May 16, 2008

My Conversion, Part 1

I want to talk about my conversion, but to do so, I really need to talk firstly about my life leading up to that point. I'll warn you now that while I'm not going to go into detail, it isn't all pretty, and could be potentially triggering for anyone with abuse issues. The point of divulging this isn't to garner sympathy or have myself a pity party, but I'm a firm believer that where you've been has a lot to do with where you're going, and so, this is important; it's a foundation, albeit kind of a crappy one.

I was raised very loosely non-denominational Protestant in a very unhappy home. While I don't want to get specific about my childhood (what little I can actually remember of it), my first day home from the hospital as a newborn sets the stage and gives a good idea of what life was like. I came home when I was 4 days old. My mother says my father demanded fried chicken for dinner. She put me in the crib and set to work. She was not allowed to leave the stove or come get me when I cried. He "took care of it" by coming in periodically to scream at me and "spank" me (yes, "spank" a 4 day old infant). At night my mother wasn't allowed to change me, hold me, or nurse me. His thinking was that I had no right to change how they lived their lives. She said she would lie awake listening for me and try to sneak out to take care of me. If he woke up, he would throw me back in my crib and beat her. My brother was born 23 months after me. I'm not sure if was treated the same as a newborn, honestly, I've never asked.

At any rate, my "welcome" to the world is pretty indicative of how the rest of my childhood went. As I got older verbal, emotional, and eventually sexual abuse were added to the mix. My brother was similarly abused.

Around age 4 or 5 we had a very religious 7th Day Adventist as a baby-sitter. She was very nice and read us Bible stories, though sometimes she frightened us. I remember once we forgot to pray before lunch and she panicked and made us get down on our knees and beg God for forgiveness. Whether this is something with her particular denomination or a personal thing, I honestly don't know, but I vividly remember being terrified and positive that God was going to strike us dead at any moment. It was weeks before I stopped worrying that I was about to die. I also vaguely remember her sobbing as she compared us to a pitcher of water (or a measuring cup, I don't really remember), saying something about asking God to fill us with the Spirit. I didn't understand what she meant and felt like I had done something wrong because she was crying. I don't want to make it sound like our time with her was fraught with terror, overall she was kind and loving and we enjoyed her, but to illustrate that my religious upbringing was fractured and generally revolved around confusion and fear. Though I never questioned at this point whether or not God existed, I did question the merciful and loving nature of God. It's no wonder, when God is referred to as Father and explained in a fatherly sense, yet your model for that is so far from anything loving or merciful. God seemed wrathful and angry and since my own father was as well, and was my model for God, my conclusions as a child make sense.

As for church, we never went on a regular basis, and even more rarely with our mother (I have no memories whatsoever of my father going to church with us, though I do know he was a professed Christian, at least as a teenager), but there was a church at the end of our block that my brother and I were allowed to go to when we wanted. Sometimes we went every Sunday, sometimes we didn't go for months. My parents divorced when I was 10 after my father discovered my mother was having an affair with an 18 year old girl (yes, you read that right). Any residual feelings of abandonment I had from the fractured bonding we experienced in my infancy flared up after she voluntarily gave him primary custody. Her lawyer told her that no court would give a perceived lesbian custody and she chose not to risk losing custody completely. Logically, I understand this. Emotionally, I never will. We saw her every other weekend. When I was 13 my father caught me kissing a boy and beat me badly enough that my mother demanded he give her full and immediate custody of me and proceeded to win emergency custody of my brother. I attempted a relationship with my father for a number of years, and finally cut off all contact with him when I was 16, after he chased me through a parking lot screaming that he was going to beat me to death, and attempting to bust out my windows as I fled (my crime was showing up unannounced with my brother at the store he worked part-time at to tell him happy birthday). A year later he was arrested after he kidnapped a 10 year old boy at gun point, and he's serving a 60 year prison sentence.

As for my teenage years, again, I won't go into a lot of detail, but it was pretty typical for a girl with my past. I lost my virginity to a much older guy when I was barely into my teens. I smoked, I drank a lot, I used pot on a regular basis and harder drugs on a less regular basis. I had sex with a shocking number of guys, and, after proclaiming my bisexuality, a few girls. I starved myself, I cut myself, I tried to kill myself once or twice (the second time was pretty half-hearted). Every moment was a constant, desperate attempt to either numb myself or forget myself. All of it was empty and happiness was something I just assumed I didn't deserve, so I never bothered to entertain the possibility of finding it someday. Any day I didn't feel an intense desire to off myself I counted as a good day. Therapy and doctor approved drugs helped me shake the worst of it. Meeting my husband when I was a month shy of 17 helped shake a good deal of the rest. He was 20 and orphaned and had his own share of problems and we drank like fish, but at least then it was mostly more about rowdy fun than solitude and darkness. I praise God that I managed to escape the worst of what I did to myself with only a whole lot of regrets and a relatively common STD (HPV, and lucky me, I got the strain that causes cervical cancer, so at 17 I had the pleasure of having a chunk of my cervix cut out of me). It certainly could've ended much, much worse. A few months after my 18th birthday I found out I was pregnant, which was quite a shock, since I was on the pill and we were using condoms. Of course, using two forms of birth control and being 18 afforded me a false sense of security, so I never thought missing an occasional pill or not bothering with the condoms now and again was a big deal. We never never discussed our options, the only one in our minds was to keep her, of course, and so set about growing up in 9 months and becoming respectable parent types. At the time I was awfully proud of myself, though of course in retrospect I made a lot of mistakes and wasn't nearly as mature as I prided myself on being at the time. I've discovered that's par for the course with first-time parents, though, regardless of their age. We loved her and we were dedicated and did our best. And since she's nearly 7 and still alive and not a serial killer, we must not have done too terrible. Right? Baby number 2 came along almost 4 years later and baby number 3 2.5 years after that. We converted to Catholicism between babies 2 and 3.

SO! That's the bare bones of that, to give a context. Now I'll toss religion into my angst-filled teen years.

I'm not entirely certain when I started identifying or toying with atheism. I do remember being "born-again" Christian very briefly at some point, maybe around 10? I know for sure I considered myself a non-believer when I was playing softball around age 12. An older, wheel-chair bound brother of one of the girls helped coached and was an openly born-again type. I scoffed at his belief and defiantly proclaimed that I didn't believe in God. He invited me to give him reasons why and to ask him questions and provided me with Scripture to try and counter me, and while I read it and liked him, I never really listened.

I got really into Wicca/Paganism around 14, thanks in no small part to The Craft, I'm sure. I'd always been a nature nut and Goddesses seemed less angry and a whole lot nicer than a God, so I threw myself into it head first and fancied myself a witch for a few years. I cast circles and celebrated holidays I couldn't pronounce and that I didn't really understand while attempting to divine the future with decks of cards and crystals I bought at the mall. It was energizing and exciting at first, but ultimately I found no truth within it and my interest waned and eventually died out. I waffled between atheism and agnosticism for a number of years, and always had a strongly anti-Christian bent. Christians (and Christianity in general) were ignorant. They were hateful, bigoted, over-zealous, and most importantly, WRONG. My husband was a staunch anti-Christian atheist as well, and my brother was, too (and gay, so he had a special level of anger towards Christianity). When a relative gave our first daughter a little bear that prayed when squeeze, we smiled and said thank you, then cut the threads that held his little hands together in prayer, whacked him with hammer to break his prayer box, and dubbed him "atheist bear." We prided ourselves on being intelligent, tolerant, and scientifically minded (unlike Christians, of course!) I mean, individual Christians weren't all bad people, but the religion was ridiculous and most of them were jerkwads!

In hindsight, I don't think I was so much an atheist as I was afraid that God did indeed exist, but just didn't love me. Easier to proclaim Him dead than to accept that even He could reject me.

This is where I was for most of my mid-teens and early 20s. When my first daughter was a few years old, my brother and I started exploring Buddhism (the religion my brother has officially adopted and faithfully practices) which helped to soften our rough, anti-religion sentiments. The birth of my second daughter is what ignited the Spirit in my husband and I and sparked our conversion, which is where Part 2 will start (in a few days probably, this post alone took my 2 days to write).


Anne Marie said...

WOW. Anxiously awaiting part II. My Husband has a background fairly similar to yours in terms of family environment and he states that one of the main things that “hooked” him and opened his heart to Christ were scriptures like Psalm 139 13 – 16:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

He says learning these passages were the first time he began to feel that he was not the mistake that his mother had told him he was all his life.

Congratulations on your little one’s baptism and welcome to our new little sister in Christ!

Abigail said...

This is so brave of you to share. My mom has a mental illness. I'm only now figuring out how to detangle my chilldhood issues with impaired parents from my faith with God as a loving Father. Your story is a real testiment to grace!

Jennifer F. said...

WOW. Just...WOW.

I am in awe after reading your story. Thank you so much for sharing. I can't wait to go read part II.

liebchen77 said...

I have many similar experiences--and I have a younger brother, too. The one thing that awakened me to the truth was that God created ME and therefore what my parents told me I was was a LIE!!! I was so excited to figure that out--I had always assumed that there was something really ugly, bad and unlovable inside of me--but it's just another tactic of abusers to justify their abuse.

I look forward to reading the next parts of your story--and it gives me the courage to share my own story.


Katie said...

Excellent point, Lara! Thank you for the comment :)

George @ Convert Journal said...

Katie, I have included you in my "Convert Stories" listing ( Please let me know if you would like any changes to your entry and consider adding the "badge". Thanks.