Sharon Wood: The Joy of an Ordinary Life

By Leslie Moore

Sharon Wood: The Joy of an Ordinary Life

Just past her 50th birthday, Sharon Wood’s life is much like yours and mine. A lively and attractive mother and grandmother, Sharon operates her own organic pond maintenance business, Peaceful Ponds, and teaches yoga several days a week. The mother of six children ranging in age from 31 to 8, Sharon lives in a neat, brick home in Pawleys Island with her two youngest children, ages 15 and 8, who are home schooled. Sharon’s life is an ordinary one shared by many women – a combination of a career she loves and hands-on parenting, interspersed with some fun and the occasional vacation. She is content and happy. “My life is good – I’m having a great time,” says Sharon with a smile.

But, it wasn’t always this way. Not too many years ago, Sharon was trapped in a marriage to a domineering man and immersed in an extremely restrictive, cult-like faith that did not allow her even the small freedoms that women of the 21st century take for granted, such as choosing her career, her clothing and even her reading material. “I love to read,”, she said, gesturing to the stack of books on her kitchen table, “but for years, was told to stop reading those ‘trashy novels.’”

Growing up in Wildwood, New Jersey, Sharon was the youngest of three children with an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who tried to protect her children through her strong faith. Church was a place of security and comfort, even though its many restrictions were hard for a restless teenager. Sharon met her first boyfriend in her senior year of high school and was soon spending all of her time with him. After graduation, young Sharon began taking classes at the local community college, letting go of her university dreams in order to be closer to her boyfriend. During the first months of college, Sharon became pregnant and was pressured into marriage by her family. Soon she dropped out of school as well.

Sharon remembers this time as one of great change in her life. “This was a difficult time for me. I married my first husband to escape my home, and at the same time my mother finally left my father.” Two years later, the marriage was over, and Sharon was left with two small children to raise alone. Unable to support herself and her children, Sharon moved in with her mother, again seeking refuge in church, while working and once again attending school. Confused and lonely, she soon met another man, who quickly became her second husband.

Sharon Wood: The Joy of an Ordinary Life

“I met “Henry” (not his real name) at church. I was desperate for stability, and he seemed to have what I needed. I was confused and lonely.” A year and a half after her first marriage ended, Sharon married Henry, whose confidence and position in the church appealed to the shy, young woman, and was soon drawn into a world that most of us only hear about on the news.

Henry and his family were believers in a dogma that held that the world was coming to an end in the 1990s. The faithful would be left with the “mark of the beast” and be unable to buy or sell anything for three and a half years. These years would be hard, with only themselves to depend on. At the urging of church leaders, the extended family group moved to a remote 70-acre farm in Tennessee, where they began preparing for the coming apocalypse by gardening, preserving food and gathering the supplies they would need to survive. The group lived “off the grid” and children did not get social security numbers, nor did teenagers learn to drive. All of the children were home schooled. The outside world was depicted as an evil, frightening place to be avoided at all costs. Women were expected to be completely submissive to their husbands and were not allowed to wear jewelry, pants of any kind or makeup. When one of Sharon’s children started to read a Harry Potter book, he was shamed before the group and made to burn his beloved book.

For years, fear was an everyday part of Sharon’s life. “I would lie awake at night worrying about what would happen if ‘they’ came. I wasn’t really sure who ‘they’ were, but I lived in terror.” While the group attended a church in the town 20 miles away, religious meetings were regularly held on the property. If a member of the group was doing something deemed “sinful,” the meeting would be directed at them. “I remember a service directed at me about being a more submissive wife. Even though I was afraid, I could never completely submit. Something in me always knew this was wrong.”

In 1993, when the Branch Davidians faced off with law enforcement in Waco, Texas, the people of the nearby town began to whisper about Sharon’s group. This is when her fear began to escalate out of control. “I remember going to town and banging on the pastor’s door to ask him if anyone was coming to get us, and, most especially, take my children. I was not going to let that happen.” Church leaders fed the fear, instilling terror in everyone, and many were sure their fate would be the same as those in Waco.

Trouble did eventually come to the compound, but it came from within. Church leaders made the decision to withdraw from the local church and build their own. New people were allowed to move onto the property, and the communal garden was traded for a one acre plot for each family. Even Henry was not happy with the arrangement, and soon started a landscaping business on his own, without church approval. Sharon worked alongside her husband, and the couple became successful. She remembers this as a fairly happy time in her marriage – as long as she complied with Henry’s every wish. In 1999, Henry and Sharon learned of the construction boom in Myrtle Beach and felt they could do well on the South Carolina coast. Things had deteriorated at the compound, and the world had not ended – the siege had come to an end. Henry moved first, but Sharon soon followed with the children, now a brood of five.

Sharon’s biggest regret about these years involves her mother, who would come visit them every year at Christmas. “We were not allowed to celebrate any holidays, Christmas included, but when my mother came, we would do our own small Christmas. A church member invited my mother to a Bible study one day, and when Mom came back, she was in tears. My mother had been made to feel she was ‘sinful’ for bringing Christmas to her grandchildren.”

Sharon Wood: The Joy of an Ordinary Life

After the move to Myrtle Beach, Sharon began to put out her first feelers of freedom. She finished college at 40, flying to a church-sponsored college in Texas, and then completing her studies online. Armed with her newly-earned teaching degree, she began teaching at a church school in Myrtle Beach, but eventually accepted a position as dean of a church boarding school in Asheville, North Carolina. Packing up her children and moving was the first step to Sharon’s emancipation.

“I finally had my own career, and I loved it. I had my own apartment for the first time. It was a happy time.” Always full of fun, Sharon blossomed on her own and soon was affectionately known as “The Crazy Dean.” Henry was supposed to move to Asheville to be with her and the children, but after nearly two years of living apart, the couple formally separated, shortly after their last child was born. Sharon, who was suffering from post partum depression, wondered if she had done the right thing. One evening Henry drove in to collect the children for a visit, and Sharon fell apart. “I watched him carry the baby out to the car, and I started to cry. I just knew I was wrong for breaking up my family. I left the job I loved and moved back home.”

The move left Sharon exhausted and depressed, and she tried to stay quiet and be the perfect wife. But, the seeds of freedom were too firmly planted and eventually Henry moved out, claiming she was not submissive enough. This time, Sharon never looked back.

Since that day in 2011, Sharon has taken her youngest two children to Disney World, visited another daughter who was studying in Italy, and taken control of her life. Always athletic and fit, she tried a yoga class at her gym, made friends with the teacher, and was soon training to teach yoga, embracing not only the physical, but the spiritual side of this centuries-old practice. Through a lot of hard work, her pond maintenance business has grown enough to support the family. Last Christmas, Sharon put up a Christmas tree for the first time since she was married, the first one her children had ever had. “I left it up until April! It was the most amazing tree.”

Today, Sharon’s days are filled with the simple joy of an ordinary life. “When I look back, I can see that all that fear was a waste of time. But, it led me here – and this is my time!”

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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