Monday, December 18, 2006

How I Got To Where I Am - Part 2

NB: If you don't read the previous blog, this won't make much sense! Ok, here we go...

I know the grace of God turned the tide. My mother went into the hospital one day, and instead of coming out looking dazed from the shots they would give her for her “migraines”, she stayed in. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had been checked into rehab for drug abuse. When I saw her again she seemed very different, looking skinny and sallow, but more alert than I had seen her in a long time. Again, though, I was told two very different stories. Dad told us that Satan was tricking Mommy, and that she was going to leave us all because she believed the lies of the doctors and psychiatrists. Hearing this, I was nearly hysterical. But Mommy tried to explain to us that she needed to get better, and she wasn’t going to be able to do it while Dad was still drinking. This began a tense time of waiting. Would my mother come back for me? Would she do what Dad said and really leave me there for good?

As the time passed, my mother realized that my step-dad had no intention of trying to get sober himself. She knew that she needed to divorce him, this man who had abused her and her child for so long with impunity. I went to live with my real father for a time, while Mommy got a job and a house for us to live in. We lived together finally in a one-bedroom apartment, and entered a time devoid of religion in any organized sense. Mom told me that I could do what I wanted, but that she was going to take a break from church for a while. As a curious and intelligent ten-year-old, I began researching all the world’s religions, looking for one that sounded right. I gathered a wealth of information on religions from Buddhism to Islam, Hinduism to Judaism. I always seemed to gravitate back to Christianity, even though it had been presented in such a skewed way to me in my formative years. I began to realize that what my stepfather and the Kingdom Hall had taught me were not what the rest of the world called Christianity. I like this “new” religion I was discovering, although for a long time I never went to church or even regularly prayed.

The change came one day when I was about to enter the eighth grade. It was summertime and I was sitting at my new best friend Hayley’s house. She was whining to me that her parents were going to send her to church camp, and she didn’t want to go alone. She begged me to come with her. When my Mom realized that it was Hume Lake that I was asking to go to, she called her own mother. My Grandma was so overjoyed at the prospect of me going, she agreed to pay for the whole week of camp. I couldn’t figure out why she was so happy, but I got the money and permission I needed to go with Hayley for a week away from home.

At camp, they wasted no time in presenting the gospel to us kids. It was the Tuesday after we had gotten there when they did the big altar call. A man was at the front of an auditorium filled with about 200 youth, and he was talking about how nothing in this world could fill your life like God. He reached into his wallet and pulled out five dollars. He held it in the air and declared, “Whoever wants this, come and get it!” Most of us just stared at him, but one kid got up and grabbed the five dollars. The man didn’t try to grab it back, he just said, “Good for you, it’s yours. God bless.” I couldn't believe he had simply given away that money!

Then, he began filling up a plastic pitcher from the mess hall. He was putting in it things that represented what we filled our lives with: a toy car to represent possessions, Valentine’s candy to represent love, report cards to represent school, and on and on. He lifted the pitcher for us all to see and said, “It’s full, right?” It certainly looked full to me. But he pointed out that there were gaps everywhere, that the things we tried to fill our lives with fit awkwardly and left holes in the pitcher. Then he took another pitcher, this one filled with water, and he began filling up the other pitcher. We gasped as he poured water on the candy, the cars, the money, the report cards…but we saw the pitcher begin to truly fill up. “This is how God does it,” he said with conviction. He kept pouring until that pitcher was full and he kept pouring even after that, as water overflowed and started splashing the kids in the first row. He seemed unconcerned by this. “A life overflowing with the love of God,” he said very simply, and something about this made me cry.

Once the first few tears escaped my eyes, it seemed that the floodgates opened. Everything that had been done to me, every lie I had told myself, all the things missing in my life, together these things swirled in my mind and nearly made me faint. I knew, for the first time, that God really loved me, and that more than anything in this wide world I needed Him, in the truest sense. That day I accepted Christ into my heart and felt a healing begin. Next year in July, it will be ten years since that day. In the interim time, God has been healing me all the more, performing small miracles every day, relentlessly pursuing me and bringing me back to the place I was in when I realized I needed Him so much. His love has guided me all over the world, as I graduated college in Australia, as I came back to the States to try to bring Christ’s love back to my real father and his friends here in Denver.

I struggle, I triumph; I pray, I fall. But to this day, I remain a Christian by the grace of God.

How I Got To Where I Am - Part 1

I thought it was about time I wrote down my testimony. So, here it is!

I grew up for ten years thinking that I was a Christian. I was told that my family was a Christian family, but little emphasis was ever put on Christ. This is because I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness: I attended Kingdom Hall on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights, and house Book Studies on Tuesdays. In addition to this, I went out in service nearly every Saturday morning with one group of people or another. Yes, I was one of those out knocking on doors; most people tried to avoid us by pretending not to be home. I had an advantage as a cute little redheaded kid, but that would only get us so far. Many times doors would get slammed in our faces, or we would be interrupted in our pitch to give away all the Watchtower and Awake magazines that filled the briefcases of the adults. All this resistance really made me feel persecuted, like we were doing something right for God.

Feeling persecuted was a sensation very familiar to me. My stepfather, the head of the Jehovah’s Witness household, was not only a man highly regarded in the church, but he also managed to be an abusive alcoholic on the side. As his step-daughter, I bore the brunt of the abuse because I was the only child in the house that he didn’t have a hand in producing. I had three sisters, and I could never figure out why I was the only one who had to get up early in the morning before going to first grade, and clean the house. I didn’t know why the rest of the family could go watch a movie after dinner, but I had to do all the dishes for six people. To my knowledge I wasn’t physically abused after the age of three or four, because by then I would be able to articulate my story to someone. However, I was emotionally and spiritually abused, and remained terrified of my father, turning me into a shy and withdrawn child.

My mother was the other one in the house who bore the abuse. For her to escape the pain of her marriage, she dulled her senses with prescription drugs. It helped her to run away in her head, but it also meant that she wasn’t really able to help me get out of that situation. For ten years I struggled to survive in my own house, a house full of the dichotomy of cult religion mixed with abuse, screaming mixed with prayer, oceans of terror defied by tiny drops of hope.

TO be continued...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Time is Here

Does anyone else struggle with materialism at Christmas?

Lately I've been feeling strangely about the fact that when I want a coffee, I go out of my nice house, get into my nice car, drive to Starbucks because it has a drive-thru, and shell out $3.50 for a double tall vanilla latte. Or when I feel like I want a pizza, I get on my cell phone and order one from down the street. They deliver it piping hot to my door minutes later.

Now, these are modern conveniences that we have here in the States, and I guess there's not much that we can do (and why should we?) about deliveries and drive-thrus. It's more the idea of getting whatever my little heart desires...and fast. It makes me feel guilty somehow. But how do you alleviate the guilt of being a rich Westerner?

Well, it's not by throwing money at a charity, or giving clothes that you don't want anymore to the Goodwill, I can tell you that. I've tried. Is it volunteering? I've volunteered hours in my past to worthy causes, and I've always felt the better for it. But it's more a fleeting feeling of satisfaction because the act itself is fleeting.

So continuity in that the secret to a continued feeling of satisfaction? Is it smug of me to help the homeless and then go home every day? Is it pretentious of me to ask these questions? I don't know. I don't know the answer, but the one thing I'm sure of is that I'm not doing enough. I'm not doing enough in this world to help others rather than myself.

This Christmas, my goal is to rectify this, in small ways or large. If anyone has any good ideas, please pass them on. God Bless you in this Christmas time, and let us not forget the true meaning of that Holy Day.