To really paint the picture of what my relationship with Jesus means to me, I will have to go through some history of how I came to know Him and what He has walked me through...
Hmm... I grew up knowing about Jesus. I grew up in a pentecostal church - Assemblies of God, to be precise. I can't remember when I didn't know Jesus loved me. When I was 2 years old, I laid hands on a family member and asked Jesus to heal them. And He did. When I was 3, I stood on a chair behind the pulpit on Sunday morning and sang my favorite hymn (at the time) - Onward Christian Soldiers (pronounced shouljiers). Wonderful. Great. Well, yes. But... at home, my instruction on what love was... was, well, interesting.
My mother, the Sunday school teacher/church pianist... well... This is hard to put in words. It would be easier if I didn't care about her, but I do. So, blunt... she is a narcissist. Once, while coloring in my coloring book on the kitchen floor, I accidently got out of the lines... and out of the pages... onto the floor. I was made to scrub the floor until I was exhausted and crying. I was 2 years old. Part of my potty training was making me clean my own diapers. I was 3 years old. The following is a quote from my baby book:
"At 2 years 10 months, she can go all day without an accident. But 3/4 of the time is either lazy or stubborn. Even whippings with a belt don't help."
"5 months old. Her grandmothers spoil her rotten. She sometimes cries when I put her down."
Spoiled rotten - lazy - stubborn. These are terms I grew up with. I think, through my whole baby book, I am referred to by name once.
Understand, even as I type this, I am not really sure that it is that big of a deal. There is a part of me that says, "So what?" Well... there are some other things that happened when I was around 2 years old, but they are shadowy - the memory is elusive.
But as I grew up, my father was also a deacon in the church - a board member. He spent a year at seminary - sometimes was the substitute preacher for the church my uncle pastored. As I got older - 3 years old up, most of my interactions with my dad involved him angry with me for doing something to upset his peace. The times he called me stupid, though few, are etched in the 4 year old memory. They are still there, now, clear as day.
There were fun times with mom, mostly when there was nothing else for her to do. That may sound harsh, but it is how I am beginning to see it. Through all this, I am getting taught, at church, a very legalistic version of who God is. But I knew Jesus loved me. I wasn't sure what that meant in the big scheme of things, but...
Whatever happened when I was little reared its head and I came face to face with the understanding of the difference between good and evil. I was angry and had the opportunity to take that anger out on a neighborhood cat. I remember holding the cat (I was 6 years old) and thinking, "I am going to do to this cat what was done to me." In that moment, I clearly - for the first time - understood that some things were evil not because I would get in trouble if I got caught, but because they were just evil and it felt wrong. I let the cat go. I was scared. There was also a sense of relief that I had not done what I had thought about doing. But I was frightened that I had even contemplated it. Even then, Jesus was in me. I didn't understand all the mechanics of how that worked. It just worked. It was Him warning me not to do what I was thinking. Thank God!
Then, when I was 7, I became a big sister. And an older cousin began molesting me. He molested me regularly for the next 5 years. During this time, there was also a baby-sitter and others. I also took care of my little sister a lot. It's funny, I don't remember a lot of this, but a relative recently told me she remembers staying with us and being shocked that I was the one getting my sister up, changed, dressed, fed. My mom liked to sleep in... I don't think I can really put in words what this period of my life was like. But I will try.
The teaching I received at church - and the things I heard discussed around the home by various relatives - made it clear to me that one of the biggest sins on God's 'don't do' list was sex. I had no concept of the idea that this was something that people actually did under normal circumstances. I just knew that it was wrong to do it and it felt wrong when he did it. And I was convinced that I was severed from God. When I was 7 years old, I dreamt that I went to hell.
I can remember altar calls at Sunday night services to receive the baptism of the Holy spirit. I didn't understand all the mechanics, but at 7 and 8 years old, I understood that you could not receive this unless you were saved. I would go to the altar and beg God to fill me. Then I would know I was okay. I can remember crying at the altar more than once - sometimes for as long as half an hour. The altar ladies would bring me tissue and encourage me to just left Him speak through me. I am at a loss for words on this. The fear they would see how bad I was. The desperation of wanting to be okay with God. Then, my grandma died unexpectedly. I knew God could raise her. I asked Him to. But I was afraid to talk to anyone about it. The chasm between me and the rest of the church world was already huge. Hmm... not just the church world.
During this time, a song came out (I'm going to date myself here) by Simon and Garfunkle - Bridge Over Troubled Water. This song became one of my favorites. I still cry when I here it. I'm going to post the lyrics so you will know what I'm talking about when I say that Jesus comforted me through this song...
When you're weary, feeling small,When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;I'm on your side, Oh, when times get roughAnd friends just can't be found,Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.Like a bridge over troubled water,I will lay me down.
When you're down and out, when you're on the street,When evening falls so hard I will comfort you.I'll take your part, Oh, when darkness comesAnd pain is all around,Like a bridge over troubled waterI will lay me down.Like a bridge over troubled waterI will lay me down.
Sail on silver girl, sail on by.Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way.See how they shine, Oh, if you need a friendI'm sailing right behind.Like a bridge over troubled waterI will ease your mind.Like a bridge over troubled waterI will ease your mind.
The third verse didn't really speak to me fully until last fall...
I can remember, when I was 9 years old, I would lay in bed, afraid of the dark - afraid that the demons were going to get me. I would pretend that my bed was floating on the ocean - a safe place - and sing this song to myself until I fell asleep. By this time, I was thoroughly messed up and not able to receive comfort through the church. Hmm.. I couldn't talk about what I had done (I viewed it as that and still have trouble with the concept that I am not at fault).
God is not limited in the ways He can talk to us. At this time, a play came out on Broadway called 'Jesus Christ, Superstar.' I was given the soundtrack by an aunt. I listened to it to the point that I still think I could sing along with the whole thing. During this time, this was the only Gospel that was getting in... and the church condemned it. ;-) But it made Jesus into a real person for me - someone I could relate to - understand. I was 9 and 10 and 11 years old. And I liked Him. I wanted to know Him. But there was this thing in the way.
Also during this time, we were taught about the rapture. If you didn't grow up in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, all I can say is look it up. ;-) I was convinced that I was going to be left behind. This was another underlying fear among all the others. Finally, the molestation stopped when I was 12. Then, a couple of years later, there was a guest speaker - an evangelist - at our church and he talked about selling out for Christ. I told Jesus that I would do that. I had no idea what that really meant, but at least now I believed I was okay with Him (and I was).
Now, you may think that this part of my life would have been the hardest. It was not.
After this, I tried very hard to put everything that had happened behind me. I threw myself into church. I was elected leader of the youth group. I carried my Bible to school and doodled pictures of Jesus in my spare time (at school). I had always been a exemplary student - not straight As, but close. My dad was a deacon/board member. My mom was the pianist/organist. I was an assistant Sunday School teacher.
Then our church fell apart. Messily. Angrily. Harshly. And my family was right in the middle of it. For more details on this, you can read the "Survival, Awareness & Breaking Free" series in the My Story portion of my blog. (Scroll to the bottom - the posts are listed in reverse order.) I was hurt. I was disgusted. I walked away from church and all to do with it. My whole family did.
I realize I am covering ground I've already covered in the above mentioned posts, so I will try to cut to the chase, as it were. ;-)
Bluntly, if all I had had was head knowledge of who Jesus was and what some preacher/Sunday school teacher had said about Him, I would probably not have survived into adult hood. And I most certainly would not have survived my 20s or these past 2 years. You see, when you are 22 years old and every time you turn out the light and go to bed, the demonic faces are there to harass and frighten and drive you mad, it takes the Real Jesus entering into that room and keeping them at bay. I spent many nights lying in bed in the dark and asking Jesus to just hold my hand. I would hold out my hand and... He would take it and hold it. And angels would stand around my bed. And I would go to sleep. And the next night, the demons and then Jesus.
During this time, I was a mess. I was drinking and doing drugs and out of control. (Though I never had sex - that was a door I could not open.) I knew I was not living the way I was supposed to. I 'knew' God was mad at me. But Jesus... He was always there. And the Holy Spirit. Hmm... as I type this, I am tearing up. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are so real to me - so valuable to me - so a part of my life and who I am and why I am alive. So is the Father (Papa God ;-) ), but I was still afraid of Him at this point.
Then there was an accident that should have killed me - but didn't. And I started changing course 'back to God.' I remember, when I was 25, a close friend who had gotten married and moved away, was in town. She called me and asked if she could bring her husband over to talk to me. He had started getting into Satanism and she wondered if I could help. It's funny, as I think about it now. This was a friend that I used to party with. But she called me when there was a spiritual crisis in her life. Why? The only thing I can figure is that although I hated religion, I loved Jesus and would talk if asked.
Anyway, they came over and I just started talking to Him about the power of God (it was the promise of power that had attracted him - he had been abused cruelly as a child). My little sister was there that night. After talking about God's power and peace for an hour or so, they left, and my sister told me she wanted what I was talking about. You see, relationship - talking from the place of knowing Him, not knowing about Him - gets people's attention. *Smiling* My sister became acquainted with Jesus that night.
Fast forward another decade and I have finally decided to go back to church. Although I am no longer going to this church (and hope God never asks me to again), He did direct me to this church. I threw myself into it. I kind of have that personality. If I know it is the right thing - I will give it everything. I eventually got promoted to the position of leader. All through the time that I began volunteering in the office of this church, I could feel there was something wrong, but I was so used to thinking that anything wrong in a situation was my fault, I just kept hiding them away.
During this time is when my relationship with the Father developed. Papa. I still remember the night that I was just sitting at my desk, praying... and I heard a voice - audible, behind me, say, "Daughter, I love you." There was no one else in the room - just Him and me. I actually looked over my shoulder. ;-)
I began to pray a lot more. Although I was no longer afraid of God - I was still afraid of 'getting it wrong.' Over time, I actually began to have actual conversations with Him. Relationship.
Then a couple of years ago, someone who was to become my best friend, returned to the church after being gone for several years. Her marriage was in a shambles - her husband was abusive. She came back to the pastor that had married them to seek counseling for her marriage. What she got was a predator that took advantage of her weak position and well...
I watched this unfold and if I had not had a relationship with God, I would have not had a clue what to do, but it would have probably been the wrong thing. Through this, I talked to God about things every day. He assured me that it was okay to be friends with her - He took the opportunity to show me what being a friend really means - willing to sacrifice. He brought me to the place where I had to choose what He wanted me to do, which could cost me my position in the church and even my membership in that church, or play it safe....
Understand, this church was my family. I had been pouring myself into it for 6 1/2 years. But because I knew Him, I trusted Him enough to know that it would be far better to do what He asked and risk everything else, than hold onto what I had at the church and risk the relationship with Him. To do what He asked required me to go against the religion I had been taught and stand by someone who appeared to be in the wrong. In the end, I witnessed for myself that he was chasing her - relentlessly and with purpose, not the other way around.
His wife found out (she knew, but he just got too obvious about it, threatening appearances). So my friend was thrown out and shunned. I was told to stop talking to her and help in the cover up, i.e., lie to other leaders and to the congregation. I asked God if I could please leave now, as there was no way I was going to do these things. He said, "No." Three and a half weeks later, I was praying before going into the church office, and I just laid it out honestly with Him - if He wanted me to continue going to this church, He would need to help me with my attitude, because I had no respect for the leadership and could not even stand to sit and listen to the pastor preach. I remember it clearly. He said, "It's okay. You're released. You can go." YAY!!!
That day, I walked into the church and was immediately called into the pastor's office. I was reprimanded for not obeying their 'requests' not to talk to my friend and other leaders. The calm and peace of God was on me. I was released. I told the pastor that I was glad he brought that up because I had decided to step down from leadership and leave the church. He and his wife spent 2 1/2 hours trying to scare me out of it. But God had given me clear release and I wasn't moved by their fear. Later, there were times when I would freak out a little, but God always brought me back to a place where I knew I was doing what He said.
Over the past year and a half, He has walked me into therapy, which helped me begin to get to the root of things - my parents treatment of me growing up - the religious hypocrisy and legalism I was raised in. This past year, He has walked me through a lot of deep waters. The road to healing leads through the past - looking at what happened - honestly - facing it and dealing with it. This hurts like hell. It is scary and everything in my 45 year old world has been shaken. Religion did not stand that shaking. My family's history and appearances did not stand that shaking. There are nights I would go to bed and just shake. Remembering can be hell. Seeing the truth - that your mother is not capable (or maybe just not willing) to empathize with you - never has been. In the last year and a half, I have had a near complete paradigm shift on both family and church.
Through all this, Jesus - the Holy Spirit - Papa God - never wavered. They have continued to lead me, encourage me, show me they love me - even like me! And after 45 years of bondage to a family and religious system that abused me, I am taking my first bold steps into real freedom. Hmm... I am getting my own apartment this month. I am not inviting my family to visit - well, especially not my mom. She has chosen to show sympathy for the one who molested me and not to me. Our most recent conversation (a few days ago) she had to bring up how he calls her often and is doing well and her tone expressed how much this pleased her. So...
I could never have gotten to this place merely on head knowledge of who God - Jesus - the Holy spirit - are. My relationship with God is not as good as I would like. I still have a good deal of trust issues. ;-) But it is better than it has ever been and deepening all the time.
So essentially, I guess I am encouraging you to develop a relationship with God on your own. Don't rely on what people have told you about Him and think that that is enough. It will not be enough when the crises come. Know Him for yourself. Where that leads can feel very scary, but it is so worth it!
"O taste and see that the Lord [our God] is good! Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man who trusts and takes refuge in Him." Psalm 34:8 (Amplified)
"And because you [really] are [His] sons, God has sent the [Holy] Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, (Father!) Father!" Galatians 4:6 (Amplified)
(And I will take a real relationship with the One who will really help me,
over all the theology ever written.)