Breaking Silence: Amy’s Story

I don’t usually use this space to write about personal matters, but it’s time I changed that.

I want to tell you about someone. Her name is Amy.

David and Amy at a march in Kansas City

Amy has endured a lot, more than I can adequately convey in this space. Her life before me had many challenges that I am going to pass over, but they are part of the background to the story I’m telling here.

That story begins with me. But that doesn’t mean it’s a happy story. Far from it.

We both grew up in suburban Portland within conservative Christian families. We’re both the oldest of three children. And we loved it there. Portland was an incredible place to grow up, with its quirky mix of West coast culture, hippy weirdness, bookish intellectualism, and progressive politics.

We originally met in middle school, but that wasn’t the start of some teenage romance. Hardly. But we did eventually fall for each other at the end of high school. I went off to Wheaton College, while she stayed in Oregon, going to George Fox University and then Multnomah University (Multnomah Bible College at the time).

Here is where things started to go awry. Our relationship thrived, but I was getting used to two things: (1) being away from Oregon and (2) becoming a scholar.

We married after finishing college in 2005, like young evangelicals often did at the time. Five weeks later, we were on the road to Princeton, New Jersey, where I would start the MDiv program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

And this is where things really went awry.

Amy hated New Jersey. On top of that, I was going through a massive transformation: I was sloughing off my evangelicalism as fast as I could, and I was taking on the mantle of the budding theological scholar, ready to go wherever this would take me. I was coming alive during my studies, finally realizing what I was meant to do with my life.

All the while, Amy was dying inside. She missed Oregon. She missed her friends—some of her closest friends seemed to abandon her. Whereas I had a community of professors and fellow students around me, she had no one. It seemed like all the other spouses had friends in the married student community—everyone except Amy.

She went from job to job trying to find something to keep her occupied and help her avoid depression. Teach for America, test tutoring, Starbucks—each job a temporary band aid disguising, or contributing to, her pain.

We eventually made some friends in the community, but then they left and we were still there. Because I stayed on to do a PhD, we ended up living in New Jersey for seven years. We saw two classes of MDiv students come and go during that time.

On top of all this, a church we were heavily involved at kicked me out of leadership and closed their doors on us. We lost our only refuge. We still had friends from the church, but it became harder and harder to maintain contact with them, especially since we now had a child and they all lived in the Philly suburbs over a half-hour away.

Thankfully, in our final years in Princeton, Amy found a great job at a private Catholic school. She loved the people at the school and finally felt like things were settling down for her.

But just as things were looking up, we had to move.

My PhD funding was about to run out and we needed to figure out our next steps. A position opened up at InterVarsity Press in the western suburbs of Chicago. I had extended family in the area and it was near where I went to college. I didn’t want to enter the evangelical world again, but it seemed like the best—or rather, the only—option. So we went.

We hoped that this move would be different. We were excited about the possibilities. But it was like going to New Jersey again, only worse. Those first two years were miserable for Amy. Once again, she didn’t know anyone. She was once again looking for work. Again, I had a community of people at my job, whereas she had no one. We didn’t have neighbors who were our age or showed any interest in us. It was even more isolating in Downers Grove than in Princeton. On top of this, Amy became pregnant within the first few months that we moved and her morning sickness made it impossible for her to socialize.

Our saving grace was our church, a loving, generous, liberal Episcopal Church that became, again, our sole refuge in the midst of mounting depression. But as much as we loved our church, we didn’t have friends there that we could spend time with outside of church. We were still very much alone.

Eventually Amy came to work at IVP as well, and for a brief period of time, things seemed to work. We began to make friends at the office. We found others who shared our convictions and beliefs, who also were fed up with many of the problems within evangelicalism. Amy and I often felt like imposters, since we had abandoned evangelical Christianity long ago, but at least there were others who could sympathize with us.

During this time, Amy discovered what she wanted to do with her life: she was supposed to be a therapist, helping others struggling with mental health. It was as if a light turned on behind her eyes. She knew, after years of wandering, what her purpose was, what her story was supposed to tell.

She applied to George Fox University’s counseling program and was accepted. I applied to telecommute from Oregon. Two other editors at IVP telecommuted from Washington and California. Why not Oregon?

My bid was denied.

Amy and I tried to regroup. While it was my proposal that was shot down, it was Amy who experienced the most pain. I still had a job; she had lost her chance to find her own career and vocation. She had to tell George Fox that, sadly, she would not be matriculating in the fall.

Amy mustered up her strength and applied instead for Northeastern Illinois University’s program. NEIU is in the heart of Chicago’s north side and was a much more affordable and diverse program. Amy was accepted to start in spring 2017.

In October 2016 she submitted her resignation from IVP. A week later the news broke about InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s decision to fire staff that believed Christianity was compatible with affirming gay marriage. Amy was glad to leave.

Her last day was Friday, December 16. An hour after she left the office, I was handed a notice saying, in effect, that I was going to be terminated from my job. The termination was not made official until January, and my position did not end until March 3, but December 16 was my last day in the office as well, though I had no idea at the time.

Suddenly, five years after the last time, we had to move. Again.

Once more, even though it was my job that was terminated, it was Amy who experienced the greatest pain. It was her dream to become a counselor that was being smashed again. I had people around the world offering their sympathy and support for me. Amy had almost no one. While she saw people filling up my social media feed with comments, her own account was blank. She suffered mostly in silence, her sense of isolation only growing deeper.

Again, Amy and I tried to regroup.

I started applying for new jobs. At my encouragement, Amy applied for George Fox’s PsyD program. She was invited to fly out for an interview, which she did. In April she found out she had been accepted into the program. At the same time I was interview for positions at various places, including a couple university presses. I flew out for a final interview at Kansas.

It all came down to a fateful weekend in early May when we had to decide where we were going: Oregon or Kansas/Missouri. And this was where I made my great mistake—a devastating mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life.

On paper, the decision to go to Missouri made plenty of sense. Though I would take a significant pay cut, I would be able to continue my career in academic editing at a more prestigious press, entirely free from evangelicalism. Amy would be able to continue the master’s program she was enrolled in at NEIU at the University of Missouri Kansas City. We would be able to buy our first home, get the kids into a good school program, and more or less continue with our lives.

But this was foolish, though I didn’t fully understand how foolish at the time. In the moment all I saw was the crisis of needing to find a new source of income and insurance to take care of the family and keep things going.

Amy saw something quite different. She saw a crossroads: one path led to a place where her dreams might finally be fulfilled, the other path led only to a further destruction of these dreams, a confirmation that nothing was ever going to work out and no one had her back. Not even her husband, the one friend she should be able to count on.

Sure, going to Oregon—where there are no jobs remotely in my line of work—would have been tough. It would have meant living with parents while Amy went to school and I struggled to figure out my future. Oregon didn’t look great on paper.

But in my desperate attempt to figure out what would be best for our future, I failed to see what would be best for our healing.

Amy’s pain was made worse when hundreds of people congratulated me on my job, as if we should be excited by this new opportunity. Very few acknowledged the devastation she was feeling, and her sense of isolation and abandonment only deepened.

And that brings us to today. Like I said, this isn’t a happy story.

I don’t have a clean, tidy conclusion that wraps everything up. There is no light at the end of this tunnel. While she plans on enrolling at UMKC in the spring, who’s to say this will actually work out? The track record is not good, and she’s apprehensive about the program. We’re definitely not in Chicago anymore. We’re in red state territory, and it’s frightening sometimes.

And who’s to say she’ll want to stick this out with me. Quite frankly, I have been the cause of much of the pain from day 1. I took her away from Oregon, took her to Illinois, then took her to Missouri—all while she was dying inside with no one to lean on except the one person most directly responsible for her suffering.

If I sound hopeless, it’s because, on most days, I am. On the Sunday before we left for Missouri, I preached a farewell sermon at our church titled, “Journeying into Utter Darkness.” Those words have never felt truer.

I am tempted to say something meaningful about how God is with us in the abyss, how faith is a hope against hope that life will rise out of the chaos of this world. And I think all that is true.

But for now, Amy and I are just in the darkness—Amy especially. And that’s really the point of my story. It’s always been about me: my education, my job, my books. But it’s never just been me. This whole journey has also involved Amy, and her silent suffering can no longer remain unmentioned and unnoticed. I have been privileged to receive all the attention, but that attention has only contributed to her agony.

Hence this post. It’s time to break the silence.


Thomas Jay Oord said…
My heart broke as I read your story. This all sucks! I wish I had words of comfort for direction. I don't. I just want you to know that I empathize. And I'm feeling sad with you.

I truly hope answers come your way for both of you , especially Amy. I've walked in those shoes. New Jersey was and still is a difficult experience. Like you moving will involve adjustments I'm nervous making based on similar reasons. Vic is working in Virginia Beach right now, my fear is moving when the job market isn't friendly to elderly employees,do we risk moving and then get stuck there .

You both are beautiful people inside and out, I hope you find your way together ❤️
Unknown said…
It's not just you, guys. This story could very well have been written by me.
Jason said…
Thanks for this. Wishing you and Amy all the best.
Chris said…
My heart aches for you guys. Praying and hoping for all the best!
Chris said…
My heart aches for you guys. Wishing, hoping, and praying for all the best for you. This was a big step for you.