“If anyone causes one of these little ones –those who believe in me– to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” ~Mark 9:42
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~Arthur Golden
When I was four or five years old. My mom had me stand at the top of the stairs in our thousand square foot, split level house, and jump into her arms in an attempt to explain Faith to me. Faith that she’d catch me. Faith that there was a God who sent His son to die for me.
I’m sure her intentions were pure, but unfortunately the only thing I took away from the conversation that night was that there was this really scary place called Hell. And, if I didn’t say a special prayer to God, I was going to burn in the lake of fire for all eternity.
I remember inviting my friends to church at a very young age, thinking that if I could only get them to hear this magical prayer, recite it and really mean it, they’d earn their “get outta Hell free card” just like me.
I must have said the sinner’s prayer at least a dozen times growing up, hoping I’d eventually get it right. When God didn’t save me from the darkness that consumed my life or fit in the perfectly wrapped package I had created for Him, I began to question and doubt His goodness.
Don’t get me wrong, if anyone asked me if I believed in God, I’d tell them, “I have faith!” I believed there was a God. I believed in the power of God, but I never yielded to Christ. Without even realizing it, I had jumped on the treadmill of Jesus plus something else…
Growing up, I can remember being left alone often as a young child. My mother had struggles of her own which made her physically and emotionally unavailable most days of the week. On the weekend she spent most of her time at church practicing for the choir or cleaning up for service. My father worked 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet. On weekends, he acted as the church treasurer and was an active member on the deacon board. As the eldest of four, a lot of the responsibility of managing my younger siblings unofficially fell on me.
I didn’t have many friends and looking back I realize now it was because my family led a double life. I learned not to speak of what happened in private, to smile even when things at home were tough. I often felt unloved and unsafe. I never felt good enough or that anyone could possibly understand or relate to what I was going through. I adapted and learned to be a chameleon in order to blend in and be accepted. I quickly realized that I couldn’t trust or rely on other people, especially those in a position of power over me. This caused me to feel even more isolated and alone.
I spent more hours in a church building than I did my own home. It wasn’t uncommon for families like mine to allow their children free reign of the church. We acted like we owned the place… I actually remember the pastor at the time scolding some of the parents, including my own, that would try and correct their kids who were running and laughing and playing, saying something along the lines of ,”The kids are just being kids, let them be.”
Unfortunately, as awesome as my childhood church seemed at the time, the gospel being preached was being watered down and the congregation started to believe all kinds of errors. The enemy used deception to pull members far from God.
Before I was old enough to write my name, I had been repeatedly sexually abused by a man that was very involved in this church. He not only abused me, but he abused my younger sister and some of the other girls who attended as well.
“ENDIT” movements like “NOMORE” and “LOVE146” hadn’t hit the scene yet, so most parents weren’t educated on the warning signs of predatory behavior or sexual abuse. When abusers started to raise up within the church, their behavior was covered over and victims were blamed in an attempt to protect the churches reputation and tithing income.
I can remember feeling embarrassed and scared to speak out. The few times I tried, I was shunned and ignored, or was told that no one would believe me because of sins from my past. I seemed to be a magnet for these types of individuals and was made to believe that I had somehow asked for the abuse with the way that I had dressed or behaved.
I would pray to God, BEGGING for His help, but I realize now I was more interested in the comfort or escape I thought He would provide for me. I wasn’t interested in surrendering myself to Him.
By the time I turned 18 my heart was completely hardened to the things of God and I left my childhood church completely. I began to look to the world for my identity.