** Disclaimer: This was written for a different purpose than an anniversary thread. It is, however, very much what I would write for my 2,000th, save that it uses language that I would probably not post on Hatrack normally. No, not swear words. It discusses my childhood religion in less than complimentary terms, and while I would never express these feelings here otherwise, they are important to the story because of their influence on subsequent choices. This was my perspective at the time. I understand that others do not agree with this perspective and may find it outright offensive. For that, I'm sorry. It's really how I felt at the time. Like I said...it's necessary for the story and is true in context.
I grew up in a legalistic, dogmatic church where grace was never discussed or taught. In fact, I didn't know what the word Grace really meant until I was over 30. Being part of this religion meant that it was far more about how you live your life than what God is about. At least that is how it seemed at the time. Certainly we studied scripture, and there were wonderful things about this religion too -- it is excellent for giving families a structure for growing closer together, for spending time with one another. But it was missing something very important. As I got older, heading into my teens, what I saw in the people around me was that there were plenty of rules but not a lot of love. You were looked down on for wearing a skirt too short or drinking a soda. If you stopped going to church, it made you a project for those still active to accomplish. It was their mission to bring you back into the fold. I participated in some of this, and knew it was about numbers, not out of concern for the person.
When I was 15, for a number of reasons, I left the church. The straw, however, was almost silly. Because of where we lived, we had to start going to church at the earliest shift. It was 8:30 or something like that. I'm not a morning person and never have been. So this seemed like a good time to stop going to church. My parents didn't object. Suddenly *I* was the project to be brought back into the fold. This only steeled my resolve to stay away.
Now, this meant that I turned my back on essentially all my friends. And when I turned to make new ones, they weren't nearly the good influence that my previous church friends had been. I may not have felt cared for or liked by the church friends, but they did do a good job of keeping me out of trouble. My new friends exposed me to the usual teenage menu of Things That Will Make Your Parents Go Gray.
Drugs, alcohol, and sex.
I was terrified of the first two. But the third was interesting. My new friends were adults, out of high school and some in their mid to late 20's. One man was more than happy to introduce me to that third option. He was 28. I was 15. Oh, it seemed like I was being honored, like finally someone cared about me for being me. And not just some other kid...a true grownup.
It took little time before I was very promiscuous. It was my drug of choice.
I moved in with my boyfriend when I was 19, and we married a year and a half later. One condition of the marriage was that it be "open". The promiscuity didn't diminish all that much after marriage, for either of us, really.
We continued like this for several years until I was 24, when I got pregnant with my son. There was no question who the father was -- it was my husband, no other possibility. But when I told him I was pregnant, his first response was to ask. What a terrible thing, but it was a natural question given how we conducted our marriage. He kept asking throughout the pregnancy, like he didn't believe my answer. This was the beginning of the end.
We had our son, and he was a delight. But I found that I had two children, not one. My relationship with my husband had deteriorated to the point that we really didn't know how to speak to each other. As a mother now, I felt that my life needed to change and move more toward what I'd grown up with. A traditional Mom and Dad, no sleeping around. But I didn't know how to say it.
It took three years to realize how bad our relationship really was. By this time, I had given up. When he began accusing me of having affairs behind his back, something our "agreement" didn't allow, I almost didn't even care. He stopped sleeping. Then he accused me of having someone out to kill him. Long term sleeplessness causes paranoia, apparently. He left me shortly thereafter. It was a relief, honestly, as we had been fighting non-stop for months.
We decided to divorce just a few months before my son's third birthday. I wanted to move out of Alaska, where I had lived almost my whole life. Anything to get away from the long winters and isolation from my family, who had moved to Washington years before.
This was the beginning of miracles for me. I was 27 and had spent all of my adult life agnostic and hating organized religion. I was ready to be rid of my husband so divorce, while painful, wasn't a horrible prospect, and my soon-to-be ex-husband was not contesting anything that I wanted. It was as amicable a split as you could ever wish for. But I was heading out on my own for the first time, and it was scary. I had put notice in at work without finding a new job in the Lower 48 first. I had almost no money, and a lot of debt accumulated from the marriage. I had never moved before. Winter was coming, and I had no idea what the future was going to bring. And I had a beautiful little boy who was counting on me.
One thing after another fell into place. A week after I put in notice, I got a call from an acquaintance who knew I was looking for a job south. He'd heard of a job opening in Bellingham, Washington that he knew I'd be just right for. The job was made for me and I landed it with almost no effort. Another friend put me in contact with a guy who could ship my stuff south at a discount. I boxed everything up, and yet another friend came over with his truck from work, loaded it all up and palletized it. I got the instructions for taking my car down to the docks to have it shipped to Seattle with all my stuff. They put me in contact with a company that could have all my possessions brought to Bellingham and carried up the two flights of stairs to my new apartment. In the three months from the decision to leave Alaska to the actual move, every possible obstacle, great and small was easily overcome by a just-in-time friend or acquaintance arriving with the solution to help. I hadn't sent out any great distress calls, but everything just worked out like someone had planned it all. Not only was there help when I needed every single time I needed it, money I desperately needed became available just as I needed it. The move from Anchorage to Bellingham cost me a total of $450. Door to door. It was all I could afford, and that's all it cost.
I could have called any one of the things that happened in those months a lucky coincidence, but all together and so concentrated, I felt it had to be something more. This was the beginning of a return to faith for me.
Still, a person doesn't change overnight, simply because they recognize that there might be a God. I dated a stream of men and slept with most of them, even though I had resolved that this was not a lifestyle I really wanted to continue. I literally could not stop myself, though I tried.
Up to this point, I had had very few positive relationships with other women. I thought women's relationships with each other were an ugly veneer of false civility over a core of nasty back-biting. So I generally didn't trust women. And I still hated organized religion, nice God who takes care of me in the most precarious times of my life or not.
In moving to Bellingham, I had to find a new daycare situation for my son, and after interviewing most of them in town, I concluded that the only acceptable place was one run by a church. I came to this conclusion reluctantly. It was the only place I'd been where I felt genuinely positive about the care for the children. After being assured that we would not have their religion shoved down our throats, I placed my son there.
The women of the daycare were great, honestly. The pastors, the few times I ran into them, were uniformly kind. I never once felt that I was being looked down upon or judged. My son thrived in their care, and I had a slow growing friendship with the director, a woman a few years younger than I was. It became slowly clear to me that churches were not all what I had grown up with. Or at least, the people in churches weren't. I never went to any of their services, though they invited me many times without being obnoxious about it.
After three years, two key things happened at almost the same time. The man I was dating at the time admitted that he occasionally went to church. This was a mind blower for me, because *his* past was MUCH worse than mine. I couldn't imagine a church where he would be welcome. Then my friend, the director, asked if I wanted to go with her sometime to her church. This time, I agreed.
From the first moment I walked in, I was home. I felt welcome, a genuine welcomeness where I believed that if I spilled my guts about everything I'd ever done, I would still be welcome there. I felt accepted for the first time in years, like what I'd been building up to since my childhood was finally pulling together.
I'm stubborn. I have to test and measure and poke and prod things before I commit. While I liked the church, I had to know that what they called a "relationship with God" wasn't a big fraud. This took another year.
I kept dating the same man during that year, in a tempestuous, incredibly unhealthy relationship that would have, I believe, eventually become physically abusive. In perhaps the most painful way possible, he dumped me for the last time. God, working in His quiet way, made sure that the best possible people were around me at exactly the right time.
At long last, I gave up. I had tried managing my own life and made a big mess of it, as far as I was concerned. It was too much. Sure, I had a good job, was making it fine as a single mother, and was well on my way to being debt free. But I didn't feel like I was doing a good job at living. I was done trying to do it all. And I gave it all up to Christ.
In the course of the following months, the compulsion for men that I had never been able to control was, for the most part, gone. I slid back, slightly, by allowing myself to get into the wrong situation, and got date raped. It was the final nail on the coffin to any compulsion I might have had left. Fidelity is no effort at all now, and I can view men as other people, not as fun objects. This, as far as I'm concerned, is a miracle.
Today, I'm married to a terrific man. We are both addicts in recovery -- me from sex, him from alcohol, and we both enjoy the same freedom from compulsion that once ruled us. He is a great father to my 10 year old son and our 8 month old daughter. He calls both of them ours. It may sound sappy, but we give the credit for our happiness to the one who made it all possible. Him.