Day 03 → As a child, how did religion or faith impact your life?
My mother taught me my first scripture verse when I was only two years old ~ Psalm 1 ♥ Blessed is the man... I began to sing at a very young age, taught again by my mother from an old hymnal and her memory of praise songs from the 60's and 70's ~ As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after You...♪♫ I grew up in Sunday School, vacation Bible schools, and eventually Missionettes, learning tenants of the Christian faith, memorizing scripture verses, and singing singing singing... Every night, before bed, Mom tucked us in and read from my Bible story book and a daily devotional for children.
When I was four years old, I asked Jesus to come into my life and heart. At such a tender age, all I really knew about God was that He had created everything that ever was, that because mankind chose to walk away from Him we were all lost in sin and bound for eternity in hell, and that because God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die on earth as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, if I chose to live for Him instead of sinning and living for myself, when I died I would go to heaven forever, instead of hell, and that I would make Him very happy. I had a great deal of awe and respect for God, and it was an easy decision. Despite knowing about hell, fear of going there was never something I thought about - I knew that God loved me and because I loved Him, too, it just wasn't something I needed to worry about. I loved to sing songs to God, and when I ran out of words I knew, I made up new ones and new tunes, and I would sing for hours and hours about how much I loved God. I even remember telling my Teddy about Jesus!
My mother wasn't the only one who taught me about God and the Bible. My father spent more time on the subject than I think anyone realized. While my mother taught me about Noah's ark, my father told me that God expected a wife to submit so utterly to her husband that she never even thought something with which her husband disagreed, and as a daughter, my job was to practice godly womanhood with my father so that when I married one day I would be a good wife to my husband. While my mother taught me that God values honesty and personal integrity, my father told me that my mother was an unsubmissive wife and that I could not tell her about my role in his life because she wouldn't understand that we were only obeying God. Both of my parents taught me that it is wrong to do things that cause other people to "stumble" (to do something they know is wrong), but while that meant not back-talking in front of my younger siblings, to my mother, it meant something very different to my father - it meant hiding the truth from my mother, that her husband had declared me his second wife, and treated me accordingly.
By the time I was twelve years old, I had a very divided belief system. From my mother: God loves me and expects me, as His child, to respect and obey my parents, be kind to my sisters and brother, and share the Gospel with those who do not know Him. From my father: God loves and blesses men, and uses women and girls to make them happy and help them do His will. Even as a very young child, I instinctively knew that my father's belief system was flawed; even though there was a time when I believed that the flaw lay in my own evil heart (because I was never happy and hated what my father made me do and say), I still knew that the real God had not created me to be only a play thing for a man. I felt enormous guilt at the lies I had to tell my mother, to protect my father's secrets, and I hated the role I was forced to play to make him happy. I believed that it pleased God to tell the truth and to be nice to people, and my father's expectations - always enforced with violence and abandonment - forced me to do things I knew deep in my heart displeased God. I was, at times, afraid of divine retribution, but more than anything I grieved that I made God sad.
I was too young to understand that my father's sins where not my fault, and that my mother's animosity was the result of a shattered marriage and fear and isolation. I lost myself in learning new scriptures, new stories, new songs, and in doing what I could to please God, and make my family happy. I couldn't change anything about my life, so I chose without even realizing that I did so to ignore what made me sad, and embrace what made me happy. I wasn't a perfect daughter or sister or friend or Christian, but I did the best I could, and despite everything I was a happy child.
My father traveled a lot, and when he was gone I was able to let go a little of the "Alena" he wanted me to be, and instead be the Alena I was ~ a little girl who loved playing with other children and who loved to learn. When he was home, I put on the costume of "princess" and "lover" that he expected, and I did my best to always anticipate him so that he would be happy with me. I played a role for him, and I was the only one who knew it was a role... and despite my best efforts, I couldn't please everyone. I became despised by my siblings as "the lucky one", who always got to go with Daddy. No one saw what happened when we were alone; all they saw was a spoiled little girl who thought she was better than everyone else.
In 1998, the story came out, and I was suddenly free of my father forever. No longer did I have to pretend to think I was perfect and better than everyone else; no longer did I have to pretend to hate my mother and my sisters and brother. At long last, I could play with my sister and not worry that my father would come in and change the game, and make me do things that hurt both her and me. Finally, I could throw my arms around my mother's waist and declare how much I loved her, without having to worry that my father would be angered and punish me for being a "traitor" for being nice to his "unsubmissive" wife. At long last, I was free!
But it didn't work out like that. Nine years of playing a role is not something you can shake off over night, and it is not something easily forgotten by those who suffered. My siblings didn't trust me, and they harbored great resentment for the apparent favor I enjoyed from our father. My mother, so hurt by the betrayal and years of abuse at the hands of her husband, could not easily shake off resentment towards the daughter who had somehow stolen the man she loved, and treated her with such disdain and disrespect. And I didn't know how to stop being that person; I didn't know how to convince them that it had all been a role, and not the truth. I couldn't fix what I had not broken of my own will.
Through all of this, I still believed that God was worthy of love and devotion. I still believed that when I died I would live with Him in heaven; there were days when I longed for death, just to escape what I could not change. And strangely, I never blamed Him for not protecting me from my father. If anything, I felt guilt that I was not able to prevent my father from sinning; I believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that caused him to sin.
Later that fall, I went to a Christian youth convention, and my heart began to change and heal. Watching the kids around me that weekend, I realized that they had something I didn't recognize or understand - Joy. Their faces shone with joy and love as they sang along during the worship service, and it made my heart ache. ♪♫ Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing... ♫♪ I loved God, but I wasn't happy, and it went much deeper than even that - I had no joy. ♫♪ Power and majesty, praise to the King... ♪♫ I was so tired...tired of being miserable, tired of trying to win back the love and approval of my mom and siblings, tired of feeling like I was responsible for the destruction of my family. ♪♫ Mountains bow down and the seas will roar... ♫♪ And in that moment, I cried out to God. I fell down on my knees, tears blinding me, bruising my knuckles on the cold concrete auditorium riser. I cried out to God, and told Him that if He really wanted me - if He really loved me and wanted to do something with my life - He could have everything. ♫♪ ...at the sound of Your name! ♪♫
My life began to change. I didn't get my miracle; my sisters and brother continued to distrust me, and my mother struggled for a long time with appropriate blame placement. But my heart began to heal, and I learned that even when I couldn't find comfort or peace at home, I could find it in prayer and worship. It took time and a lot of un-learning to find and destroy the wrong beliefs seeded in me by my father, and I discovered along the way that not everyone embraces the reality that victims of childhood sexual abuse are not to blame for what happened to them. At fifteen, I spent a good six months refusing to read my Bible, go to church, or pray because I had been so hurt by a woman in my church that I felt abandoned by God. But eventually I realized that no one was going to rescue me - I had to do what I knew to be right because it was right, and not because it was easy.
Faith was the framework of my childhood. My mother poured a solid foundation when I was barely old enough to talk, and she began to frame out the temple of my belief system through stories and memorization of scripture by the time I was two years old. My father put up walls of his own, weakening the structure with cheap imitations of truth. Eventually, I had to tear down a lot of the existing temple to find the flaws and damage he left, so that I could rebuild with quality in mind. In some rooms, the damage was so extensive that only a controlled burn was enough to rid my temple of rot and decay. My temple was dedicated to God when I was born, and by the time I was seventeen years old, I had made the decision to dedicate it again of my own free will.
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on His law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
which yeilds its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked ill perish.
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