God telling me that I wasn’t going to have what I wanted until I accepted the Remnant message and immersed myself in it.
Once again I just packed up and left without a single explanation to anyone except for my Grandma. No one seemed to understand or stop me, they all just let me go. I was treated with derision and anger by anyone other than my mom for this decision. Robert just had no clue where this decision came from and why I made it. He also declined to come with me so we could stay together. I begged and begged, but eventually I had to break it off with him because he didn’t believe in “the message”. I couldn’t be unequally yoked with a non believer! I did what I was told because I didn’t want to return to that miserable half life I was living.
My return home and to the church had all too familiar rules and conditions of course. I had to stop smoking, having sex, overeating, drinking and cut off friends and family that disagreed with Remnant teachings. I was then expected to completely submit to my mom and step dad’s authority. I was so desperate that I agreed to all of it, I just wanted to be loved and to be what my parents wanted me to be. I was tired of hearing how bad I was. By this time, a group had started in Marion, Ohio and we worshipped together with the Sims/Lehman/Hamilton family, the Sheridan family, the Henry family and others in Dale and Sue Ruth’s garage. Early on it became clear to me that my mom talked about me a lot because people I didn’t even know knew who I was and what I had been doing. The Sims family was the most familiar to me outside of my family as they had been in our lives since I was a child. It took me a while to adjust because this was obviously a drastic change for me. I had been living life on my own terms up to this point and that kind of lifestyle didn’t line up with Remnant’s requirements for subservience and obedience.
Nevertheless, I repented and renounced my old ways to dive head first into all of Gwen’s teachings. I was desperate to get this right and find answers. I was ready to hear that someone was proud of me, I was ready to be praised instead of punished. I was expected to attend any and everything the women in our group did, and I was always the youngest woman. I couldn’t relate to anyone or anything; I felt like I was always being corrected and misunderstood. I never felt true camaraderie, I just felt like I was being henpecked to death at times; as if I was just there because they had to do something with me so I didn’t turn away from the church. This was more than likely to test my dedication and journey with the church, learning how to submit to others in direct authority to me since they were older than me. That’s all it took in Remnant, the oldest was always designated the authority of all younger than them in any situation.
We started traveling to Nashville to attend church member weddings and for celebrations as often as we could. In 2003/2004, weddings were held at Gwen’s house pretty regularly or at a local venue. Usage of non Remnant Fellowship churches was out of the question. They were viewed as counterfeit and false places that were leading God’s children astray with a “once saved, always saved” mantra. It was constantly stressed that Remnant alone had it right, we were God’s chosen ones. Other churches were filled with Pharisees whose spiritual prostitution was leading good Christian people astray. My first trip down to visit with the Nashville chapter of Remnant was interesting. Everyone down there knew who I was and sought me out. They were all so happy to see me and glad I returned to the church like the Biblical prodigal son. It was intoxicating because there were people my age down there and I was getting so much attention and love. I ate it all up and enjoyed every minute.
I have since learned that this is called “love bombing”, a practice that cults and other questionable organizations will follow to bombard all kinds of positive and often insincere regard aimed at establishing emotional and personal connections with prospective recruits that are used to influence them. I started building friendships with the youth of the church. Looking back, our relationships were so superficial. We only talked about God, what He was teaching us, what we were learning each week from Gwen and on our own. You never discussed or confessed your struggles unless you felt you were truly past them. We were not celebrating Jewish religious holidays just yet, just the traditional ones. I attended a formal party at the Weigh Down Workshop, but I can’t remember what it was for. I want to say that it was a New Year’s celebration of some sort, but I’m not entirely sure. Either way I remember getting all dolled up and dancing in the WDW warehouse and fellowshipping with the Nashville Remnant members.
In the early 2000’s, texting wasn’t huge and more than likely didn’t fully exist in 2003/2004. I kept in touch with my Nashville friends through phone calls, letters, road trips and emails. I don’t even think social media was a thing at the time to be honest. If it was, I didn’t know about it. If it wasn’t directly related to anything coming out of Remnant Fellowship, you didn’t mess with it. There was always a lot of talk about “freedom within God’s boundaries”, but it seemed to me that there were an awful lot of rules aimed at controlling and micromanaging your life.
Let me just go down a little tangent here by way of an example. I had to cover up my tattoos because they weren’t godly and God said you can’t ruin His temple. I had to make sure my clothing wasn’t too provocative – you shouldn’t stand out and tempt the men of the church with your sinful body. I am a busty woman – I always have been and back in the early 2000’s, it was incredibly hard to find shirts that covered your chest and midriff at the same time. I had to have a top that did both because I had a tattoo on my left hip, around my belly button and on my lower back. If I did find a shirt like that, it would more often than not accentuate my broad shoulders. So I was constantly feeling awkward and uncomfortable. on edge and on the defensive.
Overeating was a HUGE no-no, not even a single bite over full. If you were overweight, you absolutely had to lose it using the Weigh Down program and only that program. This program wasn’t provided to you for free of course, you had to pay for it. If you didn’t lose it within a certain timeline given to you by Gwen or leadership through Gwen, you would be shunned and eventually kicked out of the church. Leadership had to be consulted on everything. They would tell you “yes” then have strings and stipulations attached or you would be told “no” because you want it too much, so the “no” is to be sure that you are not putting what you want before God. If you had a reaction to their decision other than acceptance and appreciation, you were admonished. To even move to Nashville, which was my plan, you had to clear it with church leadership first and prove that you were pure and dedicated enough to God to make that move. You didn’t want to cause the downfall of Remnant with your sin, after all.
I had spent the majority of 2003 and more than half of 2004 absolutely serving my mom and step dad, doing everything that was asked of me. I quit jobs if my mom felt that it was taking my focus away from Remnant, I didn’t talk to friends or family that were not part of Remnant. I took care of our home and my siblings when I wasn’t working. One of the jobs that I had to quit was a serving job in Columbus. I loved it because I made decent money and enjoyed everyone that I worked with. I was also good at it which excited me. My coworkers were all around my age and seemed to be happy with life. The girls were fun to talk with, the guys paid attention to me which was thrilling and they invited me to hang out with them. I eventually started drifting and picked up smoking again. My mom figured it out and I was forced to quit. It was interesting timing too, my sisters needed to be homeschooled anyway, I was misbehaving so I needed to be monitored.
After a while, I was trapped in my own home. I couldn’t go anywhere unless it was directly serving the family or if it was church related. I celebrated my 20th birthday during this super fun lockdown. I thought I would treat myself to a few new ear piercings. I loaded my siblings in the car and we went to the mall. I went to Claire’s and got second holes in both of my lobes and my cartilage pierced. I didn’t even think to ask my mom because it’s my body, money and choice. I proudly showed my mom my new piercings when she got home from work thinking she would like them because she also had a lot of ear piercings too. Instead I was met with anger and punishment because I dared to do something without asking her first. I was dumbfounded. It never occurred to me to ask! I truly didn’t think it was a big deal. They were tastefully done and drew no attention to me. I was still in trouble either way though. None of that mattered because I defied my direct authority figures.
My Life Behind The Zion Curtain
Eventually I figured if I had any chance to explore the world around me I would have to move to Nashville. I would be closer to the friends I had made down there and actually have some freedom to live my life (I was such a naive, sweet summer child). I became more serious about plans to move to Nashville after we attended the first summer camp that Remnant hosted in the summer of 2004. I longed for events like this so I could see all of my friends because they were the only age appropriate interactions I was allowed. I could actually be young and have a little fun when we were all together(all leadership and parent approved of course).
During this camp, a really bad thunderstorm happened during one of our services. Instead of seeking cover, Gwen used this to declare that someone in the camp was sinning and their sin was threatening to destroy the church. God was showing his dissatisfaction with this thunderstorm. I was terrified because I thought it was me causing this. I hadn’t completely let go of smoking, was slowly slipping into depression and wanting things more rather than waiting on God’s timing. Everyone was on their knees, faces to the ground, some even laying on the ground, begging for forgiveness. I was begging for forgiveness and promising to do better if God would just spare the church.
What I wasn’t picking up on at this time however was the manipulation. I was so immune to it at this point and such a pliable person because I was so desperate to be loved and accepted. I was like a frog in a pot of boiling water not realizing the danger I was in.
Once we got back, I moved forward in making plans, saving money and giving deadlines to work so I could make my move to Nashville. In August 2004 my mom declared to me that I wasn’t pure enough to move and needed to find my way again. She didn’t want me going down there bringing shame to the Marion Remnant chapter or to our family with my sinful ways. I was angry and in that moment it was so clear. No matter what I did, no matter what I gave up, I was never going to be good enough. I wanted my freedom too much and it showed. I wasn’t patient for God to give it to me so therefore I couldn’t have it until I was “dead to it”(this is popular Remnant lingo. If you were truly waiting on God’s timing and depending on him for everything, you wouldn’t be bothered if you didn’t get what you wanted, when you wanted it.). It was shortly after this “discussion” I decided that I was done. Instead of planning for my move to Nashville, I started planning my exit once again. I had my fill of being abused, manipulated and controlled. I was 130 lbs, barely eating and was still being asked how much weight I had to lose because I still had big breasts. I’m a 5’6” woman, I was skeletal at 130 lbs. I could never attain or maintain that weight ever again, it was only achievable through absolute starvation. I recently shared this with my nurse practitioner and she was absolutely shocked at what I had put my body through for years.
That August in 2004 I called my birth father and told him what was going on. He agreed to come get me and bring me up to Huron. He said would help me find an apartment and get settled. I was thrilled because I was going to be free soon. My memory is blocking me at the moment because I can’t remember if my dad came to my mom’s house or what happened exactly. I just knew this time I didn’t have to sneak out in the middle of the night. I was scared out of my mind because I had no idea what I was doing; I was taught that my wants and desires were a sinful rebellion. I needed to fully submit to God and my authority figures for everything. Each time I chose for myself I was devastated because I would go to hell for that selfish decision. To leave Remnant Fellowship, therefore, is to fall into absolute spiritual death. You become a lost child that God doesn’t listen to. You will be cursed instead of blessed, you’ll become fat, sad and angry because you turned your back on God. My strong will won out in the end though because I just wanted to be free and find myself.
I found an apartment quickly and my birth father gave me a truck to use until I could afford to buy my own car. My birth father even helped me find a job at a local drive thru and I also worked for his company when I had time. I worked full time at the drive thru and was allowed to make my own schedule, the money was good and it was laid back. The best part was I could come and go as I pleased, hang out with whoever I wanted, live my life as I saw fit. By this time, Robert was done with school in Orlando and it was to him that I made one of the first phone calls when I moved into my new apartment. Robert and I picked up where we left off back in 2003. I quickly realized that Robert was deeply into drugs and I knew I had to end things with him. I was grateful that he was forthcoming and honest with me at first. He wanted me to get him clean and I was not into that nor was I equipped to do so. I still feel guilty about it to this day, but proud that I was able to make clear boundaries in a potentially sticky situation. Since I would not stand by his side, we parted ways as quick as our reunion happened.
I had already made so many life altering decisions and was just getting my footing in this new world of mine. I absolutely LOVED my first apartment. It was in the most picturesque neighborhood called Old Plat and Lakefront Beach, a beach I grew up going to was a block away. It was fully furnished which was great because I didn’t have anything but clothes and a few personal belongings. I could basically pack my entire life into a car at this point. It was a skill I was proud of; I could get in and out of places quickly if I had to (reflecting on that now though makes me so sad). My new apartment had a picture of a cardinal on the wall. Remnant and my mom talked a lot about cardinals being signs from God. I was over the moon that I had that picture in my new place because that meant that God approved. I wrote my mom a letter excitedly to tell her. She wrote back that I was wrong. I was devastated, but what was I thinking? Why would she see reason now? She’s not going to be happy for me because I turned my back on God and his church.
Since I spent over a year in a controlled existence, I went nuts. I had to get that oppression out of my system anyway I could. I can confidently say that I succeeded. Old Megan was back full force and nothing was stopping me. I was a strong, independent woman calling the shots in my life now. Fall of 2004, I met Erik. Erik worked at a car detailing business behind the drive thru I worked at and came in often. He was handsome with dark curly hair, dark eyes and a winning smile. Erik was also very sweet and would take the time to talk to me, joke with me and get to know me. I was instantly attracted to him and looked forward to seeing him every day that I worked. Conversation was just easy and fun with him which I enjoyed. We started hanging out and eventually we started sleeping together. Not too long after we slept together, I found out he had a girlfriend and drama ensued. He eventually chose me, but kept going between the ex girlfriend and me for over a month. Looking back on it now, it’s funny in a way because I had no self esteem and sometimes no self respect, but I refused to be the other woman. I absolutely did not appreciate being put in this situation, I joke often that yes, I was a ho, but I was a ho with standards.
The ex girlfriend and I fought bitterly, I was constantly being harassed. I apologized numerous times but those apologies always fell on deaf ears, I was just some whore that stole her boyfriend. I didn’t do it on purpose, I didn’t know he had a girlfriend until it was too late. Not a single soul believed me though. I was new in town, how in the hell was I supposed to know who was dating who? I was too busy having fun to care about what other people were doing. I found out Erik was still involved with his ex around Christmas. I was livid so I returned everything I bought him and told him not to come around until he made up his mind. He eventually made his decision yet again and he said he wanted to be with me, so we moved forward. I started meeting friends and family and enjoying the time we were spending together.
The Life Change
In January 2005, my breasts hurt so bad and my stomach felt like I had done a million crunches. I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant, but just in case I was pregnant, I stopped drinking. Two weeks before I officially turned 21, I decided to take a pregnancy test. It was positive and I was in shock. I had a few pregnancy scares before this, but just figured that I couldn’t get pregnant. Yes, I am fully aware of how irresponsible that is, to just assume that my past pregnancy scares meant that I couldn’t get pregnant. A few days after I took the test, I started spotting, so I went to the ER. The doctors thought at first that I had an ectopic pregnancy. After a few tests they saw that it wasn’t and everything seemed to be ok.
I was crying out to God the entire time to let this baby be ok and I saw that my prayers were answered. This was all incredibly foreign to me to even want this baby because I did not want to be a mom at all. By March I had already heard the heartbeat and knew that my life from this point had to be different. I had to change because I had a tiny human that would be my responsibility and would look to me for guidance. I don’t know where I found my strength, but it was then I knew that no matter what, I would be ok and I could do this on my own. I even told Erik that just because I was pregnant didn’t mean he had to stay, I would be good with or without him. I didn’t want him to be with me just because I was pregnant with his child. Erik assured me that he did in fact want to be with me no matter what and he was ready for our new, very abrupt adventure. We had only been dating for a few months at this point and our relationship was so fraught with drama already. We eventually moved in together and started planning for our future.
What I didn’t know was that he was sleeping with his ex girlfriend the entire time. The farther I got into my pregnancy, loneliness took hold. I was crying all of the time, my body was changing drastically and no one seemed to have any kind or encouraging words. I was being ridiculed for getting pregnant in the first place. No matter what decision I made or how I felt, I was chastised. I was being told that I got pregnant on purpose to trap Erik, I was being told that that baby wasn’t Erik’s. It was like I was the butt of every joke. I even was asked on a few different occasions why I didn’t just abort the baby.
My mom used to tell me that you get paid back for how bad of a child you are ten fold through your own children; she also used to say that God would give me many children to teach me not to be selfish. Her voice saying those things to me constantly ran through my mind. I began praying to God to give me a boy because I didn’t think I could handle a girl(I still don’t). I prayed hard and I said in each and every prayer that if you love me, you’ll give me a boy. I did have a few small spots of joy while I was pregnant that I remember fondly. My boss at the time gave me two sets of his season tickets to watch the Cleveland Indians. Erik and I got to go to two games that summer. One of the games was right before the ultrasound where we would find out the gender of the baby. At that game, Erik and I thought that we should get a souvenir for the baby. There were pink dogs and blue dogs and Erik picked the blue dog. During the ultrasound days later, we found out that we were having a boy! I was over the moon, that meant my prayers were heard and answered! Maybe I wasn’t as cursed as I thought I was. Maybe God still did listen to me and love me.
The farther I progressed into my pregnancy, I started getting a nagging premonition that I was going to die during childbirth. I have no idea why, I just felt it and anytime I tried to express it I was ignored or admonished. I couldn’t shake it, I don’t know where it came from. I was heavy on my heart and mind. I was slowly realizing that I needed my mom. My mom would know what to do, she could guide me. At this point she already gave birth to my baby brother in November 2004, she had been through this five times. What sealed the deal for me was watching the supernatural horror movie “Constantine”. There was a dialogue between two of the film’s characters, John Constantine and the angel Gabriel that stood out to me in which Gabriel warns Constantine:
— No — passage requires faith and faith by definition is belief without proof. You have proof. And that means you’re not playing by the same rules as everyone else. Your work has mostly been for selfish reasons. I’m sorry. Each of you is born with the promise of salvation preordained. The cost of your redemption is simple belief. And yet you whine about impossible rules. Sometimes I imagine you hardly deserve the gift you have been given.
I was convinced that I had to go back home and join Remnant again to be saved from my fate, but I didn’t want to fully admit it. I wrestled with this for months while my life continued to get worse. I kept trying to bargain my way out of it. I mean, don’t you see? God was clearly telling me that I knew what I had to do. I had to go back to Remnant Fellowship or I was going to continue to be cursed for choosing a sinful life over God. I was a self fulfilling prophecy. As long as I was thinking that way, I would always end up going back to Remnant. I was constantly telling myself that I deserved all the bad I was dealt because I was sinning and turned my back on God and Remnant Fellowship. I was feeling this way even after my answered prayers. I was such a mental and emotional mess.
In late July 2005 while I was in my third trimester, I moved back to Marion, Ohio. I had enough of Erik and my life in Huron. This homecoming was going to be different though. We were all going to be moving to Nashville. That was fine by me because I was done with Ohio and everyone in it. Erik refused to come with me, he only proposed marriage after I left him. I told him, “As much as I want to say yes, this is too little too late”. It absolutely devastated me to tell him that, because I wanted him to make some kind of commitment to me before I left. I didn’t want to walk away from him, but I didn’t feel as if I had any other choice. I did beg and plead with him to come with me, but he refused. Erik never fought for me, he just let me go and that devastated me. I took that inaction as he didn’t love me as much as I thought he did. Erik was the only one who got a goodbye however. My birth father and the rest of my family didn’t get a single word from me. I honestly didn’t think anyone would care. My family seemed embarrassed of me and didn’t really act like they wanted me around. I truly felt as if I didn’t matter to them. I was wrong, but I wouldn’t realize how wrong until over a year later.
By late August we settled into the Vasey’s house in Spring Hill, TN. We were all moved in and I wasn’t able to make any more big trips per the Dr’s orders. I was late in my 3rd trimester by now. My step dad’s father died a couple of weeks after we moved to the Nashville area, so the family left me to go to the funeral during this time. While they were gone, I learned the truth about how Erik was behaving behind my back while I was at home pregnant. I had always suspected that he was sleeping with his ex behind my back, but I was never really sure. Erik of course gaslit the hell out of me when I brought it up which made me think I was just being crazy. Someone had been telling Erik that the baby I was carrying wasn’t really his and when he was drunk it would come up occasionally. It was true that I was messing around with a few guys before Erik and I hooked up, but I used protection with them. Erik and I never did. I thought I was just paranoid and crazy with hormones, but I could never get rid of that nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. I couldn’t believe that in my third trimester of pregnancy I was dealing with this devastating news by myself. I was supposed to be overjoyed, loved and doted upon. What happened to the family I dreamed of having and thought I was going to have? I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was cry, I was convinced my heart broke in two. How could he do this to me? I loved him so much, I was carrying his child. I put up with so much from him and this is what I get in return. I guess I deserved it, after all he used me to cheat on his girlfriend at the time. I truly thought that we were going to build a life together, I thought he was my person and to learn all of this broke me and changed me.
Someone encouraged me to call Erin Shamblin, Michael Shamblin’s wife, and I did. I needed someone to talk me through this. Erin said I should be grateful that we weren’t together, Erik’s actions showed that he didn’t love me. Since he didn’t follow me, he didn’t want anything to do with God which I should see as a blessing. I should want a Godly man to lead me and my son. She encouraged me to be ok with my decision to name our son myself and not let Erik have a say. Erik’s actions showed that he wasn’t a good role model or a good man. I remember Erin being very kind, but very clearly directing me to not dwell on this heartbreak and just to focus on God. I needed to be grateful that I was delivered from that life. I don’t recall feeling comforted, having only received a lot of patience and gentle reminders to put God first during this time of distress. I was also told not to force the issue of putting Erik on our son’s birth certificate. Erik chose not to be present for our son’s birth. My mom wanted to throw me a baby shower, but word came from Gwen that throwing me a baby shower would send the wrong message to the youth of Remnant. This was my third time back “in” Remnant and I came back knocked up and unmarried. My sin was very out in the open and it didn’t help my case that Erik didn’t follow me to Nashville and join Remnant.
I’ve been trying to recall if my weight was ever brought up while I was pregnant because I had gained 80 lbs. I’m sure it was because I know I lost weight once I moved back in with my family and I remember stepping on a scale after I had my son. After I had my son, I was 199lbs and at the time that was the biggest I had ever been. Before I had him, I vaguely remember having a short discussion with Gwen at Helen Boerman’s wedding held at Ashlawn. Gwen very sternly let me know that I really had to prove that I was serious this time. I was desperate to do anything at this point, I had a son on the way, I was single and in a whole new state. I looked at this as a fresh start. I could truly get my life back on track like I always wanted. I was going to prove everyone wrong and show them what I was capable of.
I was due on October 12th and that was the day I went into labor and I was fasting because it was the Feast of Harvest. I remember mom struggling with the idea of getting me Chik-Fil-A nuggets because I was so hungry. My shame and guilt led me to question every want and desire I had. I ended up getting the nuggets and have been obsessed with Chik-Fil-A ever since. Recalling that memory, it’s kind of funny that I currently have to bribe my son with Chik-Fil-A if I want him to hang out with me. He is now fifteen years old and way too cool to hang out with his mom these days.
Our instructions from leadership were clear that we could break fast Thursday night at sunset. Gwen told us that this is what the Jewish people did when they celebrated the Feast of Harvest so we were happy to comply because they were God’s chosen ones and so were we. I was having serious contractions, but they weren’t close enough together and I wasn’t dilating. I was in pain and I was being made to walk everywhere while I was in pain to try and speed my labor up. We spent the night in the condo we were able to rent and get into on October 13th. There was no furniture yet, so we slept on the floor. We were all so excited because we had a place of our own to settle in as a family.
Finally, in the wee hours of October 14th, 2005, I couldn’t take the pain anymore and mom took me to Baptist Hospital. Sandy Sheridan was there to support me as well as a small handful of other young Remnant women I had met and befriended during my previous stint in the church. I was out of my mind with pain, absolutely terrified for what I thought was coming and no one was filling me in on what to expect. I asked, but I never got answers. I opted for an epidural but they had to give me pain meds through my IV so I could calm down enough to get the epidural. They asked me if I would be ok with a student administering my epidural and I gave my consent, but then they hit a pocket of my spinal fluid. I’ve come to learn that this is very bad and thankfully I haven’t had any serious complications from it that I know of. The anesthesiologist finally got my epidural in and I felt more at ease. It came time for me to push around 12ish and I pushed for 3 ½ hours. That entire 3 ½ hours I watched my baby’s head come out and then go back in. I had no clue what was going on and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t coming out.
Eventually they discovered that the umbilical cord was wrapped around my son’s neck and he was coming out face up and sideways, so his shoulders couldn’t get through. My epidural also wore off and they had to redose me. Not before I felt enough pain while the OBGYN had her arm in me as far as it could go to try and turn my baby so he could come out. If that didn’t work, then they would have to attempt a C-section delivery to get him out. He finally turned and came out and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
I was so anxious and ready to meet him after all we had already been through. I strongly felt that his name had to be a “B” name but hated them all except for Benzion. Benzion is Hebrew for “Son of Zion”. Gwen also called Remnant Fellowship Zion, which means heaven on earth. I loved the name Benzion because it was strong and uncommon. He was also my personal heaven on earth, my salvation. I insisted that he have the same middle name as my birth father and my beloved Grandpa Cooner. I met Benzion Lawrence at 4:30pm on October 14th. He was 8lbs, 12 oz, the most handsome little man. I knew in that moment I would die before that baby had to feel any pain, I would go to the ends of the earth for him if I had to.
I don’t remember much after that because I was hemorrhaging and in danger of bleeding out. True to my premonition, I did almost die delivering my son. I vaguely remember everything that happened, I know I made phone calls to let family back home that I had Benzion and drank a Sprite. I remember my mom being visibly scared and shaken because she said they sent everyone out of the room and there was so much blood everywhere. I try not to think about it too much, because truly it was all worth it. I received many wonderful visits from church members. I enjoyed being fussed over and paid attention to and showing off Benzion. Mom even said that they announced Ben’s birth during church which we didn’t think would happen; he was a bastard child after all. Once we came home, Gwen sent dinner over to us which shocked us. In fact a lot of church members brought us food and things for me and the baby. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and grateful because I didn’t think I deserved it. I kept a lot of the outfits that were bought or given to me from church members because I never wanted to forget those small moments of kindness and selflessness that I was shown.
Within the first week I was expected to go back to church, in immense pain and being incredibly uncomfortable breastfeeding in public. Even after giving birth, having sex outside of marriage, I didn’t like being nude to where someone could see me. I was struggling trying to breastfeed Ben because funnily enough, having big breasts doesn’t guarantee that you can provide great breast feeding to nurse a child. I was up all night weeping because I couldn’t figure it out, I was in so much pain. I didn’t have any other options as my mom informed me that no one was going to pay for formula, so I needed to breastfeed him. I didn’t have a job and wasn’t permitted to have one so there was no way to buy formula even if I needed it. I went through this hell for 3 months and finally tapped out because it just wasn’t working for him or for me. I couldn’t take the constant guilt tripping and admonishment, it was stressing me out because no one would help me, it was as if I should just automatically know how everything works. I found a way to sign up for WIC and was able to obtain formula and other dietary needs for him without having to put anyone out. I was so proud of that. I didn’t have a paying job, but I was providing in some way. I was even able to qualify for health benefits for him as well so I could ensure that he could get to a doctor.
I did have a job technically, it was to be the family’s nanny. I had to wrangle two babies, cook, clean and run the household. I was expected to lose my extra weight pretty quickly too. I wasn’t given a timeline, but I felt the pressure. I had to keep proving that I deserved to be in Remnant and took their teachings seriously this time. Mine and Ben’s life depended on it. Of course there was a lot of starving, both intentional and unintentional. I didn’t really have a lot of time to eat. Adjusting to all of these abrupt changes took some time, but there really wasn’t room for a learning curve. I needed to pull it together pretty quick. I eventually got a decent routine going for both boys and did my best to have everyone ready for church on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Ben went everywhere with me, even to hang out with friends. Late night Waffle House hangs, watching movies and hanging out at each other’s houses were a few of the things I could do with Ben in tow. After all, I made my bed, I needed to lie in it. This was a consequence of my sin and I needed to accept it. No babysitter, no me time, no break – that’s what happens when you become a mom. You have to lay down your entire life to make that little person feel loved and taken care of. I knew this, I just didn’t know how drastic the adjustment was going to be. Of course if my mom wanted me to go do something with her, like go to downtown Nashville, a sitter magically appeared. Anything outside of those once in a while special treats was just abusing everyone’s goodwill however.
Time pressed on into 2006, I was still working on how to be a good mom, nanny, housekeeper and daughter. All I wanted was to get out of the house and earn money to help contribute, but no, no, I was once again told again by my mom that I would be much more useful at home. I eventually started babysitting other Remnant children to bring in some income. I wasn’t encouraged to spend time with women my age with no children, I had to seek out women with children. My social life was church events and I was going to do my best to be at every single one, even if I was stuck in the nursery. That’s where you had to go if your baby wouldn’t be quiet. Everyone had to be quiet during service, even babies. You had to train the babies to be quiet during service. I was told to do a little pat or pinch on Ben’s leg to teach him not to interrupt services. He wasn’t even a year old and talking at this point. How could I reconcile that, how would Ben understand that? I tried it once and felt so bad that I never did it again. I just accepted my time in the nursery and sometimes I would take walks outside with Ben during services. It was frustrating because I constantly felt like I was on the outside looking in, but this is the life I chose for myself when I turned my back on God in 2004.
I would go to leadership about advice on everything, including if I should communicate with my son’s paternal grandparents. I wanted to be as transparent as possible because my track record was spotty when it came to outside communication. At first I was told no but eventually they relented and said that I could accept gifts and communication from them if they chose to do so. I was also allowed to send pictures, but not too often. I remember my heart hurting so badly because I really liked Erik’s mom and she was so sweet to me. She just wanted to meet and be around Ben so bad. I held her at arm’s length the whole time because I wanted to prove myself and there was too much at stake; I didn’t want to doom my son to a terrible life because I didn’t want to obey God. I could tell that it hurt her so much, especially when we came up to Ohio secretly to visit. I never told her or Erik, but she ended up finding out, I can’t remember how and it truly doesn’t matter. I could feel the pain in the email she sent me and I was so ashamed. I could never bring myself to say that because she wasn’t a member of Remnant and didn’t support the church I would have to keep her at arm’s length.
This was my track record, constantly hurting people that meant something to me all to prove that I could obey my authorities. It’s sickening to think back on because it is such a mind f— to everyone involved. I can never begin to try to undo the damage or even make up for all of the hurt and pain I caused. “I’m sorry” will never be enough and quite frankly is lame to say when you treat people the way I did.
Nagging Concerns Coming To Mind
After Ben turned 1 in October 2006, I finally obtained permission from Remnant leadership to attend a massage therapy school I found in Nashville. The school gave an extensive education in all areas of massage. I was so excited to have a career goal and a purpose outside of nanny and mom. I couldn’t believe I was so blessed to have this opportunity. However, I was not given permission to date anyone, I’m sure if any guys asked for permission to date me that they were told no. I’ll never know the truth, but I’m no idiot, guys liked me. I only had eyes for one though. We never dared talk about it, because again, there was the never ending requirement for Remnant leadership approval for dating and courtship firmly in place . My mom certainly approved, but that wasn’t enough. Leadership had to have the final say in all Remnant member matters. Here I was, in school, I bought my first car, I felt secure in my relationship with God. I was hoping that my desire of being married and having a family would be answered soon. I was being as patient as I could, waiting for that eventual decision.
There were some nagging concerns because an acquaintance from high school messaged me on social media telling me that I was in a cult. I was stunned but assured her that Remnant wasn’t a cult. I told her that I was truly happy and in no danger. I explained that I finally found my calling in life and that I felt at home for the first time in my life. I shrugged it off and moved on, or so I thought. That message from my high school acquaintance along with experiencing people outside of the church was beginning to pull me out of my “sunken place”(like the movie Get Out, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a must). My personal “sunken place” is where my true self, wants and desires were locked away because you’re taught that your true self is a manifestation of Satan trying to derail you from your relationship with God. I slowly started questioning what I was doing, of course having contact with the outside world opened that doubt wide open.
One of those moments of contact was the most bizarre thing that happened to me ever, church or no church. A young man in my Ayurvedic class that I just met walked with me to my car one night. He looked at me and asked if I would go home with him for Thanksgiving and meet his family. I was stunned because we were strangers first and foremost and that question was completely random. I also knew there was no way in hell that was going to be able to happen even if I wanted to. How do I explain Remnant to someone? It gave me pause to ponder “why do I feel weird and bad saying Remnant values and teachings out loud to people that are not affiliated?” It started sounding weird and foreign instead of making sense like it used to. These and other nagging concerns did more than nag .. they kickstarted my mind and I began to reflect more on this strange disconnect within me.
This story wouldn’t truly be me if I didn’t add another episode of sneaking around. Remember I said I was super good at it? MySpace was forbidden right around the time Ben was born in the fall of 2005. I was still active on MySpace keeping myself as hidden as I could, communicating with people I knew from Huron and Marion. One of Erik’s girlfriends, “Betty”, found me there and picked fights with me right after I had Ben. Her favorite thing to do was rub my face in their relationship. I was still in love with Erik so it hurt deeply to see him move on with his life. It drove me crazy that he was still living in the apartment that we moved in together and girls were coming in and out of his life. If I didn’t see it, I ended up hearing about it. I couldn’t be mad because I left him, but it still hurt either way. Eventually Betty and I became friends because they broke up. The story is vague to me because it didn’t affect me. Betty married a guy she went to school with that had always been in love with her. Erik moved on with Betty’s best friend Marsha. Marsha was also pregnant with Erik’s second child, due in January 2007. I was again hurt, but I remembered in a moment of anger that I told him he would get someone else pregnant, marry her thinking that he made up for how our relationship ended. I told him nothing he did could make up for it or fix it. I will fully admit that I’m a nosey Nancy, I would poke through people’s friends list on MySpace and that’s how I stumbled upon my ex husband and my now husband which I will get to later on. I need to make it clear that I did not start conversations or relationships with either of these men before I left the church.
The Breakaway Begins
It’s November 2006. Ben is 14 months, using sippy cups and is an absolute joy. He was bow legged and pigeon toed as a baby and I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to walk. When he started walking, he looked like he had just dismounted from a horse after hours of riding. It was the most precious thing and hard not to laugh at(not in a malicious way, trust me. You would have laughed too if you saw him running). I’m still trying to get my little brother to give up bottles and drink out of sippy cups. My little brother was eleven months older than Ben by this time. I was always ALMOST successful, but then someone would go behind me and give him a bottle. Everyday I would start all over again. It was maddening and of course I would get in trouble because this was my job. I was getting weary with hearing that I was a bad mother because I didn’t get laundry done or the house wasn’t clean enough, etc. If the laundry was messed up then I got in trouble for ruining clothes(which I never did, my little sisters were trying to be helpful and wouldn’t be cautious with certain clothes and they always happened to be my moms clothes) because I was disobedient and horrible. I was constantly being told how awful I was. It stung even more now because it was coupled with the accusation that I was an unfit mother because I was dragging Ben down with me in my refusal to be submissive and obedient.
I think it was November 9th. I was being disciplined by my mom because someone in our household had packed a bottle in my little brother’s diaper bag for church on Wednesday. After years of enduring this unfair behavior and constant unfounded accusations, I finally stood up for myself and gave attitude because I had enough. Let me tell you, that was not the wisest decision, but I was done with this nonsense. As punishment for sticking up for myself, I had to turn over my cell phone to my mom. I walked away to do it, and as I was walking up the stairs to my room I said no, I’m not going to do it. The phone was in my name and I paid for it with money I earned from babysitting, so no, I wasn’t going to give it up. It was my lifeline.
All hell literally broke loose. I ran to my room because now I was being chased by my mom, I made her angry. I grabbed my phone and tried to hold onto it for dear life. I was hit, punched, kicked and scratched by my mom before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and just let the phone go. My mom grabbed Ben and while holding him, stood over me telling me how unfit of a mother I was, that I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I was lying on the floor sobbing because she wouldn’t give me my son back, he was crying because he just wanted me. My mom left for work with my cell phone and I was the only adult in the house. I was just walking around in a daze because I couldn’t wrap my mind around what just happened. The only number I knew by heart was my friend Betty’s number. I called her and told her what happened. She was shocked and assured me that none of what happened was normal, that I needed to call the cops because I was assaulted.
I didn’t want to do this because there were Remnant members all over our neighborhood. The Gadke’s could see our house from their home, the Zanoni’s lived a few doors down from us. This was a line you just didn’t cross. I deserved what I got, I dared to stand up to my mom and defy her authority. Betty was insistent that I needed to leave, she was in Ohio and would do her best to help me. I freaked out because I couldn’t leave again, what will happen to Ben and I? I have nowhere to go, I have little to no money. She reassured me that it would all get figured out, I just needed to leave.
I don’t remember who called the cops, but they came. The cops took pictures of my face and took my statement. As I was sitting on the stairs frozen in fear, an officer looked at me and asked me how old I was. I responded with my age, which was 22 at the time. He looked at me puzzled. I knew what was coming next so I just told him, “I know it sounds crazy, I don’t know to explain it to where it makes sense, please don’t make me.” I responded this way because you were warned that God would punish you extra if you dared speak ill about his saints in Remnant Fellowship. After all, it wasn’t the church that failed, it was you because you couldn’t submit to God’s authority and just obey Him.
Someone notified my mom that the cops were at our house so she came home from work to find out what was going on. Once they got statements they needed from me and my mom, they asked if I wanted to press charges. I probably should have, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I asked to be reassured that my mom couldn’t take my son, my phone, my car or any of my things. They told me that she couldn’t and made sure that my phone was returned to me. I must have asked them a million times if I could take all that was mine and get out of there. They were so patient with me and kept telling me yes and even stayed with me until I was ready to go. I knew I couldn’t stay, the punishment would be more than I could bear. A line was crossed that there was no going back from. While I was packing up my car two church leaders, Marcus Francis and Tedd Anger, showed up and were trying to get me to change my mind, doing their best to convince me to stay. A few times I faltered, but I kept saying “no, I can’t stay here anymore. I have to go.” I’m sure they said more to me and I’m sure I said more as well, but too much time has passed. I was in so much pain physically, mentally and emotionally that I didn’t take it all in. Betty sent me $40 through Western Union and I was on the road to freedom.
The Road To Freedom Is Never Easy
I had no idea where I was going to live, what I was going to do or anything. During that drive I vowed that I would never return, no matter what happened. I could never go back to that place. Betty was in Sandusky, Ohio so that’s where I ended up going. Her mother in law graciously let me crash at her house and was thrilled to have a baby around. Within the first week, I brought Ben to meet Erik which I would say was awkward(he might also agree because it was hella random) as he was living his life and I was just frantic. I of course knew we wouldn’t get back together because he was with Marsha and expecting their first child and were planning on getting married. I had to tread carefully and lightly, two things I knew nothing about. I am an intense person, when my mind is made up rest assured it will happen one way or another. I will go down with the ship, I will almost always die on that hill. It can be foolish behavior at times, but more often than not it has served me well.
Before you get all “Yay, she did it!”, or “OMG I’m so proud of her!” I need to give a disclaimer. I just want to warn you, reader, that there is a chance that you are going to stop rooting for me for a bit. I’m no angel and I really make some bad choices from here on out. Consider this a fair warning.
There seemed to be some bad blood with Betty and Marsha, and through my snooping on MySpace, I deduced that Marsha cheated on Erik with her ex boyfriend, Betty confirmed my suspicions. I cackled with glee because that’s what Erik deserved. Now that I was in Ohio, Betty introduced me to this ex boyfriend of Marsha’s that I had been cyber snooping on for months. He was in my opinion handsome, charming and mysterious. We exchanged numbers and started talking, Betty and I hung out with him quite a bit the first week or so I was back in Ohio. The ex boyfriend, Joey and I eventually started liking each other. I was just mind blown that a guy even thought I was attractive. Guys in Remnant didn’t dare act like they liked me and guys I met when I would go out with my friends would dip when I told them I had a baby at home. So this was thrilling for me! I ate it all up. He promised me stability, love and a family. It was as if he completely understood my deepest desires while barely knowing me.
Then Betty introduced me to some of her new husband’s friends. Among them was another young man named Joe. All of them were unlike anyone I ever knew, before the church and during. They were so cool, fun and easy going. They were in a rockabilly band together. Joe and his friends invited Betty and I to come to one of their shows in Pittsburgh so we did. It’s not like we had anything else to do anyway. Joe was aloof and not very talkative to me, but was very attentive and watchful. On our ride back home I had to sit in the middle and poor Joe was squished up against the door, but he never complained. We hung out a few times and then Betty started telling me that he liked me. I brushed it off because he definitely didn’t act like it. Joey, however did. He seemed head over heels for me and Ben. Joey proposed marriage right after Thanksgiving and I said yes. We were married on December 17th, 2006. The minute those vows were exchanged, Joey turned into an absolute monster. He was not the man I agreed to marry. There were at least 3 years between us, with me being the older one and having much more life experience. He seemed to be on the same level as me at first, but the cracks in that facade were starting to show.
Before I made this insane decision, I tried to contact my birth father but was rejected at first. I don’t blame them or hold grudges. I had left 3 separate times with no goodbye and cut them out of my life completely, yet it was always them I ended up crawling back to. The moment I pulled into my birth father’s driveway, he came out screaming at me to get the hell away from him and his family. He didn’t want me around. I struggled financially for a month before Joey and I got married, maxing out credit cards and begging to stay with the few people that would actually talk to me. I starved so Ben could eat, I made sure he had everything he needed. Erik was helpful in doing what he could financially for Ben, he was kind and as sensitive to my plight as he could be, he had his own life to deal with at this point. He was engaged and had another child on the way, the baby was due soon.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does. I ended up pregnant. I should be happy, right? At least I was married this time. I was not happy. I left Joey right after I found out I was pregnant because I couldn’t take his behavior. He hated that I slept with more people than him, he hated that I had a child with someone else, I felt at some point he just hated me. I made up lies and excuses to leave him so he would leave me alone and want to divorce me. Nothing worked, it just made his anger worse. Joey hated that I found a job at a drive thru in Norwalk, thinking that I was such a whore before we got married that I was just going to find a guy to cheat on him. Betty tried to give me a place to stay, there was a least one time where I slept in my car. When Joey’s family caught wind of that, they called CPS on me with outrageous accusations that I beat my child, that I was getting an abortion, that I wasn’t providing Ben’s basic needs. This is when my birth father finally stepped in and opened his home to me. He was extremely angry because CPS had to come do an inspection of the house to prove the accusations false. My birth father was angry that I had dragged him into all this drama and that I had messed my life up so badly. I was just relieved to have a place to stay and help with Ben so I could focus on working.
One thing my birth father and I agreed on however, is that I couldn’t have the baby I was carrying. I wasn’t in a position to care for it; I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay married to Joey or not at this point. I certainly didn’t have any money to pay for the divorce or the abortion and my birth father wasn’t offering to help pay at the time. Ingrid, my mom’s mother, actually loaned me the money to pay for the abortion so I could start freeing myself from Joey. Before the end of my first trimester, I had an appointment to terminate my pregnancy and I went through with it. I had to. This baby was going to have nothing but a life of mental and emotional anguish as long and Joey and his family were involved. I couldn’t in good conscious attempt to raise a child to suffer like I had. This of course made mine and Joey’s relationship worse, naturally. I didn’t give him a choice and it wasn’t his choice to make anyway.
At my birth father’s I was still under his thumb, so as far as my free will and autonomy, I still didn’t get it back. I was henpecked for every decision I made, I had a curfew and had to ask permission for everything. They hated my job at the drive thru and eventually I quit it to work at a local factory. I was dating even though I was still technically married. One nice perk of living with my birth father was he was sober now. I had a DD built in and we would all go out with their friends and party all of the time. It was great and I enjoyed some of those moments and remember a few fondly. When the fall of 2007 rolled around, I got a DUI and lost my license which was incredibly humbling. I never ever got into trouble other than a speeding ticket so this really brought me low. I started second guessing everything I was doing and eventually came to the conclusion that I was being punished for aborting mine and Joey’s baby and for not being a good wife to him. We started talking and we both agreed to reconcile.
My birth father and step mom were angry, but said if you’re going to do it, do it right this time. I went whole hog, I was really going to try to be a submissive wife like I was taught. I changed my name from Megan Schleenbaker to Megan Nightengale and did anything and everything Joey asked me to do. Eventually the novelty wore thin and the fights began again, but this time they escalated. Joey was jealous of Erik and was constantly stirring up trouble between Erik and I. If another man talked to me and I responded, it was a fight and I was a cheating whore. Everything I said or did Joey read too much into it and accused me of anything and everything he could think of. He was also doing drugs as well, which I knew. I made him promise not to do them at home because of Ben which he did agree to. He would just do them at work instead. This existence went on for months, eventually I had to quit my factory job because he didn’t feel like driving me and felt that it got in the way of our marriage. I was at his mercy for a long time and had little to no choice but to comply with his every whim.
The Turns In The Road To Freedom
We’re now in the spring of 2008, and this is where the first uncle that sexually abused me comes back into my life. He had randomly reached out to me telling me that he wanted a pair of my underwear and that he wanted to sleep with me. I showed it to Joey and it was instantly flipped onto me as if I had done something to make my uncle feel this way, this was my fault. I blacked out, I mentally broke. We started fighting and it was so loud the downstairs tenants called the cops. Once they arrived he spun his tale and off I went to jail. I was booked in the Huron County Jail for domestic violence. I sobbed the entire time. The whole experience was so degrading. I was given a mat to sleep on, but there was no room so I had to sleep on the floor. I sobbed for hours, I couldn’t be consoled. I refused to eat or come out of my cell.
After nine hours I was brought down to be read my charges in court, the judge let me out on a recognizance bond. I was released and I got the hell out of there. No one was there to pick me up, I had no cell phone, I walked two to three miles to get back home. I walked into our apartment and Joey was surprised. He started apologizing to me and asking me not to leave him. I was done, I couldn’t even bring myself to look at him. Eventually my birth father got a hold of me and got me. He promised that we would come back for the rest of my things later. I was back in my birth father’s house yet again. I’m like a damn boomerang at this point, I certainly felt it. My birth father gave me the money to retain a lawyer for my pending court case and my eventual divorce.
I was eventually able to get the court to agree to drop the domestic violence charges down to disorderly conduct if I took six months of anger management. It most definitely did not help my case that Joey was going to the courts telling them how psychotic I was and that I was in desperate need of help. Over the summer months I ended up working two jobs, I worked for my father and I worked for a local Subway franchisee and started working at the Subway on Cedar Point’s midway. I also took up counseling on my own at this time because I knew deep down that something was wrong with me and I wanted answers. It also didn’t help that I got into a fight with my birth dad and step mom, so they held me down and I started having panic attacks. There was talk of admitting me, but I refused and opted to go to counseling instead. I was only able to afford a few visits, but those few visits were so impactful to me. I had to fill out a questionnaire and just from that she knew I had suffered so much abuse, sexual included. I immediately started crying. I had never felt so understood in one moment like that. This complete stranger knew how I was suffering before we even talked. It was this counselor that taught me that family can be toxic too and it’s ok to cut them off if you have to.
During the summer Joey and I managed to find our way back together. I was sneaking around meeting up with him and coming to stay with him in our old apartment. I know, I know, what was I thinking? I was still feeling guilty and shouldering the entire burden of our failed marriage. It didn’t hurt that the sex was good either. Joey wanted me to act like we were still married, but he could behave however he wanted. I allowed this, but when he told me that I needed to quit my jobs to attend to him, that’s when I drifted away. It should come as no surprise that eventually my birth father and I weren’t getting along, so I decided that I couldn’t stay with them any longer. I had nowhere to go, so my mom agreed to keep Ben until I could find a place to live. This went on for about a month, and a dear sweet friend allowed me to stay with her for a month or so until I could find a place.
Right around Ben’s 3rd birthday, I found a small one bedroom apartment and the landlord was willing to let me pay the deposit as I went. By the end of October Ben and I finally had our own home and it was absolutely wonderful. Granted it was a tiny apartment, but we made it work. I was also attending my anger management classes at this time as well. They were very enlightening and again I learned so much about myself through these courses.
My now husband Joe reached out to me on MySpace and invited me to one of his shows in October of 2008 and I accepted. He was in a death metal band now and they just started playing shows. That night we hung out, kissed for the first time and he never pushed for more. I had my doubts because I didn’t see him in a romantic light, but I told myself that I wasn’t going to date anyone else unless I did it the right way. I told him that I didn’t want to have sex until after I was divorced and he absolutely respected that. He was so helpful, kind and patient. Even when Joey waltzed back into my life and decided that I owed him something once again, he allowed me space to finalize things with Joey without a complaint. Of course Joey was upset that I had moved on and he was still stuck in a miserable existence, but I didn’t care anymore. I took responsibility for my wrongdoings in our marriage, I was done shouldering his.
The final straw was when he looked through my cell phone while I was sleeping and then woke me up because he was mad that I was texting guys. I told him to get the hell out and never come back. He didn’t have the right to treat me this way anymore and I was done dealing with it. If he wanted to continue to be miserable, he could go do it on his own. My divorce from Joey was finalized in February 2009 right before my 25th birthday and Joe and I resumed our relationship. I kept the last name Nightengale because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of changing my name back again.
Joe and I moved in together late summer 2009 and we tied the knot on April 5th, 2013. We welcomed our son Gunnar in November of 2014. Our relationship has been real and raw, we’ve had our highs and lows and we have even split up once before. He has always been by my side supporting me and loving me no matter what. We have grown up together and have built such a wonderful life together. He always said I was his anchor, but it was him that truly anchored me and gave me the strength and courage to find myself.
Over the years until my family made their exit, I fought and did everything I could to ensure my independence so I would never be faced with that decision again. Naturally I was cut off from my siblings because my mom believed that I had turned my back on God and that was so hard for me. As much as it hurt to stay away and miss all of their milestones, I had to. I struggled for years because I was a single mom with no real life skills besides being a homemaker and no clue who I was. Since birth I was stripped of my autonomy by my parents, but Remnant and their leaders dealt that final blow. I don’t know how I managed to hold onto that small piece of that rebellious spirit, but I’m grateful that I did. I credit a lot of my strength on becoming a mother. It was as if a hidden piece of myself woke up the day I met Ben. I tell Ben all of the time that he saved my life. I hope one day he can truly understand how grateful I am to have him and to be his mother.
It wasn’t until spring of 2019 that I began to realize that I have been suffering from depression, post traumatic stress disorders, and anxiety. I had just shoved all of my trauma and pain into a corner of my mind and locked it away as part of a survival mindset as I struggled through my personal trials. But once I discovered how deep the throbbing of my brokenness had become that I resumed counseling and have been able to confront what I’ve been through. I’ve been able to slowly wade out of survival mode and learn healthy coping skills. My husband and I have built a beautiful life together, Ben and our son Gunnar are two of the most kind, empathetic, sweet boys.
I was told that I wouldn’t have what I do now without obeying God and following Remnant teachings. I scoff at that thought now because I have more than I could have ever dreamt of. I finally have true, unconditional love. I have an amazing job with the best damn team, boss and group of peers you could ask for. Some rifts in my family have been healed and I am closer to some family members than I ever was before. My birth father, step mom and I get along so well and it’s amazing to watch them be grandparents. I love that my boys get to grow up knowing their great grandma, Grandma Cooner, as well as I knew my Great Grandma and Grandpa Mack. My only sorrow is that when I was 20 and had moved back to Huron, my Grandpa Cooner reached out to me several times but I never made time to see him. In September 2004 he died unexpectedly. I never got to say goodbye, I never got to tell him how much I loved him. He will never get to meet Ben or my husband and Gunnar. It’s been 16 years and the magnitude of that loss still affects me as if it happened yesterday.
If anyone tells you that their way is the only way, run. If you have a funny feeling in your gut, run. Don’t ever let anyone take you over, don’t ever hand your power over to someone. Abuse is abuse and spiritual abuse is real and it happens all of the time. If you’re not allowed to question the message, walk away. If the message has to be your entire life, leave it. You are free to believe whatever you want and you are free to be who you want. I have a hard time digesting that a supposed loving God would want to enslave you and only do his bidding. That’s not what love is and if anyone tells you that it is, tell them to take a hike. The scary part is people like this are right in front you, they’re hidden in plain sight. Don’t be the frog in water that dies when it starts to boil because it couldn’t sense that it was in danger. Question everything, trust conditionally.
If any of what I wrote about has happened to you, speak up, get out and stand up to them. We can’t let them win, and eventually they will let their mask slip to show who they truly are. Email Elizabeth HERE