“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”
I have heard it said that you shouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t love dogs (or any other type of pet for that matter!), and I believe it’s true! I grew up loving all kids of animals. As a very young girl, I enjoyed petting all the cats and dogs in my neighborhood, and they loved me!
When I turned eight my family bought a German Shepherd we named ‘Heidi’. We had her from six weeks old until she died of old age, and she and I had a special bond. During my sophomore year of college, I wasn’t able to come home that much. I will never forget the weekend when I did make it home. Heidi was so happy to see me, though she was extremely feeble. It was during that visit that she died, and it was obvious she was waiting to see me one last time to say good-bye. I’m tearing up as I write this.
Early in my marriage we acquired two black labs – Peanut and CoCo – and they were faithful companions for many years. CoCo was the last one to die, and he would have been 16 on his next birthday. I nicknamed him “Shadow” because he followed me everywhere and was always right under my feet. He loved riding in the car and sat up just like a person. We buried both of them on our farm under a huge oak tree, and I still miss them very much.
When my older daughter went away to college, my younger daughter desperately wanted to get another dog. Some dear friends had a Maltese (called ‘Mr. Pip’) that my daughters fell in love with, so that’s why we chose that breed. Coconut recently turned five, and she and I are rarely apart. I cherish her companionship so much!
I know not everyone is fond of dogs or cats for various reasons (fear, allergies, responsibility, and a myriad of other reasons), and that’s absolutely fine, but when a Christian leader dictates to others how many pets they are ‘allowed’ to have and chides them for showing their pets too much love, they have crossed a line with me. Them’s fightin’ words! That is why the following post published on the Recovering Grace website really resonated with me.
Susan, an Italian who loves horses, shares her story about how she was negatively affected by Bill Gothard. We are grateful to the editors at Recovering Grace for giving us permission to republish Susan’s testimony.
This post came to us from a seminar attendee, someone who was very much influenced by the teachings of Bill Gothard. While this site is mainly for former students to share their journeys to healing and grace we thought it would be beneficial to show that many people — even those not inside the Advanced Training Institute — were affected by the teachings of Bill Gothard through the Basic and Advanced Seminars.
“Females who enjoy horseback riding have a problem with rebellion.” — Bill Gothard
I remember reading years ago that Bill Gothard allowed families to have one small pet dog, but not to give it too much love as it might become an idol. Just reading that made me cringe as I thought, “Boy, am I in trouble now!” I really respected — or rather feared — that anything written by Gothard was straight from God. At the time I had a horse, cats, dogs, and milk goats because my husband needed that milk due to a mystery illness. And they all got a lot of petting and love, and they usually stayed with us until they died.
I married my long-suffering husband in 1975. He knew I was different, and he still loved me. His Baptist mom was upset because not only was I from a Catholic Italian family, but I had made my feelings known about not wanting children. I cared little for the other things most woman did. Hair, make-up, clothing, and keeping house were just not on my agenda. I had graduated with a teaching degree, and I wanted to teach school, be an artist, ride horses, and have some cats and dogs as pets. So I did. But I carried a lot of guilt for these choices due to having been to a Gothard seminar where we were taught wifely submission and the importance of having lots of children. Animals, art, and horseback riding were not part of the formula for the perfect Christian life (i.e., God’s best!).
There were things I did for the glory of God. I was willing to work alongside my husband to help youth find their way to God. I was creative in many ways, but my personal style did not line up with the status quo on how to teach the Word of God. I rarely followed the Sunday school lesson as set down by the Baptist board. (They, of course, knew exactly what God wanted to say on that particular Sunday). I preferred to wing it or be led by the Spirit.
I thought I was doing my part well according to my abilities in the First Baptist Church in a little town in Arkansas where my husband was minister of music and youth. But one Monday morning, my husband was called into the pastor’s office. “What is wrong with your wayward wife?” the pastor stormed at my husband. We had been married for a little over a year at that time, and we knew each other as well as any newlywed couple could. My husband could not imagine what I had done wrong. All sorts of frightening thoughts went through his mind. Was she drinking or doing drugs? Adultery? Wearing revealing clothing?
“She rode her horse to church!” came the stern reply. My husband was dumbfounded. He explained that I had ridden to church alongside a little girl on her horse, as it was a way to get her to come to church. But apparently, on that same Sunday, there had been some bigwigs from the Baptist convention visiting, and this was not how the pastor wanted his church to be represented. My husband was firmly reminded that his wife was not allowed to wear pants at any time because of the position he held. (That was the first thing the pastor told me when we arrived in the little Arkansas town. “You are to wear dresses at all times, and pets are discouraged.” I told him that I could not find anything in the Bible about those things. I was incredulous at such ridiculous rules here in America. This was, after all, in the mid ’70s, around the same time that the movie The Stepford Wives came out.) We stayed at the church through the summer but left after the horse incident, even though the youth begged us to stay: “You two are the first to ever show an interest in our needs, desires, and questions about God and life.” But we were so radically different that the church was about to ask the pastor to leave because of us, and we did not want to be the cause of any church splits.
As it turned out, the old mare that caused such controversy was going to be our only transportation for several months, as our old car was on the fritz and we could not afford to get it fixed. God supplied her to be our transportation to church, work, and other places, until she passed away of old age.
Our next church got into Bill Gothard’s “authority” teachings (as in never, ever question the church leaders). That was also where I attended my first and only Gothard seminar. My husband was smart and ignored most of what was said in the sessions, but I read a great deal of Bill Gothard’s material. I quickly came to the conclusion that I would never be able to measure up to all those rules, especially how women should dress, keep an immaculate house, and have child after child. A visit to my house would find paintings, art supplies, saddles, and some cats throughout.
As for having children, I had had my fill as a teen, helping my mom run her babysitting business. I grew up always in trouble for what those kids did, and spent many a lonely hour in my room as punishment. Summers were the worst time, as I got in trouble daily for not taking better care of the children. As an adult, I liked kids, but had absolutely no desire to have one. As a teacher, I could be around the children and then send them home at the end of the day and have personal time for art and riding.
Gothard’s teachings were having an effect on me, though. The guilt of not living up to his standards for the perfect Christian wife often drove me to physical and mental sickness, because I believed that I was sinning by my life choices. I believed I would never be able to change. I believed that I must not love God enough to not be able to give up the things I loved in order to keep a perfect house and keep myself attractive with groomed hair and makeup, etc. But I just could not make myself do what it took to be living in “God’s best” according to Gothard’s teachings.
It all came to a head in 1986, after our home was hit by a tornado in 1982, and then again in 1985. Even though the house took a severe hit with lots of damage, God protected all the critters and the artwork. For example, glass had flown throughout the whole house and was embedded in all the walls. Paintings hanging there could have been torn to shreds, but not a single shard touched the art or the frames. Every cat, goat, dog, and horse came through unscathed. God was watching over us, protecting us, and blessing us — yet all I could think about was how much I was failing Him.
For over a year, I spiraled into a deep depression and became ill with an unspecified disease (probably post traumatic stress disorder from the tornadoes). I had no strength and could barely function. I just sat on the couch telling God to kill or cure me as I could no longer live that way. I finally opened the Bible and spent three days reading scripture. I neither ate nor drank anything, nor did I feel hungry. (God’s fast is just that, God’s fast. I really did not want or need any intake.) I finally felt connected to Him.
I felt that He said to me, “Here I am. Now tell me your sin.” I said, “I am an artist; I love horses and cats, and I do not have or want any children.” God replied, “No, not that. I asked you to tell me your sin.” I repeated, “I am an artist; I love horses, and I do not have or want any children.” God said, “No, no, that is not sin. Let me tell you what your sin is. Even if you were a missionary in deepest darkest Africa and had several children, never rode another horse or painted another picture, you still would not be pleasing to me because you have no faith.” He continued, “I gave you your art talent. I gave you your love of horses and cats. I made you the way you are, even all your faults and shortcomings. I made those in you for My purposes! I will use you to reach people that others cannot. You must walk and live by faith, for your likes, your dislikes, your personality, and even your faults are to be lived by faith.”
Whoa! What a load came off my heart and shoulders that day! My life was to be lived by faith in Him, led by Him, not following what men expected of me. I was to live how He expected me to live, and not what others said was right or wrong for my life. It was wonderful to feel free and happy for the first time in my life. I have come to understand that He is the Author and Finisher of my faith. And I know that there are many yet-to-be-written chapters.
Years have passed. No, I never had kids. I still paint, teach art in public school, have two horses, and have rescued and found homes for many lost cats and dogs. The guilt has tried to work its way back in from time to time. I even prayed one time, “Please God, let someone else find the lost critters.” Two days later, driving on a very dark road out in the country, we came across a tiny white kitten, too young to be away from his mother. Of course, we had to stop and rescue it. This is how I was fearfully and wonderfully made. We still have that rescued kitten, and he is sitting at my computer desk in front of me as I write this.
A wise Christian lady, whose husband survived 12 bullets in a store robbery, once told me that God does not make “cookie cutter Christians.” I have come to realize that each Christian has to follow the individual path God has laid out for them. It is a personal relationship to be worked out, with many mistakes and wrong paths taken along the way. The problem is that sometimes the body of Christ thinks that God has exactly the same plan for every Christian, to walk, talk, dress, and live exactly the same way. That all Christians should be arms or legs. Who gets to be the less glamorous parts of the body?
1 Corinthians 12:14–25 (English Standard Version)
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
Susan, an Italian, is an artist, horse lover, and struggling Christian. Married since 1975 to Stephen, they have no kids, but lots of cats, two dogs, and two horses. She is just getting back into riding her 31-year-old horse, who survived the second tornado (a miracle in itself). She has taught in public schools for 27 years and is currently teaching art at the middle school level. Her art can be seen here.
Lydia’s Corner: 1 Samuel 24:1-25:44 John 10:22-42 Psalm 116:1-19 Proverbs 15:20-21