Yes, our family was normal…isn’t everyone’s? For years I believed our family was normal because we were surrounded by like-minded people who had the same types of lives and beliefs as we did. We did normal family stuff like vacations, working on the garden together, taking turns with the dishes, sibling fights, chores, going to the library, etc. I knew that we were a part of an abnormal church, but we were prepped for this. The teachers at our schools told countless stories about Christian martyrs and how people will make fun of us for being a part of the Netherlands Reformed Church and School. We quickly learned to be proud of our “persecution” and felt vindicated by it. “The world will take the easy way out. They do not like our religion because they want to belong to something that tells them what they want to hear,” was a common mantra by our Catechism instructors and teachers. Truthfully, I happen to agree with that statement. We live in a world that proudly says “well, the Bible may say that, but I don’t agree.” Picking and choosing what Biblical truths to live by has become commonplace, and our culture is overwhelmingly unwilling to blindly follow God’s commands and desires (myself included). Today, I pray that God grants me the willingness to give up–to stop trying to rip the stearing wheel from His hands for fear of being out of control. Thanks for driving, Jesus. You are so much better at it than I am. I love you.
The Hottest Levels in Hell June 25, 2011
If you’ve ever read “Dante’s Inferno“, you are familiar with the phrase levels in hell. I had never heard of Dante’s Inferno until I was a junior in high school, but I was all too familiar with levels in hell at a fairly young age. The parochial school I attended had Bible class each day and Chapel each Wednesday. Mr. Van Tol*, my junior high Bible teacher, was good as far as teachers go. Looking back, my instinct is that he was (and is) a good man, but he had some really messed up theology and passed his religious dysfunction on to his students. One of the most prominent memories I have of Mr. Van Tol are his words: “There are levels in hell, and the hottest levels in hell are for Netherlands Reformed boys and girls…because you know the truth, but you won’t listen.” Just another affirmation that I was damned to eternity in hell…a neverending existence of agony and gnashing of teeth. If I ever bump into Mr. Van Tol again, I think I will ask him if he still feels this way. Maybe–20+ years later–he has experienced grace as I have. If he has not, I think I will share my story with him…I will tell him this:
By the time I was 17, I had developed an eating disorder that, over the years, bounced back and forth among anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating. Misery, depression, and hopelessness plagued me. Even though I felt damned to hell, I prayed often and went through spurts of Bible reading with the hopes of being miraculously saved by God. The hope was faint as I was convinced that I was too evil to be saved, and I kept trying to fix myself up, so God would find me worthy of saving. The depression hit an all-time low, and I spoke to my 12-step sponsor. “Have you given it to God?” he asked. Of course, the phrase “let go and let God” is thrown around quite a bit in 12-step circles, so I this was not an unforeseen statement. “I’ve tried,” I said, “but I just can’t seem to stop holding onto whatever it is that’s hurting me.” He responded, “Go home. Get on your knees, and ask Him to take it from you.” I did. I went home and physically got onto my knees. I wept and begged God to take it from me since I couldn’t seem to give it away completely. Suddenly, I felt a physical load lifted from my body, and calmness overcame me along with a fullness and warmth. I felt these thoughts pressed vividly into my mind: “He is not who I thought He was!” My image of God was transformed from a God of wrath, damnation, and scorn to a God of grace, love, and compassion. The next realization that overcame me still brings tears into my eyes: “And He wants me.” There was no reason for me to have this revelation–not a book or a conversation that caused me to change my view of the Lord. I know now that it was the Holy Spirit who revealed the true God to me.
John 14: 16-17, 26-27 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Grace. Yup. It really does exist.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of people in this blog.
Orphan now Daughter June 22, 2011
This isn’t me, but I found it online today. Amazing. It gives me hope.
Cardboard Testimony- Orphan now Daughter
For the longest time I believed every word.
My daddy committed suicide while I was in the room, when I was 3.
My Step-Dad drank and beat me, told me that I was no good.
My grandmother tore me down with words dripping with poison, and stripped me of all self-worth.
My mommy killed herself by the bottle when I was 14.
But when Love took me in His arms and tenderly wooed me, when He whispered that I was no orphan, that I was His…
I believed for the first time that I was created for a purpose. I was created to be loved, and to love.
I was created to be His Daughter.
Grif June 21, 2011
I was born into a church that was commonly called “The Hat Church” by people in our community. Another term used to describe members of my church was “grifs”. The church was a Dutch Reformed Church that my mother grew up in. My father grew up in a different Reformed church, but became a member of my mother’s church as a part of their marriage agreement. If I had to choose just one word to describe the church, it would be “legalistic”. If I had to choose just one word that depicted the opposite of the church, it would be “grace”. Women were required to wear a head-covering during worship as well as long skirts/dresses. Women were not allowed to wear earrings or make-up, as those things were considered vanity. Men were to keep their hair short, and only men were able to attend or vote at congregational meetings. Secular music, televisions, internet (which came years later), movies, dancing, and even drums were considered evil and were outlawed by the church leaders. (I’d like to insert a picture into your mind here…imagine, if you would, a 7th-grade school band without percussion. Yes. That was us.)
My parents were members of the congregation, however, they were not “saved”. By that, I mean that they recognized the importance of the triune God, but they had not accepted the gift of salvation. My brother and I attended the parochial school , and I imagine that my parents hoped that the school would teach us all the ins and outs of our faith since they were ill-equiped. We did not talk about God at home. We prayed before and after meals. My father read the Bible (King James Version, of course), and we said memorized prayers before bed. We went to church twice on Sundays and attended Sunday School and catechism classes. We did all of these things, but Jesus was not a member of our family.
When I was in the 6th grade, my parents purchased a small television set and hid it. When there was an exciting sporting event or interesting investigative news program on the television, the TV was taken from its hiding place. My brother and I were sworn to secrecy. We were never to tell anyone that we owned a television.
My grandparents were devout in the legalistic faith. They did not own a television, and my grandfather was quite preachy and never hid his disappointment of his children or grandchildren if they were failing to walk in a way that was acceptable to the church. My brother and I were coached on not telling my grandparents that we had a TV…but if they happened to ask, don’t lie. “Just say that the TV is just for news and sports, but only if they ask.” It was a legalistic loophole. We hid who we were without blatantly lying. Being alone with my grandparents was nerve-wracking as I was afraid that they would pump me for information on our life at home, and that I would be forced to expose our secrets. The television wasn’t the only secret we held. We didn’t have any bodies buried under the basement or anything, so it was nothing real big. It was just everything little. We were to hide the fact that we sometimes vacationed over a Sunday, and my mother even bought some bread and cheese from a grocery store on a Sunday. “I’ll never forgive myself for this,” I heard her say. We would go to friends’ homes on Saturday nights, and my parents would get good and liquered up…but we always made it to Sunday morning service where we were dressed in our very best, appearing as any good Dutch Reformed family would.
We were all going to hell. I knew that I was hell-bound from the time I knew what hell was. I knew that Jesus died for “His people”, but that probably did not include me. The church embraced predestination with ferocity. Sit and wait for God to convert you from a dirty wretched sinner to a dirty wretched saved sinner. But you will more than likely go to hell because most people do and because you deserve it. So, fill your pew, but live life to the fullest because it doesn’t really matter anyway.
I believed that for 29 years. I had accepted my fate of spending eternity in hell. And then there was an event in my life that can only be described as a spiritual awakening.
There is grace after all.
Born into a shame-based religion, I knew I was hell-bound from the time I had the language to express it. I knew that I was dull-minded, a daydreamer, and unloveable. I accepted my demise with helplessness and continued my hollow life. Then, when I was 29, I was awakened by the One who loves me. I remember this spiritual experience like it was yesterday as it is forever etched into my being. The God of hell and damnation was not. Yes, the revelation was clear: “He is not who I thought He was!” And even more profound…He wants me.
It seems like that should be it. I’ve been saved–uprooted from the hopeless existence I had come to accept. Jesus redeemed me, and now life is good. Unfortunately, it isn’t. In fact, life stinks. Shame and self-loathing were the scaffolding of my persona from birth. Although Jesus has made me a new creation, I struggle with shedding these unwanted feelings…thoughts…this identity.
The blog is for me. Selfish, isn’t it. I’m going through some intense counseling that is forcing me to face deep pain, ripping off scabs of hidden wounds. I’m hoping that the blog will help me process some of this, so that I can let it all go for good and truly live a restored life. Maybe your thoughts, words, and experiences will help me dismiss the lies that I’ve been told.