It’s not easy being a preacher’s kid; of which I am one. The people in the congregation expect the children of the pastor to be perfect little Christians. They hold us up as examples to their own children and their own children try to pull us into their schemes. And let me preface this with something that some of you might find exceedingly shocking–I did not become a Christian for myself until I was 31 years old! It can be tough enough being a preacher’s kid in a regular church, but my dad had his services in our living room; which again, might not have been so bad out in the country, but that wasn’t the case. We lived on a busy street on Staten Island, with a tavern straight across from us. I kid about it now, but it was cringe-worthy to me as a child–to have my friends waiting for me on the front porch, knowing that they could hear every note sang and every word spoken by those inside. On a Sunday night in the summer, you could literally stand in the middle of my street and hear bar songs on one side blasting from the jukebox and church hymns on the other coming from my house. I knew having church in my living room wasn’t normal, none of my friends parent’s did this, and when you’re a kid, it’s all about fitting in and I felt like a square peg in a round hole.
There was another factor to my feeling of not belonging. Dad had told us kids that everything we did in school or in the community reflected back on him; in other words, we were not to fight other kids or even defend ourselves should the need arise. I’m sure he meant well; but I took it literally and never did defend myself if picked on. I was a shy kid to begin with; a momma’s girl who would have preferred to stay home than go to school; I was a bully’s dream if there ever was one. And then there was one more piece to the puzzle as to why I felt from a fairly young age as if I was on the outside looking in. This is a story that only a handful of people know and it’s a little scary for me to open up about it now. When I was eight years old, I was molested. I’ll not go into the who, the when or the how long. The person responsible passed away several years ago, and to my knowledge, I was the only one he victimized. I’ve also forgiven him and I have it on fairly good authority that he gave his heart to the Lord before he passed; so I hold no animosity towards him. But while I won’t besmirch his name now; and I won’t go into detail about any of it; I will say that it was not a one-time occurrence and it did affect me greatly as far as self-esteem issues go.
Not to mention, it severely hurt my relationship with God. As I said, I grew up a preacher’s kid; heard about God all my life and most definitely believed in Him. But I felt forgotten and forsaken that He would let this happen to me. I thought surely I had done something horrible to deserve this, but I could never figure out what it was. There was a neighborhood kid a couple of years older than me that got hit by a car and killed one night; that death affected me for years. I didn’t even really know him other than in passing; but I was sure I was next; that’s how guilty I felt from some imagined wrong I felt I must have committed. I never told anyone because my abuser said not to. I’m sure my childhood friends never had a clue, because I hid it so well. In fact no one knew until after he passed away, and then just a select trusted few.
But the point is—all of these things led me to feel outside the norm; invisible and on the outside looking in. It felt like there was this great party going on; I could look in the window, see all the smiling people, see them laughing and enjoying life, but I could not open the door and join them. I felt “less than.” And I felt that way for quite some time.
Teenage years brought with it rebellion; cutting out of school continuously (Dad had to meet with the dean quite a few times)—until I finally dropped out altogether. It found me abusing alcohol and smoking pot on a regular basis. In fact one night me and a friend walked into that tavern across from my house, and my dad walked in minutes later to drag me out. I was, truth be told, just doing what most of my friends were doing anyway—but of course, as a preacher’s kid–the community expects more from you. The idea is your dad is a Christian so why are you so bad? The truth was, I never asked to be born into a preacher’s family any more than any one asked to be born into theirs. Once church stopped being held in my house I never went to any other service voluntarily for many, many years.
I talked to God alot, there is some question whether He hears the prayers of people who are not living for Him, but I won’t say He doesn’t—that’s entirely up to Him and He’s God, He can do whatever He wants. But I absolutely knew without a doubt, He existed. I just didn’t think He cared very much for me. One of my favorite sayings when I was a teenager was—“God only knows and He doesn’t care.” I talked to Him, but I never heard back. I knew if I died, I wasn’t going to heaven. I knew not to take communion and I never did until after I got saved. As much as I shunned church and wanted no part of what I saw as a great hypocrisy; I had one of my dad’s old hymn books from the living room church that went with me wherever I moved and stayed with me up to and beyond when I became a Christian for real. I would take it out and sing the familiar songs occasionally.
Met and married Bob; whose mom and sister went to my dad’s church when he finally got a building to have it in. Bob was like me, he believed but he had no interest in living it. Bob was my first official and only boyfriend; we dated for almost five years and then got married in 1987. He didn’t drink all that much or at least didn’t enjoy it to the extent that I did; I was over indulging every weekend for quite a long time. To say I wasn’t happy would be an understatement. I just never felt like I belonged; I never felt peaceful, or content. I felt guilty and convicted and judged and small. I went to years of therapy which did help some, but it seemed I could cry longer and harder than most people did. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was grieving now that I know what that is and what that feels like. I just wanted to be like I imagined everyone else was—I thought they all had it together.
We moved to Virginia on July 4, 1993, and that threw me into what I believe was as near to a clinical depression that I ever hope to get. Bob worked long hours, officially 3-11 p.m., but if his job required it (and it often did), he might not get home until 3 a.m. I didn’t work, I didn’t drive and I was homesick for New York and my family. Ironically, Bob worked for a beverage distributor and brought beer home all the time; but it no longer got me where I wanted to go. My sorrow was such that alcohol, unless it was some massive amount (and I wasn’t going to go that far), was not going to drown it out. I cried every day for practically six months. And then Thanksgiving came and my parents and sister visited for those four days. I both anticipated and dreaded that visit. I had longed to see them in person; but I knew when they left it would kill me. I cannot describe to you the despair I felt at having them leave me. And when they did, as I knew they would, I sank even further into my depression. I told Bob I wanted to go back to New York and he said that I could, but he wasn’t going. I knew that if I went back there without him I wouldn’t be any happier than I had been living without my family. Push came to shove, finally. Before I had moved to Virginia (Bob had come down here 3 months before I did to secure a place to live), I had one of my usual talks with God and I told Him, if He worked it out, I’d go to church. See, that’s why I think God does hear when people not serving Him pray. Because He called that prayer to my remembrance. And even though serving Him was something I had actively ran from for 31 years, by late November 1993, I was at the end of my rope. There was nowhere else to go but to Him. So I finally did. It just occurred to me, right now, as I wrote this—that I got saved in all places, in my living room, with some tv preacher leading me in the sinner’s prayer on December 2, 1993. All those years going to church in my childhood living room, it came back full circle. I had been in such a dark, sad place for so many months, that when it took—this salvation—I felt like a great weight had lifted off of me—it felt like some one had opened all the doors and windows and turned on all the lights! When Bob had left that afternoon, he didn’t know if he’d come back home to me with my bags all packed ready to return to New York without him or what. What he came back home to was a very peaceful me and even he knew something amazing had happened.
That has been quite awhile ago now. I’ve lost Bob and my mom, my sister and others. Mom lived long enough to witness my getting baptized of which I am so grateful. She prayed for me for so many years and never gave up!
I have since learned too, that there are a lot of people who felt as I did, that they were on the outside looking in—that a lot of those that I perceived of having great lives were actually suffering from hidden things as well. I guess if I could have them take away anything from my life, it’s that God does care—in fact He’s waiting with open arms to gather you to Him. He can heal all the hurts of the past. Yes, He did allow what happened to me to occur, because it is how they say—a fallen world and men are given free will to do what they will. There are victims in that scenario, and some people have a problem with it; but God makes a way for restoration, both to the afflicted and the ones that afflict. God makes a way for forgiveness and a healing from all manner of abuse. I am okay and others can look at my life and see that healing is possible. I welcome being on the outside now—not looking in to a life that seems perfect—but among others outside as well, to be a help to them, to show them that they are not alone, not forgotten or forsaken. Not by me and most certainly, not by God.