Saturday, July 12, 2014
Author's Note: This entry deals with how I came to be saved and some family history. So if God, Jesus Christ or the Cross offends you, please feel free to move on. But for those brave enough to read on, I hope that you're challenged or inspired to seek God for yourself. There's nothing about kinkiness in this entry.
I don't really know where to start with this entry. I guess I should start at the beginning, but that would take way too long. So I guess I'll start with saying a few things about myself. First of all, I always knew I was different...different than the other people in my family, different than other kids, different than most of the people I have worked with and lived with over the years. That revelation came fairly early in my life. Being a twin certainly made me stand out. My sister and I were bullied by other kids at school, for reasons I've never fully understood. I always just figured that some kids were mean. It never occurred to me that maybe they came from broken homes or were being abused or had anger issues. None of that was known in the days when it was happening to me. Even though my parents were good parents, they subscribed to the belief that kids should fight their own battles or they would never make it in the world.
I was raised by saved parents. By "saved" I mean born again. I still have a letter that my father's father wrote to him when he was a young Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton going through his basic training. The letter is an instructive one, in which Grandpa warns my father, Edward, against carousing and card playing. He tells him that, instead of drinking and womanizing, he should stay in and read his Bible. He should do this even if the other guys make fun of him. My father was 19 years old and had never been away from home before. He also had the specter of being shipped off to Korea looming over him. My mother, Donna, came from a well-off family and was an only child. Her mother had been abandoned by her mother and raised in an orphanage. Her father's parents had come over to America from Germany sometime at the turn of the century. Religion played a huge role in both their lives. So my parents lived the Christian life even before they married in April, 1955.
My mother was what was known in that era as a "good girl". This means that despite the fact that she dated a lot and had quite a few boyfriends, she remained a virgin and saved herself for her marriage. I asked my dad years later, when my mother was ill with cancer and Alzheimer's, if he could remember anything about his wedding day and he told me "I wanted it to be the happiest day of her life." The young couple in the wedding photo (he was 23, she was just 20) had no idea what life was going to throw at them on that glorious April day almost 60 years ago. But I'm extremely grateful that both had personal faith in Jesus Christ because they would need it.
Like most couples in that era, they started their family almost right away. In July, 1956, just a few months after their first anniversary, my mother discovered she was pregnant. Neither set of in-laws, so the family story goes, were overjoyed at the news. My mother's parents were concerned that they didn't earn enough money to support a family. My father's parents were worried that my mother was too small and frail to bring a healthy child into the world. But in February, 1957 my older sister, Kathy, was brought safely into the world. She was small and not very pretty and she would stay that way throughout her life. Of course, there was the disappointment that the first child had been a girl (though my parents were secretly thrilled that their first child had been female). Two and a half years later, a son and heir did arrive. My older brother, Ray was named after my mother's father. I guess their was some debate about whether the family really needed another Edward (my father and his father bore the name, after all). So my parents compromised and gave him the middle name Edward, just to keep the name in the family. When my brother finally had a son of his own, he also gave him the middle name Edward. Fifteen months later, my twin sister Carol and I arrived. My mother discovered just six weeks before our birth that twins were coming. I don't know what was going through their minds, but they had to be scared, knowing that carrying more than one baby puts a tremendous strain on the mother.
This heavily damaged photo is the only one I have of my mother pregnant with me. That 's my grandmother (her mother) and my older brother, Ray with her. He's barely standing so he must be about a year old here, which means Mom has three months to go. We were premature, as twins usually are. In fact, Mom's labor was induced due to toxemia. Her kidneys were failing and her obstetrician was sure at least one of her babies had it as well. The prevailing medical wisdom of that era was to save the mother, which is why her labor was induced. She had two other children who needed her. If these babies didn't survive, then she could always get pregnant again. In the late afternoon of December 30th, my mother's labor was induced and Carol and I were born in the late morning of the 31st. We were a natural birth, as were all of her children (although she herself had been born by Cesarean section) and I can only imagine how hard it had to have been for her to push two babies (one of whom was breech) out. But we did make it out and into the world. Our world was an artificial one in those first days. We were placed together in an incubator and the doctor, nurses and my terrified parents held their breath as we struggled for life like newborn chicks. January 4th was my mother's 26th birthday and she was still in the hospital, miserably sick and wanting her babies. That morning, Dr. Brandis, the brilliant obstetrician who had delivered us, came into her room and gave her what she later called the best gift she had ever been given. He told her "Donna, your girls are fighters. I think they're both going to be just fine." It had still not been determined what kind of twins we were, identical or fraternal. The doctor examined the placenta in those days before ultrasound, to determine if we shared one placenta or if we each had our own. It was determined that we had shared on placenta and were therefore identical. My mother said later that my sister and I had been the answer to a prayer. But she never had anymore children.
Her family now complete, she set about raising us the best she possibly could. She concerned herself completely with the education and salvation of her children. We were my father's pride and joy, as this photo makes evident. He was a strict but loving father, who took us with him when he picked up his check. While his friends went out on the weekends to drink in the bars and play basketball at the Y, my father was content to spend time with us--going to the movies, swimming in our backyard pool, barbecuing or picnicking or camping. But the biggest thing we did on the weekend was go to church on Sunday. The Presbyterian church that my father had grown up in became the center of our family's spiritual life. My parents led us by example. We ate together, prayed together and did everything together, always as a family. I saw how some of my friends' fathers treated them--some like property and some like an afterthought. My father answered to Someone higher than himself and I always sensed his humility and the seriousness with which he took his role as head of our home. My mother was his unflagging, unfailing partner. They both agreed and were united in two things: that their children would be educated and that they would know and love the Lord. The idyll couldn't and wouldn't last. The warm and cozy family life that my parents made for us, which had been my safe haven from bullies, began to stifle me when I reached my teens. Slowly but surely, I began to rebel. When it came to discipline, he had a hard hand. But we always knew, even after a spanking (maybe especially then) that he loved us and would give or do anything for us. He would speak to us about God the Father, how he disciplines His children because He loves them and how it was the same with earthly fathers. "If I didn't love you, I'd let you act any way you wanted," he used to tell us during the family times we had together, which often included studying the Bible. And if there was one thing my father knew, besides how to make cottage cheese, it was the Bible. The dairy where he worked had given him the skills to make a living for his family, but it was the Bible that taught and instructed us at home. I had given my life to Christ as an 11-year-old. I joined Youth For Christ when I entered high school. But, soon other things influenced me more than the Bible or the God I couldn't see. I began to smoke, drink and party, forgetting the loving attention that my mother and father had always given me and seeing their rules as unfair attempts to control me. Once, when I was in eighth grade, I talked back to him in a particularly bad way. He left the room without a word and I stood there, savoring what I thought was a victory until he returned bearing a switch in his hand. He used it to tear up the backs of my legs, an act that caused me to weep bitter tears as I came to the realization that he still held control and mastery over me. A week later, he did something that it took me a very long time to forgive. He broke the lock on my diary and read it. He suspected I was seeing a boy he disapproved of and he needed proof. My diary provided it. I was furious with him and left to go stay with friends for three days. When things cooled down and my father apologized, I returned home.
In high school, I began to see that the kids I hung around with had a lot more freedom than I did. Most of them didn't even have curfews. They were allowed to go to parties where there was no adult supervision.My parents were aghast at some of the things my friends were allowed to do. My twin and I badly wanted our ears pierced because most of our classmates did. I wanted to wear the pretty earrings I saw them wearing. My father was absolutely adamant--no pierced ears until we were sixteen. But one day, a few weeks shy of our 14th birthday, Carol and I suck off to the mall and got our ears pierced. There was nothing he could do after the fact, we reasoned. Most of my girlfriends were allowed to date boys who drove. My parents absolutely forbade it until we were sixteen ourselves. Looking back now, I can certainly see that they had only imposed the rules to protect us from the consequences of making bad decisions. One of the worst decisions I ever made was losing my virginity at 15 to a boy I barely knew. It happened on the spur of the moment and we'd used to protection. I knew the risk I was taking, but I was willing to pay the price to know the mysteries of sex. When I had asked my mother "What's the big deal about sex?" when I was 13, she had replied "Wait until you're married." I told her that I was never getting married or having children. I had seen how my mother had gone without while we were growing up. I had seen her wear the same winter coat for fourteen years. I had seen her go without fashionable clothes (and she had been such a pretty and smart dresser as a young woman). And if that was what a woman had to do when she became a wife and mother, then I was having none of it.
All the while we grew up and did our own thing, forgetting the tender and loving raising we'd had. My older sister went on to marry a man who brought sadness and misery to her and to their children in the name of not being an Old Maid. My brother married as well and his wife went on to make her own brand of misery for our family. I dated a string of men who were all wrong for me, despite warnings from friends and family. In 1986, I started dating a man who would profoundly change the course of my life. He told me with a completely straight face that he only dated women who could match him drink for drink. I didn't know as we drank that first drink together, that I was going to become the author of my own undoing. As I looked into his eyes, I should have hated him. Instead, I spent the next five years matching him drink for drink and trying to stay in his good graces, as though I had never been loved before. The more I drank and worked at keeping this man, the more I distanced myself from the mother and father who sacrificed for me. The touching love story of the young girl who wrote to her soldier boyfriend everyday and who waited patiently for him to return from the war became embarrassingly old fashioned to me. So did their talk of the loving God from my childhood. In 1987, the last year my mother was healthy, she gave me a birthday card with a bouquet of roses on the front and "To My Wonderful Daughter" etched in pink. Inside, under the Hallmark blurb called "What Is A Daughter?" my mother had written in her immaculate handwriting "You don't know how much you're loved." But it also contained something else; something I wanted even more than a card--a one hundred dollar bill. I filed the card away as sentimental tripe and spent the $100 on a jacket I'd wanted. But later, when I looked at the world through booze soaked eyes and the men in my life never stayed more than one night, I would take that card out and read the loving words of my mother, who was dying now--"You don't know how much you're loved."
In 1989, my twin got sober after years of alcoholism and an abusive relationship. She began to talk to me about God. I remember the first time like it was yesterday. We were sitting in the smoking lounge of the hospital, where our father laid in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit following a heart attack. "Don't tell me you believe that crap they fed us?" I said dismissively. "If God cares so much, why did this happen? Why did Mom get cancer and now Alzheimer's and why is Dad laid up with a heart attack? What kind of God does that to people?" She nodded her head patiently, as though she had asked herself the same questions. "He's always been there, waiting for you to stop being stupid and reach out to Him," she told me. "We've run our lives our own way and what has it gotten us? Nothing but pain and misery and unhappiness. Do you ever think what our lives might have been like if we had stayed with the teaching they gave us growing up? We might be married to good men right now and raising Godly children. Or working in the mission fields. Not drunks with black eyes." She was probably right but what good was all of that now? It was too late to get the train wreck of my life back on the tracks and moving in the right direction. I had never really thought about how much it must have hurt my parents to see the lives their children were leading...the unfulfilled promise, the untapped potential...all squandered in bad relationships and bad decisions. As children, they had tended us like rare and costly plants only to see us sprout as weeds. "Sis, I got saved," Carol told me. "I gave my life to the Lord." "I thought we did that as kids?" I asked her. "No, I mean I've fully surrendered my life to Him. I have more peace and more joy than I ever thought I could have. I've given up drinking. I'm going to meetings now. I've already talked with Dad. I'm gonna quit my job and take care of him and Mom." I was shocked. "Do you know how hard that'll be?" I asked her. "She has Alzheimer's and a colostomy. She cries all day without stopping. She won't eat or take a bath unless you make her. You're going to end up killing her or yourself." She looked at me calmly. "God will help me. But I need your help, too." I knew why she couldn't ask our other sister or brother. They both had small children and full time jobs. They had no time or energy for what needed to be done.
So we moved back home, into the house we'd grown up in. It felt strange, like we didn't really belong there. But Dad was grateful for the help. The stress of dealing with Mom had almost certainly caused his heart attack. But Carol was as good as her word. Every day she did their laundry and grocery shopping. He gave her blank checks to buy whatever she wanted for the house and herself. It was a great show of trust on Dad's part, to hand a blank check to a drunk. But everyday I watched her tenderly and patiently dress Mom and comb her hair, all the while reading the Bible to her. It seemed like everything in her mind was gone. She now no longer recognized us or Dad, but she still knew her Bible.
In 1993, both of them left us. My mother died on February 15th and Dad on June 1st. I was still drinking away my pain and had even added pain pills to the mix. I was profoundly angry that summer. On August 3rd, I had my uterus removed. I laid in the hospital with a morphine pump and tried not to think about what I was going to do with the rest of my life, however long that was. Carol was working two jobs to pay the bills. But everyday between jobs she would come home and cook me something and make sure I had had my nap and wasn't overdoing it. I felt like I was losing my mind. I was having panic attacks and couldn't sleep. I went back to work when my doctor cleared me and that helped a bit. Having a routine helped me cope. I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn't go on the way I was. I was seeing a counselor, but it wasn't helping; mostly because I wasn't being honest with him. "Cheryl, you need Jesus in your life. Please come to Bible study with me tonight," Carol begged. I told her what she could do with Jesus. I didn't need Him. About a week later, during one of those nights when my insomnia made it impossible to close my eyes, I was flipping through the channels when I saw something that made me stop dead in my tracks. It was a preacher, dressed in a suit with his Bible held over his head. "If you've just flipped your TV to this station, then God is talking to you, my friend. You're not watching me by accident. God is waiting on you. If you're hearing the radio broadcast in your car and you need to pull your car over, just do it. God has waited for you this long. He'll give you a minute to get off the road. This is too important to miss. You have a divine appointment and you can't dodge it anymore. God loves you, my friends. He loves you. The man who can't pay his bills, the lady watching tonight who can't sleep..." It was then that I knew that God really must know and see everything. "You are His precious child, my friend. He has counted your tears and held them in his hand. His heart has ached for you as you rejected him, just as He was rejected on the Cross. That Cross was for you. It was for me. But He took it. Took all the pain so you wouldn't have to. Just wherever you are tonight, whether sitting in your living room or in your car or in your hospital room, just receive Him. Just open the door and let Him come in. He's waiting and He loves you and He's here to take your pain away. He'll dry all those tears and give you beauty for the ashes of the things you've destroyed in your life." In that moment, I fell to the floor. I felt so convicted and ashamed. But I went ahead and prayed that Sinner's Prayer that that preacher led us in. And in that moment, a tidal wave of peace swept over me. I felt so loved and cared for. It must have been how it felt to be in the protective womb of my mother. I must have cried for an hour. "If you prayed that prayer, friend, then you and God are reconciled. There's no need to be sad or ashamed. He's washed it all away. You've been made righteous and holy. All of your sins have been cast away. Your old man has died and you have been given a new birth. Everything old is gone and you've been made new. You might have felt it, you might not. But the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the Trinity, has just come to line in you and the angels in Heaven are singing because someone got saved tonight. Praise God!"
I realized in that moment that it hadn't been Jesus I was rejecting. It was the Cross. The Cross made me feel guilty and condemned. The Cross, I had always been taught, was what Christ had to go through because I was a sinner. But I never really grasped that he did it out of love. I thought He did it because He was obedient. Well, He was obedient; obedient unto death the Scriptures tell us. But the whole underlying reason was love. But how could God love me, a filthy drunk? I had never seen my parents drunk. My father might drink a beer or two while the baseball game was on or drink a little Jack Daniels. My mother's idea of cutting loose was having a glass of Mogan David on Thanksgiving or Cold Duck on Christmas. I wasn't "taught" to self-medicate. Someone else had done that. The only thing my parents taught me was that God loved me. I chose to ignore that or believe it wasn't true. But God's love is tangible to those of us who have felt it. The Cross was a gift, not a curse. The Old Testament says "cursed is every man who hangs on a tree." It was a shameful, criminal's death. But for Christians who believe that Christ's death wasn't the end, but the beginning, the Cross is beautiful. The Cross means so many things. It accuses us and confronts us and comforts us and uplifts us. It was what we deserved, but Christ took it in our place.
On May 4, 1994 I made the decision to get sober. I went to my first AA meeting. Carol volunteered to take me, but I went alone. I knew if she was in the room I wouldn't be able to tell my story honestly. I was afraid to tell people that in the moment when God saved me, every desire to drink was taken from me. But I felt I still had to "work my program." I wrote letters to the people I'd hurt, even my parents, who were both dead. But the life I was living in Christ was happier than anything I'd ever known. I'd had the pain and shame removed from my heart and I don't ever want to go there again.
Oddly enough, taking care of Carol after her cancer was diagnosed grew my faith. Carol had way more peace than I did. I remember her taking my hands and saying "Whether God heals me or I die, I'm gonna be fine." I prayed relentlessly for her to be healed. I knew there was no way I could live without her. I was with her when her hair fell out. I was with her for surgeries. I was with her for radiation. And I was with her when she took her last breath on May 28, 2010. I was holding her and felt her last breath. Immediately afterward, I felt something rush through me. It felt like getting hit with a sledge hammer. Jesus was in that room, of that I have no doubt. I prayed for her to be healed and now she was. Maybe not in the way I had wanted, but where she is there are no needle sticks, no PET scans and no cancer. She's with my mother and father. And though I miss her physical body, I rejoice that she's with her Heavenly Father and He's loving on her and she's praising him through all eternity.You know, if I had gone to God and he would have said "Get out of my sight forever", that would have been right and just. But He didn't. He opened His arms to me and offered me Eternal Life. Now, after all these years, I know why my parent took such pains for me to know Him. Because they loved me and wanted me to know about our loving Heavenly Father. It doesn't cost anything, even though Jesus gave up everything.
I guess, what I want people to know is that no matter what circumstances you're in or what sins you've committed, God is there waiting by the door of your heart. He's waiting for you to open the door and let Him in. There's no sin that's too awful for God to forgive. There's no pit of despair too deep that He can't reach down and pull you out. There's no addiction that He can't cure you of. If you're lonely, angry, suicidal, in financial trouble or hanging on to life by a thread, God can heal you of everything that's wrong. He take your mess and turn it in to a message that can bless someone else.The last 20 years that I've been living without alcohol and with Christ have been my best. I'm not saying that I haven't been through bad things or that I haven't ever been afraid or in need. But I know that whatever I go through, I won't go through it alone.
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."