Sacred Grooming, Part Two: A Secretary’s Account of Life With Bill Gothard

22 January 2014, 06:00



[Editor’s Note: The young woman referred to only as “she” and “her” in the following account is the author herself, “Meg,” but she has written it in the third person. The author was twenty years old during the events in this post. The following is a true story. Click here for Part One of Meg’s story.]

Lost in Translationsnowy road stock photo

Bill Gothard had phoned her at 5 a.m. that morning and asked her to come to the office early. After willing herself awake, she knew she had 20 minutes to get showered and dressed. That’s how long it took him to drive from his house to the office, picking her up on the way.

Quietly she moved around the sleeping house, showering, dressing, putting on makeup and shoes, then she negotiated the new decor of strawberries in the kitchen as she grabbed a muffin and quick glass of juice. She could see the lights from Bill’s car turning onto her street as she snatched up her purse from the table. It was still black outside when she shut the front door behind her, pulling on the gloves he had given her and quickly throwing her woolen scarf around her neck, tossing her long brown hair over it.

Now as she looked out, the midday sun was pouring through the large panorama window in his office. She sat in front of him at his desk taking notes and working on one of his documents. The early hours had been vital to getting through the tasks. The phones had not rung and no one had come in to disturb their good 2 ½ hours of solid, productive work. They had spoken little to each other, just smoothly negotiated each letter and item on the list of things to do that day.

At 8:30 a.m. the first staff members had drifted into the office and the phones had begun to ring. Bill handed her a pile of paper and she got up and went over to her own little office. After their trip to Indianapolis yesterday, her work was laid out before her for the whole day: letter after letter and document after document. She read; she typed; she printed.

She managed to get his signature on all those letters during a short break in the steady stream of phone calls and people coming into his office. It was as though the staff could not cope with him being gone for one day. Drama after drama had to be sorted through and dealt with. He did so with incredible patience and graciousness, she thought to herself, and showed no sign of frustration at the sometimes petty complaints. A girl didn’t like her housemate and wanted to be moved to another house. A young man had taken a joy ride in one of the staff cars. A new camera had to be ordered. A phone call had come in from another prominent Christian leader. The menu for an upcoming staff banquet needed approval. It all had to be dealt with, talked over, and signed off on, and he did all this unrushed, never impatient, always giving the visitors his time and attention.

A few times he looked up and over at her, and they exchanged a silent moment. A glance, a smile, eye contact that said more than words would. A kinship. They were working together towards one goal, a united force against the fray.

She yawned now as she looked down at the next letter waiting to be typed. Suddenly he called out to her from where he stood by the door. He said he needed some toilet tissue for the bathroom, and asked her to run downstairs to get some.

She jumped up and said she’d go get it straight away. She was halfway down the stairs when she realized that she had no idea what “toilet tissue” was. Toilet paper? Paper towels? Or maybe it was something else altogether! What did he mean? She ran into the nearly deserted kitchen and past the large industrial washers and ovens used to feed the great organization machine, into the store room at the back. The room was shelved with row upon row full of food stocks and other supplies. What and where in the world was “toilet tissue”? She walked as quickly as she could down each aisle, hunting for what she hoped would jump out to her as the obvious choice. She heard a noise at the entrance and turned to see Abbey, the head cook coming in. Relieved, she told Abbey that she needed “toilet tissue” for him, but didn’t even know what that was, and that he was waiting for it whatever it was.

Abbey was a friendly girl who also was wasn’t from around there, and also didn’t know what “toilet tissue” was. Maybe some Midwest version of toilet paper? Abbey walked to the back of the store room and opened a large cupboard at the end. “Here,” Abbey said, thrusting her head into the cupboard and pulling things out. “Take these. One is toilet paper. The other is paper towels. That way, you’ll know what it is for next time when he takes the one he wants.”

“Smart girl,” she smiled at her. “Thanks Abbey. I owe you one.”

She raced back up the stairs. He was standing in her office. He wasn’t happy, she could tell, for there was no warm smile to greet her. “I’m sorry,” she said brightly as she held out both items. “I had a hard time finding them.” He didn’t say anything as he reached out and took the toilet paper.

“Okay,” he said. Turning around, he left the room and headed back into his office.

One Spirit

She felt a gentle nudging on her shoulder. Her eyes flickered open, and as consciousness returned she realized that the room was still alight with the soft lamp on her desk. The office next to her was still lit up, but the rooms outside were dark.

“Did I fall asleep again?” she whispered.

“Yes. You did,” said her boss. “I’m sorry I kept you so late.”

She said it was okay, that she was in the middle of some reading when she must have nodded off without realizing.

He said maybe she should come in a bit later in the morning, that he didn’t want her getting too tired.

But wouldn’t she miss something, she asked? Wouldn’t he need her? They got so much done in those early hours.

He said he’d rather she was rested.

She sighed and said she wished she didn’t need to sleep.

He invited her to pray with him before she left and led her over to a chair in the corner of the room, where they knelt together. As they finished praying he turned to her and said, “I love how when we pray together, if I forget something, you always remember. That shows we have a united goal. We have a oneness of spirit. You know, you are the best secretary I’ve ever had.”

She said she sometimes found praying out loud difficult, and that she wished that she was more outgoing and fun like some of the other girls.

He looked at her. “I don’t want them as my secretary. That has to be filled by a special person. That is you.”

Soul Ties

They sat together on the old, faded chintz couch in his office. He was holding her hand. It was late and dark and cold, and the light from the lamp was dim inside the room. They had been talking about the boy. She had told Bill all about her history with the boy, and Bill had listened intently. His sympathetic nods had spurred her to talk on.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” he said at last, when she trailed off quietly.

She looked up at his concerned face and nodded. “Sure,” she answered. She knew there was nothing to hide.

“Were you ever … intimate … with this boy?”

She paused. How did he mean, she asked. She had known the boy very well, and he was her best friend. “I loved him.”

“I mean, were you ever intimate physically?”

She said she and the boy used to hold hands and cuddle, and that he kissed her often.

“I mean … did you fail morally with him?”

She jerked her head up. “Oh, no! There was nothing like that.” She said she and the boy would sometimes lie on the same bed together to watch a movie, giving each other foot rubs and maybe falling asleep separately, but there was nothing like that. They had been good Christian kids.

He nodded slowly. He just needed to check, he said, because the soul ties seemed to be very strong.

“I loved him. I loved that boy,” she whispered.

The Bracelet

He was counseling her about the boy again. She was listening to him. She liked talking about the boy with him. It made all those lovely memories come back. But he put a different view on it—he made her feel that it had been wrong.

Abruptly, he grasped her arm. “What is this?” he asked, pointing to the black strap around her wrist.

She touched it, looping her fingers through it. It was just a leather bracelet, she said.

“What does it mean? Why do you wear it?” he persisted.

She smiled. When they were about 15 years old, she said, she and the boy had made bracelets for each other. She had tied one onto his arm, and he had tied this one onto hers.

“You should cut this off,” Bill said.

“Really. You think so?”

Yes, he said, she had new friends now, a new life, and this boy was part of her old life. “You are cutting the ties to him.” She nodded and fumbled with the bracelet. He got up and reached for a pair of scissors in the drawer. “I want you to do it,” he said, handing the scissors to her.

She took the scissors from him and slipped the blade under the strap. She was surprised how easily the leather cut, how quickly the bracelet fell from her arm.

He picked it up from the floor where it had fallen and handed it to her. “Go and throw it in the trash can over there.”

She got up, crossed the room, and threw the cut band into the small bin by the door.

She looked down at it lying on top of the mess of paper crumpled up in the bin. The black leather stood out among the white, and she knew that later on, when she was alone, she would return to retrieve and hide it. The bracelet was part of her. Part of the boy. Part of a life she couldn’t yet forget.

“This is your new life,” Bill said. “This is where God has brought you. He wants your whole heart. It’s a new beginning.”


[Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Three, here to read Part Four, here to read Part Five, and here to read Part Six.]

See how the experiences Ruth, Annette, Charlotte, Rachel, Meg, Lizzie, and Grace had with Bill Gothard fit together chronologically here, and behaviorally here.

Meg’s family was in ATI for more than ten years. After leaving Bill Gothard's office, Meg continued to work for IBLP for several years before she met and married her wonderful, non-ATI, Mr. Right. She is now busy raising their family and enjoying a happy and ATI-standard-free life.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.