There is More Than One Kind of Prison

There is More Than One Kind of Prison

I have never been arrested or confined in a literal prison, bordered by multiple barbed wire fencings, limited by brick walls, enclosed in cells, surrounded by criminals, and observed and inspected 24/7 by guards. The objective of imprisonment is to deter those who would otherwise commit crimes, to ‘pay’ the consequences for committed crimes, to safeguard society, and to be a “house of corrections” for hopeful rehabilitation and education for the prevention of future crimes up on release.

Yet, incarceration takes an altered dimension when it progressively materializes in the mind! My mental captivity, for all intents and purposes, was never intentional. From birth on, I began erecting a wall brick by unseen brick, a wall so tall and so thick that neither I nor anyone else could see over it or breach the stronghold.  In fact, I was ignorant that I had constructed a wall, let alone know when the construction of the wall was completed. Truly, it is an ingenious work of art. It is strong, stable, and resistant. It has weathered the storms quite well. However, here is the real truth and recent revelation – my wall takes an incredible amount of energy to maintain; my wall comes with a titanic price tag. On several occasions, I just wanted to give up — the wall has nearly cost my very life.

The greater question is, “What’s behind my wall?” This wall actually serves to protect me from what is on the other side; this wall serves as pseudo safety and security; this wall serves as a barrier and coping defense. All that is behind my wall is all that holds me hostage.  What is behind my wall? Years and years and years of denied unspoken pain; my trust is behind that wall; my emotions are behind that wall; unforgiveness is behind that wall; emptiness; all the tears I’ve literally never shed; grief, sorrow, and heartache beyond measure; unexpressed fear and sadness; loneliness and isolation; bleeding wounds of abuse, trauma, suffering, neglect, abandonment, silence, cruelty, intrusion of boundaries, indifference, gloomy days after days, conflicting gender identity issues, suffering, disappointments, timidity, and humiliation; loss of childhood; powerlessness; the darkness and melancholy; PTSD; sleepless and restless nights, anxiety and panic; depression; social anxiety; a host of physical ailments; every pound of excess weight and food addiction; feelings of being a disappointment, unacceptable, an embarrassment, inferior, a misfit, left out, being bullied, and overwhelmed; all the pieces of my broken yearning empty heart; all the shattered and devastating losses of hopes and dreams; denial and defeat; regrets; the attempts to reach out for professional help only to have it cause more destruction; anger, resentment, and at times hatred and bitterness toward each person who contributed to my wall and all the debris and trash that lies behind. I have lost myself and my identity in the rubble.

You see, there is more than one kind of prison! My wall and all the ruins that are piled up on the other side limit me. I am paying severe consequences. The wall is my attempt to deter more bricks and wreckage, yet the irony is that the wall is actually creating more. Only by finally receiving quality professional help am I willing to identify and acknowledge the brevity of all of my pieces and brokenness that I have tossed and stored behind my wall. Frankly, the wall has little breaches and it is time for the wall to come down brick by brick; it is time! The light must shine in and expose all that is hidden in the darkness. It is complex and deep. Though I am externally freakishly meticulous, clean, organized, and orderly, behind my wall I am an emotional hoarder. It is time to sift through each component and determine what to keep, what to give back, what to trash, and what to let go. It is time to set the captive free. To be quite honest, I am tired; I have sheer exhaustion and chronic fatigue and no longer have the emotional capability to preserve my wall! It is scary to me, but I am committed to healing.

And, here is what I know to be truth: 

[The Lord says,] “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah 46:4

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Love you, mean it!

Book – Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

“The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
Habakkuk 3:19

This book was published in 1955 in the UK and from the brief excerpt from the back of the book, extracts considerably from the author’s life.    

The book leaves many fingerprints on me. The journey of Much-Afraid is symbolic to the Christian’s path of transformation in life from unbeliever to child believer to mature believer. It certainly portrays that God, through love, can convert the most damaged soul. The book presents human barriers through various allegories that parallel the ebb and flow tides of life and incomprehensible passageways that most endure framed one way or another  – fear, humiliation, sorrow, suffering, injury, waiting, silence, cruelty, impossibilities, heartbreaking detours, incalculable obstacles  devastating set- backs, learning to accept help, bruising, threshing, grinding, cutting, kneading ,shaping, smelting and refining of dross, complicated hindrances, and constraints  and limitations that peck away at perspective and trust. The story illustrates the importance of humility, faith, hope, trusting in God’s love, presence, sovereignty, and provisions; obedience, courage, surrender, resilience, and perseverance despite the obstacles of evil, temptations, limitations, disabilities, listening to/believing wrong voices or imaginations, attitudes, and lack of understanding. I felt the book was a quick read, yet I paused often to consider what truth the author was symbolizing. The quotes I share below gave me reason to pause and a couple I actually surfaced deep emotion.

I loved the author’s use of creation. These allegorical scenes gave depth of imagery to the struggles and triumphs, as well as the names of the characters and places.  

Nature – landscapes, waterfalls, avalanches, flowers, grass, trees, rocks, mountains, snowy peaks, precipices, pinnacles, valleys, caves, canyon, gorge, meadows, plains, woods, seas, deserts, the moon and the stars

Weather – mist, clouds, sun, blue skies, visibility, darkness, thunder, rain, floods, storms, cold, hot

Four senses – the smells of the flowers, incense, perfumes, and herbs; all the beautiful places and colors she saw as she journeyed; all sounds she listened to in nature, the birds, the songs, and the voices of the other characters; and the taste of food and bitter and sweet water.

Characters and Places

  • Much-Afraid
  • Companions Sorry & Suffering
  • Dismal Forebodings (Much-Afraid’s aunt)
  • Craven Fear the Bully (son of Dismal Forebodings, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Gloomy and Coward (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Spiteful and Timid Skulking (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Pride, Resentment, Bitterness, Self-Pity, Anguish, Despair
  • Village of Much Trembling
  • Valley of Humiliation
  • Shores of Loneliness
  • Precipice of Injury
  • Wilderness of Agony and Disappointment
  • Forests of Danger and Tribulation
  • Valley of Loss
  • The Weed of Impatience
  • Flower of Acceptance and Joy
  • Bearing-with-Love
  • Praise and Thanksgiving
  • Kingdom of Love

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Quotes from the book:

“Then will you let me plant the seed of true Love there now?” asked the Shepherd. “It will take you some time to develop hinds’ feet and climb to the High Places, and if I put the seed in your heart now it will be ready to bloom by the time you get there.”

Much-Afraid shrank back. “I am afraid,” she said. “I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”

“That is true,” agreed the Shepherd. “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”

She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly, “Yes, very much afraid of it.”

“But it is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.”

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“She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry, and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply pointed thorn. Much-Afraid had often noticed that the Shepherd’s hands were scarred and wounded, but now she saw that the scar in the palm of the hand held out to her was the exact shape and size of the seed of Love lying beside it.

“The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”

He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.”

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return” and a strange new courage entered into her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”

 His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.”

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love”…

“Thank you, thank you,” she cried, and knelt at the Shepherd’s feet. “How good you are. How patient you are. There is no one in the whole world as good and kind as you…

“I am more glad even than you,” said the Shepherd.”

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“Once the Shepherd stooped and touched the flowers gently with His fingers, then said to Much-Afraid with a smile, ‘Humble yourself, and you will find that Love is spreading a carpet of flowers beneath your feet.’

Much-Afraid looked at Him earnestly. ‘I have often wondered about the wild flowers,’ she said. ‘It does seem strange that such unnumbered multitudes should bloom in the wild places of the earth where perhaps nobody ever sees them and the goats and the cattle can walk over them and crush them to death. They have so much beauty and sweetness to give and no one on whom to lavish it, nor who will even appreciate it.’

The look the Shepherd turned on her was very beautiful. ‘Nothing My Father and I have made is ever wasted,’ He said quietly, ‘and the little wild flowers have a wonderful lesson to teach. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them, just as though they sang a joyous little song to themselves, that it is so happy to love, even though one is not loved in return.

‘I must tell you a great truth, Much-Afraid, which only the few understand. Of all the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at. Every inner response of the human heart to Love and every conquest over self-love is a new flower on the tree of Love. Many a quiet, ordinary, and hidden life, unknown to the world, is a veritable garden in which Love’s flowers and fruits have come to such perfection that it is a place of delight where the King of Love Himself walks and rejoices with His friends.

Some of My servants have indeed won great visible victories and are rightly loved and reverenced by other men, but always their greatest victories are like the wild flowers, those which no one knows about. Learn this lesson now, down here in the valley, Much-Afraid, and when you get to the steep places of the mountains it will comfort you.’”

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“Would you be willing to trust me,” he asked, “even if everything in the wide world seemed to say that I was deceiving you – indeed, that I had deceived you all along?”

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“For one black, awful moment Much-Afraid really considered the possibility of following the Shepherd no longer, of turning back. She need not go on. There was absolutely no compulsion about it. She had been following this strange path with her two companions as guides simply because it was the Shepherd’s choice for her. It was not the way which she naturally wanted to go. Now she could make her own choice. Her sorrow and suffering could be ended at once, and she could plan her life in the way she liked best, without the Shepherd. During that awful moment or two it seemed to Much-Afraid that she was actually looking into an abyss of horror, into an existence in which there was no Shepherd to follow or to trust or to love – no Shepherd at all, nothing but her own horrible self. Ever after, it seemed that she had looked straight down into Hell.”

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“Other desires might clamor strongly and fiercely nearer the surface of her nature, but she knew now that down in the core of her own being she was so shaped that nothing could fit, fill, or satisfy her heart but he himself. ‘Nothing else really matters,’ she said to herself, ‘only to love him and to do what he tells me. I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is. All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.”

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“Again he (The Shepherd) smiled, but only remarked quietly that the important thing about altars was that they made possibilities of apparent impossibilities…”

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“…take the natural longing for human love and desire which you found already growing in your heart when I planted my own love there, go up to the mountains and offer them as a burnt offering…she put out her hand and with one final effort of failing strength grasped the natural human love and desire growing in her heart and struggled to tear them out. At the first touch it was as though anguish pierced through her every nerve and fiber, and she knew with a pang almost of despair that the roots had wound and twined and thrust themselves into every part of her being. Though she put forth all her remaining strength in the most desperate effort to wrench them out, not a single rootlet stirred…in the grave of her own hopes…the priest wrenched it out of her heart, her flower of human love and desire, the plant of longing-to-be-loved, and burned it on the altar.”

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“She had the feeling that somehow, in the very far-off places, perhaps even in the far-off ages, there would be a meaning found to all sorrow and an answer too fair and wonderful to be as yet understood.”

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“She felt nothing but a great stillness in which only one desire remained, to do that which he had told her, simply because he had asked it of her.”

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“Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to your will can be transformed.”

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“I have noticed that when people are brought into sorrow and suffering, or loss, or humiliation, or grief, or into some place of great need, they sometimes become ready to know the Shepherd and to seek his help.”

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“For he loves each one of us…as though there were the only one to love.”

Grace and Glory, Joy and Peace

“His name is an ointment poured forth…”

Kindergarten – Near the Beginning

I recently finished reading through my old report cards from grade school. I also spent a few hours sifting through grade school pictures, class pictures, and old family photographs from that timeframe. The experience was like warping back in time, peeking into another world that mostly I would rather not enter. Glimpsing those times reconnects me to places, people, and experiences that I would much rather leave dormant. Peeking in disturbs many unexplored, unexpressed wounds, feelings and emotions that I buried in deep graves; an unrecognizable landscape over-grown by weeds, vegetation, and creeping groundcover that hides those graves. Cleaning the landscape and opening those graves is necessary for me to bring forgiveness, some form of reconciliation, and healing. It is an extremely long, winding, twisting road through that uncharted world, but I trust God will lead the way, hold my right hand, and walk beside me through these craggy places.  

It was the very late 60’s when I began attending grade school; the same grade school, kindergarten through sixth grade. Now, I do not remember the first day of kindergarten, but I know that it was half-days and I was in the morning class because my mother insisted the school place me in the AM class for her convenience and preference. The year I started kindergarten my mother accepted a job with the police department as the school crossing guard. On nice days, each morning we walked to her corner; on rainy or winter days she drove us to the corner in the car. Each day regardless of weather, I would proceed to walk about two more blocks further to the school by myself. I had a rain jacket that helped shield some of the penetration, but winter days bit my legs something fierce. Now my brother was in third grade, but we neither recall walking to school together. I tend toward believing we went our separate ways. Though I have no proof, but given what I do know about my mother, I believe she returned home each morning, once we were at school, to go back to bed. I was dismissed at noon and walked back to her corner. My mother was also an Avon Representative. We spent many an afternoon going door to door peddling her merchandise and chit chatting hours away with the other stay at home moms and elderly women. She was gregarious and acquired quite a flock on her weekly afternoon sales routes. I sat quietly drifting in and out of boredom with an occasional acknowledgement. Around mid-afternoon, we made our way back to her corner. I sat in the car as she stopped traffic to get the school kids across the busy intersection. And, then we drove home.

At that time, all girls wore dresses and all boys, well were boys, except no jeans – and that I know only from looking at the class picture. I have very blonde hair and my mother cuts the front so that I have bangs. I wear a nice red and green plaid dress on picture day; one would think it was Christmas. While I do not look slovenly or displaced, I am a fat child. I am missing my two front teeth. I am placed standing in the back row between four larger boys. Now my mother was an extreme girlie girl — all about fashion, shoes, purses, make-up, perfumes, hair, and much more — encouraged further by her Avon commerce. She held those exact same extreme aspirations for me. At that time, I did not know much difference other than little menacing forced mandates that crept out all over me. In kindergarten, on picture day, I have a white brooch on top of my head. She had this constant compulsion to attempt styling my hair, putting my hair up in all different imaginable ponytails, braids, buns, and twists using rubber bands, barrettes, and baubles as if I were her baby doll detached from pain or discomfort. When I was one year old, she decided to perm my hair. I remember nearly suffocating in terror trying to breathe while fumes slowly devoured my respiration as she is yelling for me to sit still.  In kindergarten, on picture day, she drew up several strands of my long blonde hair, twisted them together over and over on top of my head into a single tail and then pinned that tail to the top of my head with a gaudy white flower brooch. In my eyes, I look remiss, but perhaps that is what mothers disseminate upon their little girls.  

I actually like school and learning. I like my kindergarten teacher enough, but I really like the teacher aid and could not wait to see her each day – my second strong inclination toward an older female in a leadership role. One day we are all on the floor doing an art project. The art project is to cut out even size strips of construction paper in red & white, white stars, and a blue square. Once this is complete, we are to glue the pieces onto a rectangular piece of construction paper to make an American flag. I follow instructions implicitly, but operate in my own little world. I am sitting on a section of the floor alone, quietly cutting, and pasting. To my surprise, the teacher’s aide kneels down on the floor and whispers in my ear, “Don’t tell anyone, but yours looks the nicest.”  I absorb her words like soft butter on warm toast and never forget! She blew a little much needed wind into my sails that day. Those kind words have stayed in my heart for a lifetime. Only by God’s grace, those words were not strangled out by all the weeds, vegetation, and creeping ground cover or better yet buried in a grave. When I look at her in the picture now, I wonder what her name was and what happened to her.

Now, I am a good student – cooperative, obedient, kind, but quiet, kept to myself, and worked alone.  It only takes a few small visible differences for kids to notice and exploit others, beginning at a very young age. When I was born, the right side of my right leg was a reddish purple tone. From a very young age, my mother comments regularly on this discoloration, so I am not ignorant to its existence. She says the doctor told her it was a “birthmark.”  It is my whole goal to keep my entire leg covered at all times lest anyone else recognize my eyesore. My mother thinks it the correct practice prescribed by social convention to make sure I wear a dress to church and school on every occasion.  During this nocuous period, I always choose to wear knee-hi socks. I rationalize the dresses come down to my knees and the socks rise up to my knees, thus covering the mass majority of my purple red leg so that absolutely no one will know of my “birthmark.” In my small mind and world, it was working out quite well. It seems that absolutely no one knows of my unnatural monstrosity except my mother (perhaps my dad, but if he knows, he never says a word.) I arrive home one day after school to discover laying out on my bed are brand new, lace-edged, white bobby socks,  socks that only rise to just above the ankle, edged with delightful frilly lace! My mother is quite proud of her purchase and announces that I will be wearing them to school. I on the other hand am mortified!  Immediately, with underlying terror that my leg will be exposed, I tell her I cannot wear those socks to school. Just the thought of the possibility that anyone will notice my leg produces an anxious energy within. The thought of kids gazing upon my “defect” and making fun of me creates grave fear. But, my protests fall on deaf ears and she insists that I will be wearing those socks. I quietly put them in the drawer believing those socks will never see the light of day again. The next morning while dressing for school, as every other morning, my mother barges into my bedroom, asks where the socks are and tells me to get them out, I will be wearing those socks to school that day, to put them on, and she does not want to hear another word about it. Did she stay awake the entire night waiting for morning to delight in my suffering? I begin begging and pleading with her not to make me wear them. But the more I grovel the more entrenched she becomes and I know the battle is lost. My leg becomes the spectacle sideshow of the day. The kids begin teasing me about my discolored leg. It is not enough that visually I am the largest child, but now I am visually the largest child with an abnormal leg. I swallow the pain of ridicule and mentally try to ignore the teasing. On that unspecified date, the conscious, cold war of clothing and gender identity begins; episodic implosions over clothing, shoes, hair, etc.; mushroom clouds of humiliation; and a deep, tiny tributary of blood courses through my veins desiring to be a boy.

As I said, I was fat. I had not developed any affinity or aptitude towards physical activity or sports. On nice days, the class would go out on the playground for gym. I remember one particular activity. Frequently, the teacher would have us sit Indian style (the absurdity of girls in dresses sitting Indian style on asphalt perplexes me) in a circle on the pavement and play Duck, Duck, Goose. Someone was picked to begin, “It.” It walks around the circle, tapping each player on the head, saying “duck” each time until they decide to tap someone and say goose. That person becomes the goose and runs after It, trying to tag It before It can take the goose’s seat. If It successfully reaches the goose’s seat without being tagged, the goose is the new It. If the goose tags It, then the goose keeps his spot in the circle and It must continue to be It for another turn. The kids quickly learn that the fat girl is not quick enough to get up from the Indian style sitting position and chase down It. My mind worked overtime trying to figure out how to overcome my inabilities. I think I got stronger, but was never able to tag It! I became an easy target to harass. I slowly saunter and drag my sorry self out to the playground each time it is announced we are playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Inevitably, I am the Goose round after laughter after round after laughter and on it would go. I am on the fringe beginnings of persecution and purgatory that will last for years.

Love you, mean it!

Church 102

From my prior blog, Church 101, I wrote, “I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

These boxes were sealed tight with an encryption that only I could decipher. They contained my interpretation of what a Christian should and should not be, what they should and should not wear, what they should and should not do, where they should and should not go, and what makes a Christian acceptable and loved by God. In other words, I was inherently a bad person on a mission to attain these perfect standards. Then, and only then, could God possibly accept and love me, as well as these church people — or anybody else for that matter. I might as well have been an Israelite trying to live under the letter of the law, conditions of a narrow, rigid moral code that imprisoned me spiritually. And here is the kick in the teeth; I knew no difference because there certainly was no one at church or home explaining anything! These beliefs seeped into me without my awareness. These beliefs coupled with my home life constantly whispered in my ear, “You are unacceptable, a disappointment, and totally unlovable.” These beliefs drove me! I had mountains to climb to achieve that which I desperately longed for – to be acceptable and lovable by God and as a Christian.  

My mother took me to church as an infant onward. Weekly, faithfully we attended Sunday morning Sunday school and then the morning church service directly afterward. Of course, I began in nursery, graduated to toddlers, and then into Sunday school for certain age groups, progressively. When I was five, I shared with my mother that I got saved. She insisted that I was too young to understand what that meant. For two years, she contended I was not saved. At age seven, I had a Sunday school teacher who I thought the sun rose and set on. I lagged behind one Sunday morning after Sunday school helping push the chairs in – it really was not about the chairs, it was about being with her. She asked me if I was saved. I told her no because my mother drilled it into me that I was not. She shared Jesus with me that morning and I got re-saved. She told me I had to go forward during the morning worship service so that it could be announced to the congregation. Huh? You mean walk down that long footpath in front of all those people and tell the pastor I got saved? With fear, trepidation, and my little heart racing, I made my way forward in front of all those people to proclaim my salvation. Two weeks later, I was baptized. As I waded out into the deep baptismal, I heard a gasp hover over the congregation and then this hush of silence. On the way home, my mother told me that those sitting around her turned to her and said it was like seeing an angel walking out. I was wearing a white robe furnished by the church and had white blonde hair. In all truth, these two events were pivotal phenomena in my life. God knew that I would need Him at such a young age to survive all that was happening and all that lie ahead. He became the very foundation upon which I found my hope to keep trying. Without Jesus, I would not be who I am today. At this church, I was further strongly commanded to be reading scripture, memorizing scripture, and praying daily. This is the one box I took from that church that I cherish and hold with deep gratitude.

Now, children’s church felt like overwhelming chaos to me – lots and lots of kids from well to do families who attended the church academy huddled in their groups of friends. Oh, not me! I was fat, which made me a huge target for being ridiculed and laughed at; I owned one dress that I wore week after week as opposed to those who wore the newest trends; I attended public school and not the church academy, which made me an outsider; and I was not in attendance every time the church doors were open, which relegated me to being less than. To make it worse, somewhere between seven and eight years old, my mother began a path of irregular church attendance, which naturally played out in my life. Some weeks we attended both Sunday school and the morning church service; some weeks we attended just Sunday school and would scurry out the door to head home before the morning church service began; and some weeks we did not attend whatsoever. There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or pattern behind the confusion of what each week brought, but this disrupted pattern of attendance placed me under a huge spotlight. You see, they took attendance. As I entered the Sunday school room or children’s church, someone took my name and checked me off some list. The woman taking attendance for children’s church would inevitably ask me why I had missed the prior week or weeks. Every time, I would tell her, “I don’t know.” One Sunday morning my mother planned to go to Sunday school only. I asked her if we could please stay for church. She asked me why and I told her because the woman keeps questioning me each time I am absent why I am gone. My mother looks at me and says, “You tell her it is none of her business.”  I proceed into children’s church a couple weeks later praying the woman would not notice I had been absent. Not on your life!  She again asks me why I had been absent the past few Sundays and, not knowing anything different, I say, “My mother told me to tell you that it is none of your business.” Granted, I was never questioned again, but it took me years to realize that that response was inappropriate. To this day, I simply say good morning, hi, or if I know the person well enough I might say, hey, I missed you, but I will never ask anyone why he or she was not in attendance.

Because of my father’s negativity about the church and my mother’s free-flowing feelings at home about her personal scrutinization from the church, I already had the strong sense that we were a diseased family of rats attending church amongst the snakes. The way I was treated by the other kids further supported my notion of being eaten alive. To the depth of my soul, I so wanted to fit in and be a part of the kids at church. It would have meant the world to me. But that simply would never, ever be, as hard as I tried. I had not one friend. There was one girl who was the ringleader and literally reminded me of Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie – prissy and spoiled, and displayed a vicious and manipulative personality. One Sunday they announce that our Sunday school class is having an outing. They are going to somebody’s farm to go horseback riding. I desperately wanted to go. I love animals and had never ridden a horse. However, I had no one to go with. As the time got closer, the desire to ride a horse outweighed the fear of going alone and risking the mockery of the other kids. My mother dressed me in a white speckled shirt two sizes too small and off I went. When I arrived at the church, we were instructed to get on the bus. I was last in line to enter the bus and there sat Nellie. My throat choked as she squealed in her shrill voice, “How much do you weigh?” The entire bus erupted into laughter as I deflated, hung my head in shame, and made my way to an empty seat. When we arrived at the farm, the horses were lined up on the opposite side of a wooden fence. We were told to stand on the opposing side of the wooden fence. As would be my fate, a horse walked up behind me and in between the slats of the fence, proceeds to lick me across the top of my suffocating tight white shirt leaving a huge grass stain swiped across the top. Once again, Nellie erupts into laughter and in her shrill voice announces to the entire group what happened causing a ripple effect of laughter. I wish the ground had opened up and swallowed me whole. The humiliation was crippling.

My mind was continuously trying to think of ways to fit in and gain acceptance from these kids. Around my sixth grade year, in an effort to gain acceptance and fit in, I asked my mother if I could attend the church academy. She was sitting at her sewing machine, as always making herself quite the attire, when I approached her with my novel idea. When I asked, she said, “Now why would you want to do that?” I said because I do not have any friends at church and I want to fit in with the kids. She said, “That is no reason for you to attend that academy. Those kids are no better than you are for attending that academy. Besides, we cannot afford to send you there. Do you know how much that costs?” Case closed! I continued attending public school. And, I continued to be the friendless laughing stock each time I attended church.

On another occasion, when I was in seventh grade, the 50 some year old teacher of the Sunday school class I was attending announces that we will be having a back to school pizza party at her home the following Saturday. Now my motivation to go had nothing to do with pizza or being with the kids. Truthfully, I would have rather played in traffic than be the fat girl scarfing down pizza in front of Nellie. My motive was the Sunday school teacher’s niece. Remember the Sunday school teacher that I thought the sun rose and set on, the one who shared Jesus with me? That was her niece. Her niece was the co-teacher of our class. She was not present in the class every Sunday morning, but I knew she was helping with the back to school pizza party. I wanted to attend the event because I wanted to see her. Did I mean anything to her? Not so much, as the years revealed, for that matter we never had conversation. But if you recall that emptiness that I spoke of in a prior blog, I was chasing after love from birth and other than my grandmother, she was probably the first female I wanted to love me. What a mistake to go to this party! What a BIG mistake!  You know how the Grinch’s heart grew 3X larger that day? My body had grown up and out over the summer and literally I had no pants that fit. Now my mother was a fine seamstress and in her brilliancy, rather than make me a new pair of pants, she decides to take a pair of my treasured undersized knit peach pants and sew (no kidding here) a 6-inch lace on the bottom of each leg of the pants. In a panic, I tell her, “No, I cannot wear those. I will look like a freak!” She convinces me that the lace makes them look really nice, they will not be too short, and everyone will think I look so cute. I wanted to puke the entire ride there. My mother drops me off at the end of the driveway. I see the kids playing baseball in the yard. I begin walking toward the area. I hear a piercing “Look” that split the atmosphere like lightning. Nellie begins pointing and laughing hysterically creating a riotous scene. As I got closer, the niece of the Sunday school teacher is standing on the porch watching the entire incident playout. No one stopped it. I had no way of leaving. I fell into a silent world of pure hell! This was the last attempt to participate in any church activity – no more Sunday school parties, no more children’s church, and no more youth activities. Remember those  boxes – the one overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and the other box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids – they both also contained blood from the wounds that dug so deep into my very soul.

That last box of legalism contained so many rules. And, I believed every single one. They were leverage against myself, indicators of my spirituality or lack thereof, markers of defeat, gages to remind me that I was not worthy to be loved, and guides that drove me just about over the edge.

Now, here is what I did love. I loved walking quietly into the huge sanctuary, locating my mother, quietly sitting in the pew, and listening to the prelude music. I loved singing the hymns. I loved hearing the beautiful choir each Sunday. I loved special music. And, I loved hearing the Word of God preached. At the most important level, somehow God got ahold of my heart and despite the fact that my heart was broken, I believe He held onto me beyond any words that I could ever write.

Love you, mean it!