The gospel did its job, and grudgingly picked me up off of the ground as what followers consider a lost soul.
Lost? Sure. Fifteen can be a pretty confusing age, and at the time, I didn’t really know what my soul needed. Having needs was a burden in my family. So I kept myself quiet and busy, like a little bee belonging to a chaotic colony.
I could agree with the Youth for Christ staff leaders that I was lost, because I’d lose parts of myself with each blow of belittlement by my Dad. If all lost people needed Jesus, I finally knew how to save him. I have heard my Dad refer to himself as lost before.
There was one time my Dad got lost with all of us in tow. I can’t remember whose birthday it was, because a few of my memories as a child have become faded fears. I think my brain tucked them into a tight filing cabinet. My brain has no choice but to be a responsible receptionist. She uses orderly organization and her finger to her mouth with a “shhhh” as protection. This is to prevent me from throwing all of my papers in the air, storming out of the office, all while simultaneously slinging a string of words about how I need to quit.
It was a special day, according to the calendar that my mom wrote on. She couldn’t hear, and she couldn’t really talk. But that didn’t matter much to me as a kid. She could write notes that could cheer me up when I was sad. And with every yearly calendar she nailed to the wall, she managed to write down our birthdays and how old we were going to be. ‘Belle’s Birthday. Wow, 9 years old!’ I looked forward to this. It made me feel special, especially when compared to my Dad who would somehow forget when to tell us ‘Happy birthday.’ I still cannot forget his birthday, though. I still feel an eerie nudge on June 27th. Maybe I could forgive the fact he didn’t care that much about January 11th. Maybe he couldn’t remember calendar dates as well as my mom and I. But was it so hard for him to at least try to remember how old I would become?
It’s hard to be a kid so forgotten by a father. That kid begins to forage any bit of visibility they can fathom.
Each birthday, I would add on another year of growth. I really wanted my Dad to notice that. Each year, I tried to be even smarter than the last. My mom would practice writing words with me for school spelling quizzes. The real moments of pride paraded my body when my Dad would look at my 100% scores on his way to the bathroom. I don’t think I wanted anything more than to hear my Dad say “Good work, Belle.” Sometimes I fantasized about the feeling I’d receive. It would make me beam even bigger than when my teachers pointed out my nice work (and I really did cherish that).
“When Dad would say it, he’d say ‘Good work’ WITH my name”, or
“Maybe this time, he’d compliment me without comparing me to how much smarter I was than my little sister or my big brother.“
I noticed my Dad was lost on a correctly-spelled calendar birthday. Dad excitedly asked my brother, little sister, and I if we wanted to meet the mouse from Chuck E Cheese. Seeing my Dad express positive emotions made me happier than actually playing in a ball pit. At a young age, I knew bad days were more frequent. This looked like Dad cooped up in his office playing violent video games. He’d keep the door shut, and that always meant we were supposed to leave him alone. My mom could go in to bring him meals, but sometimes she would get yelled at too. She broke some of Dad’s rules in the house more than my siblings and I ever did.
I remember wishing on my 9th birthday candles that office days would go away. Once in a while, the weight on my tiny, frail shoulders would lift when I’d get out of my bunk bed and see that all the windows in the downstairs were open, and the curtains were pulled back. The house was lit up from the streaming sunlight. My Dad was too. Those were good days. Any day that my Dad was happy, we were too. It was infectious. He’d get hyper, too, and that was so much fun. Sometimes, if we were really lucky, he would be so hyper that he’d play a game of basketball with us outside, or lay on the carpet and let my toddler brother climb all over him. He’d call it a “wrestling match”. You could hear laughter linger throughout the house.
I later learned that my 9th birthday candle wish was a waste. The bad moods became bigger. Scarier, too. He blew off more steam with each bad day, until all he became was a diesel locomotive flying by on a track, striking anyone that dared to come into his way.
We never met the mouse from Chuck E Cheese, because Dad got lost in the busy city. We had to drive further than usual to find it, which I was already dreading. I always felt sick on long car rides. I tried to puke in bathroom rest stops like my Dad demanded, but it was hard to control sometimes. I was scared of nausea, because I was so scared of being bad. Motion sickness, I’d learn at age 20.
I’m staring out the window of our 2002 Dodge Van as a scream startles my siblings. My Dad yelled in a fit of frustration that we were not going to the ‘GODDAMN CHUCK E CHEESE’ anymore. At first I thought it was too expensive, because that was usually why we missed events. But on this night, it was because Dad got lost in traffic. Even worse than this, was witnessing how lost he became in his own head.
We never went to Chuck E Cheese, and the rest of the day became an office day. I felt sad, even if I pretended to be happy for my little brother and sister- just like my mom would always ask me to be. I knew how to be good, so I always chose to be good. I did not want to meet the mouse that bad, but I at least wished for Dad to stay happier for a little longer.
Wishes were a waste. Wishes became prayers. Turns out, it wasn’t my fault that holding my breath on my birthday and blowing out candles didn’t work. It just wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t necessarily the solution. But I heard prayers were. God was in control of everything. When I was a teenager, prayers replaced birthday wishes. I had to learn how to pray to God, because it was hard at first. It was awkward and weird. It didn’t feel normal. But this is how I could be a good kid, so I chose good. I chose God.
I definitely wasn’t lost when I first heard the gospel. I was sitting among a youth group I only joined for pizza and friends. I was a hurting teenager only seeking safety.
Humans cannot be lost.
And if we are temporarily wandering,
What is life but a back-and-forth between finding and losing?
A push and pull between heartache and full hearts?
Our lives are meant to be real.
Breathing beings are sometimes buried underneath trauma or conditioning.
We may loosen from the topsoil when the sunlight comes.
The digging may come.
We deserve that attempt at discovery.
We get to have that genuine gust.
The gospel is much worse than being buried.
We are damned before we even start digging.
Legalistic bible verses are leeches.
The gospel guts what is left of us,
Wraps the weeping wounds in bandages,
Then demands gratitude for it.
I was living in a dysfunction that pretended to function. There was not one, but two abusers– a rapist and a narcissist full of verbal abuse. My mom was an enabler to both, and even if she did not understand that, she still remained that. I did not use this terminology back then, because it did not exist. Especially not in Christianity.
When I was 19, a victim vocalized her pain to me. I believed her when she painfully, but bravely told me she was molested. All of those years ago, rape was happening behind closed doors in an airtight room next to where I slept. My best friend became a monster overnight. I grieved as if he passed away. He was no longer alive to me.
At 15, I did not know what a narcissist was. I only knew that my Dad was the most important person in our family, despite what our needs may be as his children. Needs were not normal. I learned at a young age that if I could meet needs of my own, then I could be the hero of our family. If I could just work hard enough, I could meet the needs of our family too. I did this by paying the water bill with my first job, or embarrassingly asking a friend if her mom could bring another round of groceries.
I’d accompany my mom places I didn’t want to go
so she’d always have a sign language interpreter,
And I’d accompany my Dad in mental places I didn’t want to go
so he’d stay away from a suicidal tendency.
I was 16 years old. Sweet 16 was not my reality. Instead of worrying about a homecoming dance,
I’d be begging my Dad to not leave us. I’d be begging him to not leave the world.
I became numb in my own home.
As a result, I was suffocated by depression and anxiety. I was vulnerable. As one could imagine, I was initially drawn to evangelism by the promises of unconditional love and acceptance. I thought I could escape my environment by being immersed in evangelism. This was not saving, this was survival.
I was baptized in an independent, fundamentalist baptist church. With each service, I became more fervor. I did everything by the book. I was faithful by sitting in pews, reading my bible, knocking on doors and inviting others to church, and creatively writing about my faith. I became a camp counselor for several years. I won bible quiz trophies three years in a row. I started a christian blog. I prayed every chance I had. I bought myself a purity ring and made promises of modesty and abstinence.
Yeah, a rule-follower. A good one. Wise beyond her years. That’s who I was.
But it was deeper than that to me. I cringed when others called me religious. I was nothing more than a friend of Jesus. How could I not be? I believed I was a child of God. I was finally a child of Someone that claimed to see me. For once, I was known and not neglected. I did not see my lifestyle as religious, I saw my actions as a part of a relationship with Jesus.
I was encouraged by my Preacher to make it my mission to “save” my family from Hell. I learned how to be good, so I chose good. Choosing God– that’s what I called it. Successfully, everyone in my family came to the belief I had landed at (except for my mother). Two of the saved included both abusers. At the time, I did not know of the rape, so they were not abusers. I viewed them as a lost Dad and a brother that felt like a best friend. My family members were not as committed as I was, but I still felt some comfort in knowing they’d go to Heaven and not be tortured for eternity in Hell. Hopefully this would rid me of the nightmares. I found peace in praying to God. I read about how He knew everything about me, including the exact number of hairs on my head. I craved what Christianity seemed to offer.
I began to drift away from my faith when I moved out of my childhood home three years ago. Was this terrifying? Absolutely. Was this in my control? Absolutely not. I understand now after careful introspection that my deconstruction came naturally because for the very first time in my life,
I was in a safe environment.
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