I didn’t dare to go to sleep for fear that I would wake up in hell. I imagined a dungeon-like pit–a seemingly neverending well–that was made of large gray boulders. At the bottom, it was dark and engulfed in flames. I was in the middle of the flames, burning and screaming in agony as I reached my hands to the pit’s opening far above. As I reached, I could see heaven and God. I have no picture of what heaven and God looked like in this scenario, just the knowledge that they were there. I was ignored as my screams drowned out all other sounds. As I saw these things in my mind’s eye, tears ran down my face as I felt helpless in my bed. I was a scared little girl, sure that I was so despicable that God hated me. “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep.” I’d fight it until exhaustion won. In the morning, I’d awaken with relief that I had gotten by for at least one more day.
I don’t know for sure how old I was when I first started having these horrid nights, but I was as young as 8 years old. Recently, I worked through some of these events with the help of a counselor. I was surprised at how quickly those terrors flooded my soul. I wept and felt that intense fear–fear of waking up in hell. That scared little girl…I wanted–I want– to hold her. I want to love her and cuddle her. Then, I want to rescue her and her brother and take them far away from the crazy church, the crazy people, and the crazy lies. I want to tell her that I love her more than anything in the whole wide world and tell her that she is special and beautiful and a child of God. I want to give her hope and show her grace. So I will. That little girl is still so very much inside me. She is afraid and feels unlovable. When I am relentlessly degrading myself for being too fat, too loud, too sad, too overbearing, too impulsive…well, I need to remember that little girl and her need for acceptance and love. She is imperfect and always will be. Instead of striving toward that unattainable perfection, I pray for the strength to give up and just melt. I imagine her crawling into the lap of our Father as He wraps His strong, protective arms around her. She puts her head on His shoulder while He nuzzles her hair as a loving father does. “Shhhh,” He says. “Everything’s going to be okay. Daddy’s here. Daddy’s right here.” Thank you, Daddy. I love you.