Months ago, I started reading my Bible every night at bedtime. I used to do that when I was young in years and young in faith. I chose to believe and follow Christ when I was thirteen years old. Reading my Bible in the early days of my faith was really a time of joy, curiosity, learning, questions, comfort, inspiration, and peace. I wanted to do it. It wasn’t an obligation. I enjoyed the time reading it. In the early days, I wanted to think about God. To purposely turn my thoughts and spirit towards Him was what I wanted to do, and it was a time of humility, inspiration, gratitude, hope, and a kind of quiet bubbling joy.
During my late teens, I was terribly hurt by some Christian adults in the church I attended. Today after many years, my perspective has broadened and changed regarding the events from that time. In some facets, my understanding has deepened towards mercy, and in other aspects, it’s matured to knowing some adults needed admonishment that I was too young to give. Even after a few years of my attending, I was still looked upon as new, and my family that had started to come with me was also looked at by some of the old guard as not only new, but not entirely respectable.
Scrutiny of me and my family was magnified because I’d been dating a teenager whose grandparents had long ago helped start and build the church, and I’d never entirely passed muster as being worthy. We were those starstruck teenagers in love. What at first flew under the adult radar as dating teens, became something passionate, and far beyond mere puppy love. In adult terms, it became serious. There was a breakup influenced by parental pressure on his side, and for a time, my idealism blinded me to the ugly schism behind the scenes with some adult members. It was typical of a drama played out when the stage and players are small in size and number. While my young heart was breaking, I began to notice that some of the adult members were either looking away from me, or looking at me with disapproval. A smaller number made a point to show me warmth. It was as though a portion of my fellowship was shunning me covertly. As a young believer, I felt shocked, stung, betrayed, humiliated, and disillusioned. Not only did my ideal of adults topple off my childhood pedestal, but the pieces serrated my being as they shattered.
My former boyfriend graduated and started college, and his parents sent him to visit their former pastor (before my time there), and more importantly, his daughter. His parents found an apartment for her, and helped ensconce her nearby. She began attending the church, and my shunning by some left me not only ignored, but now a cool, palpable lack of welcome was in the air.
Everywhere that was safe in my world was crumbling. Everything I thought was going to be my future disappeared like a vapor. This particular church routinely kept an open altar after services for those who wanted to stay and pray. I remember being at that altar one Sunday night after service and weeping, wondering what most broken hearts do… why? At one point, I laid down my aching heart with all the submission my young self could summon, and prayed, Not my will, but Yours. I prayed for the strength to stay steady in my faith, and resolved to accept what felt unbearable and go on. I remember gathering my purse, smoothing my dress, then looking up to see veiled derision from one of the adult members. Suddenly, I realized I was that girl, the new girl, the not entirely respectable girl, the one to protect and steer away your sons from girl, and the one who was making an unwelcome spectacle of herself girl.
All of this didn’t deter me. It pierced like a vital wound, but it didn’t deter me. I kept reading my Bible and praying. Until the night that my former boyfriend (now engaged to the pastor’s daughter) called me, drunk and crying. Telling me that he didn’t love her, that he loved me. I hung up the phone and began to blame God. If being angry and holding God responsible didn’t work, then it was quite easy to shift to blaming myself. If only I wasn’t that girl. If only I was respectable, decent, and worthy. I despised myself. My entire being flailed, lashed out in white hot anger, then subsided into wanting to end the pain that I perceived as endless. I tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. My mother found out (didn’t tell my father), and at seventeen years old, instead of attending my senior year, I was sent to a small, claustrophobically legalistic Bible college. Rules and hypocrisy abounded.
It was a match made in hell. I was a free-spirited wild child landing into a tight, small box of people with eye logs that were constantly swinging in my direction. This meant there were not only more adults to disapprove of me and ostracize me, but the throng was joined by a mass group of my peers by age; all the kind who wanted their religion to be neat, linear, tidy, safe, and predictable. I came to call this god-in-a-box. While there, I struggled in my own way to survive what felt like a factory attempt to remake me into an acceptable box. I was constantly looking for ways to express myself without breaking one of the myriad of rules. Wearing goth style makeup before there was such a thing as goth. Wearing a square dance dress and hot pink fuzzy slippers to class. I suppose I decided to embrace being that girl.
Two months into my restricted life, I turned eighteen, and he at nineteen years old, married the pastor’s daughter. Right before my father died, he told me that my boyfriend showed up at our house on his wedding day, purportedly looking for me, until his older brother found him there and collected him. True? I don’t know.
One night, about six weeks after he married her, I was called to the dorm communal phone for a call. It was him. He still loved me. He missed me. I hung up on him. Mail started to come. Sometimes, I just threw it away, and sometimes I couldn’t bear to throw it without reading it and crying. I kept reaching out, crying and asking why? This went on intermittently for two years, the entire time I was there, culminating at the end of the second year with an unannounced visit from him, asking me to run away with him. My heart moved beyond broken to dull and grey drained. I told him to go home to his wife. He did, and I was called to another phone call. This time it was his sister, and she threatened that his family would get me expelled from the school if I didn’t leave him alone. For two years, I was never the one to contact him. Apparently, that didn’t count. I was still somehow to blame, maybe because I was that girl.
One day, I realized I could leave that unhappy place, and I stayed with a sister and slept on the floor of her little trailer. I made plans to move to a bigger city, and I resurrected my dreams of going to a real university. Once berated by my high school counselor for wasting an I.Q. of 145, I picked up an ember of hope from my youthful ash pile, and gently blew. I saw my hopes burn faintly into life, and I felt the warmth of infant belief in possibilities. Even for me, that girl.
What happened? A mutual friend called me to say that she was concerned that my former boyfriend was separated from his wife, and might be suicidal, and would I please consider meeting with him? I told her, “Just once. That’s it.”
Just once turned into a fully ignited blaze of reconnected love. A few months back together, and we were both on our way home to our respective parent’s houses for Christmas. On my way home, I was in a car accident. My car was entirely destroyed, and miraculously, I walked out of it unharmed. I do mean miraculous. I found myself in my car out in the middle of a field, and only the driver’s seat was unharmed. There I sat, with no driver’s side door left, not wearing a seat belt, and I got up and walked away from it. My sister called him to let him know, and his parents told him it was a warning from God, and that if I had died, I would have gone to hell. They also surprised him by having his estranged wife there for the holidays.
We broke up again. My heart became seared and hardened.
Just days later, I met my husband at my aunt’s home. He began and maintained a steady pursuit of me, and it was like balm on scar tissue. No matter how angry or cool I was, he was pleasant, cheerful, attractive, and best of all, he made me laugh. I’d forgotten how to laugh. After only weeks of dating, I agreed to marry him, and a few months later we were married. The jarring warning signs were dismissed as he persuaded me they were anomalies, and thoughts of whether this could be a mistake were buried when I found out that my former love and his wife now had a baby on the way.
The wedding was like a light switch being hit, and I began to live with the reality of a passive aggressive husband. There was no honeymoon. It jumped straight to being quietly and dully horrified at what my life had now become. My life sentence. What I deserved for being that girl.
Somewhere in those early years, I stopped reading my Bible. Not entirely, but it was no longer my peaceful, joyous, comforting, end to the day. Many years later, I stopped going to church at all. Throughout all the ups and downs, throughout all my times of anger, feeling abandoned, feeling angry, feeling the depression of despair, I was given the grace to not refute or discard my faith. I didn’t turn my back on God, but I think I did turn my back to Him. I blamed Him for a choice that I made because I felt that my father’s philosophy of life was being echoed by the Church, by other Christians, some family members and some friends, and indeed my own inner voice of condemnation: You made your bed, now sleep in it.
It was a lonely bed. This was a new lonely, one that stretched out like a black, frightening void. This was a lonely that I couldn’t even fully acknowledge, much less share or find help for.
I still prayed, but even my prayers were changed. Throughout all those years, I kept believing that if I would just keep doing the right thing, that it would all be okay in the end. My unconscious bargain with God. I brought this deal to the table, and assumed that He signed off on it. It took so many years before I realized that I may have been following what I thought was right, and not what was right.
“You know, sometimes we hold onto the things that God himself is trying to tear away.” -Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Today, I understand that God provides mercy and sanity to chaos. His own provisions, guidelines, and consequences allowed for the hardness of man’s heart, including abuse and neglect. Including being unloved. Including failures, and even mistakes that would condemn two people to a lifetime of being the opposite of a reflection of intimate loving relationship. As His mercy and provisions became clear, I no longer saw an unending darkness on my path, and once again I’ve felt the presence, guidance, and protection that was there all along.
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;” Isaiah 42:3
One night many months ago, I picked up my Bible at bedtime and began to read. My heart smiled, and my spirit once again rested.