As far back as I can remember my family and I went to church. The first church I attended was a small church of Theology. As elementary students, my brother and I also attended the school that was run by the church so most of my friends attended church and school with me. There were some kids who didn’t go to our church, but for the most part we stayed around the same group of people outside of my extended family members. We didn’t see family that often. I would come to realize later that we were the “weirdos” of both Catholic families.
I am not sure why my parents left Catholicism and risked rejection, which they found, from their parents and siblings, but here is where my story begins. As you read through the events of my life, please take a moment to consider how scary it must have been for them to realize that the knowledge they grew up having was false and held no answers for the questions they had on who and what God actually was. In no way, shape, or form do I hold any animosity towards my parents for the things that happened to me in the Christian church, nor do I blame them for the attitude with which I saw God. My parents built a very solid foundation of rules with which to raise my brothers and sisters and I, and it took courage for them to give me this.
Our Pastor was a very large, booming voiced man that handed out Tootsie Rolls to the children after his insanely long sermons. I have no actual idea if his sermons were really that long, but I was young and half the time I had no idea what they were about. The first part of every Sunday morning the kids were sent to Sunday School (which was most often led by one of my school teachers) and the adults went to Bible Study. In between there was a few minutes to chat or use the bathroom and then we filed into the sanctuary to listen to Pastor preach about fire and brimstone and yell from the pulpit about how bad people were and how much we sinned. He was very intimidating and opinionated.
One Sunday, I believe I was between 5 and 7 at the time, we were in the sanctuary and I had to go to the bathroom. We were not allowed to play with toys or do any activity that might distract the congregation from paying attention. My Mom had given me what I still consider to be the best gift of my life at the age of 3. She taught me to read. I could follow along with Pastor and copy the notes he scribbled in Greek or Hebrew in between his bouts of banging and yelling. This particular Sunday, as we sat in a pew with some of the other members of the church, I got the wiggles from having to go to the bathroom. I remember Mom leaning over and asking what was wrong in a whisper. I told her that I had to go and she said that Pastor was almost done and I could hold it. I held it as long as I could and then to my dismay I just couldn’t hold it any more and watched in horror as a thin stream of urine made its way down the pew. Everyone in our row had to scoot to the edge in order to avoid it and I felt about 3 inches tall. Mom and Dad’s look of horror and embarrassment matched my own. It seemed ions before service was over and those poor people could get away from the smell. I was told I was way to old to be having accidents and I rode home in the same dress soaked in urine.
The next Sunday my Aunt Deana (not really my Aunt but a friend of the family) asked me several times if I had to use the bathroom before Pastor started his sermon, and I went determined not to have last Sunday repeat itself. Only to my absolute humiliation, it did. This time my parents did not look embarrassed, they looked angry. The entire row scooted up again and I could feel their annoyance along with anyone around us. I wish that I could tell you that was the last time. It wasn’t. It happened several more times. To this day I can’t sit in a church service without having to use the bathroom. Every time I peed in the pew I was disciplined. I don’t remember if I got spankings for that or not, because mostly what I remember is being mortified that my body couldn’t seem to get itself together enough to not pee on people in church.
Because we attended school within the church one Friday we were at our weekly assembly and Pastor was giving a sermon. I had to go to the bathroom and was allowed to go at school without being afraid of interrupting anyone. My teacher gave me permission and I got up to go out the backdoor of the sanctuary and Pastor noticed from his seat at the pulpit. He stopped the sermon and I don’t remember his exact words but he pointed out to the entire school assembly that I had an issue with interrupting his teachings because of my “problems going to the bathroom” on myself. I slunk out the door and later my teacher found me crying in the stall on the floor.
At this point, I start to remember my Mom having problems with some of the things that went on there. With the exception of Ranger Gary Horton coming and telling us stories about his time served in the Army, I don’t remember much else from the time in church. Most of my horror stories were from school that I won’t get into now, but after Ranger Gary Horton came one of the last times I remember, my Dad enlisted in the Army.
I’m not sure about the events between my parents at this point, but my Mom became increasingly distant. Dad left for boot camp and we spent the next four years being raised by a single mother. I can only speculate that with a small art business to run and 2, 3, then 4, and 5 small kids Mom was overwhelmed and tired. She also helped out at school and was the Art teacher for awhile. I remember being completely surprised one day in class when she tried to teach us how to draw animals and drew a horse. I had no idea my mom could draw. I’d never seen her do anything but clean, work, and read.
Anyway, when my Dad’s enlistment time was over, Mom and I were in our kitchen doing dishes, and she informed me that she and Dad were divorcing. It made no difference to me as I had no idea what that was. When I asked her she said, “It’s when people who were married aren’t married anymore.” I thought that just meant they weren’t married. It never occurred to me that my Dad wouldn’t be living with us anymore. A few days before I turned 10 Dad moved out.
I continued to go to church with Dad on the weekends we spent with him. I don’t know why but he changed churches and began attending a church led by Pastor’s son. I’ll call him Pastor Jr. He acted nothing like his father and his sermons were softer and more accepting although I still don’t remember anything about love being spoken. My mom found a church as well and we went to church with her on the Sundays we were not with my Dad.
I remember her excitement one day when she pulled me to the side and told me that she had asked for a sponsor for me to go to church camp. I was around 11 by then and I was just as excited as she was. I had never been to church camp or anywhere else other than a few overnight stays with my adopted grandparents and a couple of sleepover birthday parties with my girls from school/church. Camp was two weeks long and I had never been away from home that long.
The first few days of camp was fun. It didn’t take me long to realize I was not like the other kids there. I don’t know if I was weird or they were just being mean kids, but before the first week was even up I was being made fun of by the girls in my bunkhouse. One morning I pulled my clothes out from the drawer under my bunk and something smelled weird. I smelled all my clothes and they smelled the same. They all smelled like feces. There was no washer or dryer at the camp, and even if there had been there was no way I was going to ask one of the counselors for help. I was self conscious and under the impression that everyone knew about my bathroom issues from before. I don’t know where that came from in my mind, other than that I realize now how much of a liar the devil is. I walked around for 3 days smelling like…well you know, and the kids would point and laugh and hold their noses when they were around me. A few days before camp ended one of the girls in my bunkhouse started to feel bad for the actions of her friends and pulled me to the side as we were walking to the mess hall for breakfast. She told me that her friends had collected animal droppings from around camp and at the horse stables and put it in my drawer after I’d fallen asleep. I asked why and she said that the head girl didn’t like me and thought I was a dork. I didn’t know what a dork was but I was sure I wasn’t one. We got to the mess hall and I couldn’t sit inside. My stomach was in knots and all I wanted was for my Mom to come and get me so I could go home. I remember she asked how it was on the ride home and all I could do was cry. I don’t remember telling her about what the girls had done to me, but we left that church shortly after that.
I attended Vacation Bible School at a church my “grandparents” went to for a week when I was about 8 or 9. I remember watching the Pastor there once with one of his daughters. She was crying. I don’t remember why, but the way he looked at her, the way he put his hand on her shoulder in comfort, the sympathy for her hurt on his face….I remember not being able to move as his compassion for HIS child punched me in the stomach. I had not felt that from my Dad or my Mom from either of the things that had been put on me from our “church” people. I began to pretend that this man was my Dad. After Vacation Bible School week ended I only got to go to that church when my “adopted” grandparents kept us for the weekend.
I continued to go to various churches throughout my life. I went with my aunt who was around the same age as me to a Catholic youth group and the couple who ran it were some of the most accepting people I had ever met. They seemed to be aware that the kids that came to them had stories to tell….things that were grown up and terrible, and they gave us a voice. I was still one of the only kids that attended that was from a broken home. I was still an outcast and I knew it, the other kids knew it, and if the leaders knew it they acted like they didn’t. I loved them.
My time line gets a little fuzzy here because my age doesn’t correlate with the grade I was in. Because I had learned to read so early and because the school I went to was an individually paced school I had completed grades 4, 5, and 6 in the same year. I was 9 when I entered the 6th grade. I was 12 or 13 when I began my freshman year of high school.
My kid’s dad, Ed, and I were married by the Pastor of the Movie Theater Church 21 days after I turned 18. My mom and my stepdad were having problems by the time I got married and Dad and I had a very rocky relationship throughout my teenage years due to his fighting with Mom, leaving, my attitude, and her anger. Part of the deal for the pastor to marry us was that we had to attend marriage counseling. We went, we lied, we didn’t really talk about anything that was important. Later when we began to have marriage troubles ourselves, the pastor, who had also counseled my mom and stepdad, put it on the line that I was probably the reason we were having so many issues as newlyweds and young parents. He said that my mom refused to admit any of her wrong doings in her marriage and she had demons that she refused to overcome. I had no idea what he meant, but his point was clear. Whatever was going on in my marriage was my fault.
We stopped going to that church and for a few years we attended the church ran by the Pastor that had shown so much love to his daughter so many years before. By that time I was a shell of a person, battling demons of my own in a marriage to an alcoholic husband who refused to grow up and be of much support. He wasn’t evil…just hurt and he took his brokenness out on me. Hurt people hurt people as they say. I tried to get into God’s word but it was empty and hopeless to me. Eventually, I grew irritated with the pastor’s wife…and I knew it was because she kept asking me “What’s really going on?” when I didn’t show up to events. I couldn’t tell her and I’m pretty sure she knew that something was destroying me but she didn’t know what. Her inquiry felt like attacks and I wasn’t ready to be attacked by any more of these church people.
Right after my oldest daughter was born I stopped attending church. I just didn’t care anymore. I was sick of trying to be good enough for a God that taught people to behave so horribly to children, teenagers, and grown ups. I was tired of never being good enough for that God and his friends. I had never done anything to him…and I didn’t ask to be born. I absolutely could not understand why God allowed me to be born an orphan with parents.