Who Am I? Pt 2

Who Am I? Pt 1 The story of abuse continues…

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So life began anew for my mom and me. Within a year she had married a Baptist minister, and we moved to a little town, where we settled into a parsonage prepared to begin a new life. My mind was ablaze with the opportunity to start fresh and no longer live in the uncertainty and pain that the prior years had brought.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before the new reality kicked in and my hopes and dreams were extinguished. While my step-father was not physically abusive, he was very verbally abusive and morally demeaning toward my mom and me. While living in the parsonage next to the church, my step-father would often treat us like his personal slaves, demanding that we cater to his every need. He would often berate us with his words saying things like, “You are too much trouble to have around.” When not being wait upon hand and foot he, would vacillate between totally ignoring us and critizing us in front of other people for any action or word that was done that was not up to his standard.

Again this was quite a different message from the one that we would hear him preach and teach from the pulpit on Sundays. He, too, proclaimed to the people how caring, kind and compassionate God is, and how we are to mirror those same qualities in our lives. For me as a freshman in high school the hypocrisy of this situation, coupled with my past experiences, was just unbearable. Any thoughts of God’s grace, peace, and mercy toward His children switched back to that of being good for others and brought with it some serious doubt as to whether God even cared at all. My mother was not immune to this pattern of thinking either as we had a few occasions where we would be able to share our feelings and frustrations in a rare moment of privacy.

While this new reality and cycle of abuse began to affect our lives, it lasted only eighteen months. Upon returning from school one day, again holding my breath as I entered the door, I encountered my mom who was obviously distraught and crying. Earlier in the day she had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor; she was given less than a year to live. I will never forget the raw emotion that came from both of us that day as we sat in each other’s arms crying and begging God for His mercy. Upon his arrival home, after hearing of this diagnosis, my step-father – the pastor – demanded that we pack up all of our belongings and get out of his house because, “he didn’t have time to deal with this sort of thing.”

The police were eventually called as I lunged at him, swinging my fists erratically and cursing him with every ounce of my strength. We were escorted away from that home, only with what possessions we could pack in ten minutes, to begin yet again but now with new and frightening realities in our lives. At this point God was truly nothing more than a fictional character that only existed for a small few who had never experienced life to the extent that I had.

Picking up and moving on, coupled with the diagnosis of cancer and chemotherapy, brought with it numerous challenges and frustrations. At the age of sixteen my new reality had become: trying to maintain all of my school work, caring for a chemo patient, maintaining a steady income flow, and still trying to find time to be a teenager. My daily routine typically consisted of getting up to fix breakfast, scheduling appointments, going to school, coming home to relieve the caregiver, going to work at a movie theater or gas station, coming home to do homework and finally passing out on the couch from sheer exhaustion.

As medical insurance began to run out and my graduation from high school was approaching, I was left with little choice but to join the military to help support my mother and provide the care that she needed. Again, not learning from the past, I stood with eager anticipation and hope as to what this new change would bring.  All of my pay was sent home to provide care for her. I was granted special leaves of absence so that I might continue to support and care for my mother. In basic training, I began to attend the worship services and hear those messages of God’s grace peace and mercy, and although I was still hardened in the heart the appeal to the call of such things tugged at my heart.

Was this the turning point? Not at all…

Who Am I? Pt 1

I have invited a friend to share his life story of the “lonely, broken, and forgotten” and The Hurting and Christmas. It will be five parts. Be sure to read all five.

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I begin with a reassurance of understanding of Nouwen’s words in which he rightfully calls the reader‘s attention to this point:

Making one’s own wounds a source of healing, therefore, does not call for a sharing of superficial personal pains but for a constant willingness to see one’s own pain and suffering as rising from the depth of the human condition which all me share (Wounded Healer, 88).

The intent of this section is not to boast of myself or to talk solely about the miraculous work and blessings that God has done in my life. The intent of this section is to recognize the sufferings of my own heart and to make that recognition the starting point of service for ministry

Both of my parents were police officers who had a passion for their jobs. As a young man growing up and due to the nature of my parents’ work, my weekends were mainly spent with my mother’s parents where I would often find myself ripped from the confines of a comfortable bed and drug to church every Sunday morning. I would go, attending Sunday school and church with them, and hearing Biblical stories that told of a caring, kind and compassionate God that desired happiness and peace for His sheep. After church we would go out to eat; then I would be dropped off at home where I lived a far different reality than what I heard talked about in church.

Returning to my home it was not uncommon to find my father intoxicated and my mother crying. My father was often very physically abusive toward my mother and me; he would take out his anger and rage from his stress-filled job on us. Most of my early childhood memories involve beatings, trips to the hospital, and numerous occasions of my mother packing and both of us leaving only to have us return hours or days later to endure the same abuse in some sort of insane cyclical pattern.

My thoughts would often wander to the message that was spoken at my grandparent’s church, and even as a young man I could not help but feel that the message of a kind, caring and compassionate God was something for other people, not me. This was simply the norm for me growing up, through elementary school and junior high. I lived in a household where I held my breath coming home, entering the door to see what I would find. “Be seen and not heard” was my imposed mantra as any words or mistimed actions would often lead to physical punishment for me or my mother.

This pattern continued for many years but one day something happened to break the cycle. When I was in eighth grade I can clearly remember getting a call to go to the principal’s office. This was not uncommon, lest the reader think too compassionately upon me, as I often found myself getting into trouble as a younger man. Through my rebellion of my home circumstances I would regularly skip school or classes, get involved with the “wrong crowd,” and experiment in drinking and marijuana use – you name it, I probably got caught doing it.

So heading to the principal’s office that day my only thoughts were of how severely punished I would be for getting caught in whatever I had done. Approaching the office that day and seeing the two guidance counselors, my grandparent’s pastor, a few police officers, my mom and the principal my heart sunk—I knew I was really in for it. Desperately searching my mind for what I had done, for what possible thing that I did that would warrant such an gathering of people, I was in for a surprise. They began to explain to me that earlier in the day my father had been shot and killed in a drug raid.

I can remember sitting in that chair and looking at my mom with a smile beginning to creep across my lips as this new reality began to set in. To others the reaction might have seemed strange, but to me through this death was newfound freedom that had been granted to my mother and me. We no longer had to face the reality of abuse and torture that we endured. Even in this time where God and church seemed to be a place of make believe and fantasy I could not help but join in with prayer that the pastor offered, one of a new reality and the promise of God not to leave or forsake us. In my childlike mind I truly believed that God had taken my father’s life to spare us the hurt and suffering that we endured for so many years.

I was free, or so I thought…