The earliest fights between my mom and step-dad were about church and music. My mom became a Christian before my step-dad did. By this time my grandma and grandpa had both become Christians due to my mom's influence. It was a good thing (for a while) and their life began to change too. Over time each of my mom's three siblings would come to the same conclusion, Jesus was the answer. Over time I would come to doubt that conclusion. If Jesus was the answer why did I have so many questions?
We attended a small Nazarene church with my grandma, grandpa, my mom's older brother, his wife and my mom's youngest brother. I liked going there on Sundays, sitting with my grandma and grandpa. The benches were hard wood and slippery, but I felt soft and safe. My dad never liked the church. He would go, but he always complained about how boring it was. When the service was over he wanted to get out of there as fast as he could, no time to stop and talk. My mom wanted to stay, to develop some friendships so, they would fight. My dad had an eight track stereo in his gold Nova. He always was a music lover and still is. He had tapes like Blue Oyster cult and Deep purple. One of his tapes had a picture of peacock feathers on the front and I was terrified to look at it. I already knew how God felt about rock music.
What kind of twisted reasoning or loving God would tell you that it's all right to convince an innocent little girl that she was full of demons? I remember one particular fight. It started out in the garage and there was lots of yelling. My mom stormed into the house determined to prove that all Christian music wasn't dull. She turned on the radio to a local Christian station and began tapping her foot to the beat. My dad wasn't impressed and kind of laughed at her. This just made her angrier. I absorbed the whole incident like a sponge soaking up polluted water.
I wish I could pinpoint the beginning of my phobia of hell to one specific date or time. If I could it might help to untie more knots. Illegal drugs became the trigger for my panic. Maybe I heard a pastor preach about the dangers (this was the 70's after all) or maybe I heard my parents discussing drugs, but I instinctively began to associate drugs with hell. I knew that anyone who did drugs would go to hell. I began to worry that I might someday lose control of my senses and succumb to temptation.
Eventually my parents started volunteering at the church to work with teenagers. My step dad had accepted Christ and they wanted to get involved. There was one young girl in the youth group her name was Ann. She was a known drug user. I'm not sure how I knew that. I must have heard the adults talking about her once. I remember her showing my mom the back cover of her Black Sabbath album. It was a picture of Ozzy Osborne and his young daughter. She was either on his back or he was holding her. Ann was jokingly trying to convince my mom that Ozzy wasn't the devil, he was a family man. I was scared and confused. Ann's argument made sense to me. I knew Ozzy was a bad guy, but he was doing something good. He was showing affection to his daughter and it was genuine. I could tell by the picture. If we were the good guys and Ozzy was the bad guy how come his picture didn't look like pretend love?
The weed (no pun intended) of fear that was planted in my garden started to grow. I began to act strange. In the summer (this was before most homes had central air) I didn't want to sleep with my window open. I was convinced that someone was going to take a knife, slice open the screen, crawl through my window and inject my veins with heroin while I slept. Where we lived the summer nights could get very hot usually between 80 and 90 degrees. I would not fall asleep with my bare arms exposed. In order to survive my fear I told myself that the thickness of my white comforter would be enough to stop the needle if anyone tried to poke my skin. No matter how hot and sweaty I got I could not peel back the comforter. It was my only protection. Many nights I fell asleep with wet hair from the sweat. It would not be the last time something designed to bring comfort would torture me.
We had started attending a different church around this time, they called it "non-denominational," but there is no such thing. The first day we visited we were late getting in to the sanctuary because we were trying to find Sunday school for me. We walked around from classroom to classroom and got the same answer. We don't have classes for children who are seven or older. You have to sit in the sanctuary with your parents. I didn't want to sit in a sanctuary without my grandma and grandpa. I didn't want to leave the other church. The benches here were cushioned and springy, but I felt hard and unsure.
At this church people clapped their hands when they sang the songs. I didn't want to, but my dad made sure I did. I wasn't allowed to sit down until the pastor said, "You may be seated."
I never paid attention during the sermons they were long. Sometimes the pastor shouted and banged on the pulpit. One time after a particularly emotional delivery the pastor asked, "Is there anyone who wishes they didn't come today?"
I raised my hand. I was immediately ashamed of my honesty. Sometimes my dad and I would screw around during the sermons. We might kick each others feet or poke each other. He had this neat trick he could do. He knew how to make it look like he was pulling one of his thumbs off. I used to beg him to show me that trick during church.
We had a lot of traveling evangelists come and musical guests over the years. Each New Year's Eve we had a service with the same family singing group. They were a gospel country group. I only remember one line of one song they sang, "Tell my daddy the church bells are ringing."
I think it was a song about some little girl who was dying and all she wanted on her death bed was for her daddy to go to church. Another group sang for us, "He was hung up for our hang-ups."
The strangest speaker we ever had was the singing prophetess. She was a woman who supposedly had a "gift of prophecy." This meant that God spoke directly to her and she told us what he said. Only instead of telling us with a regular speaking voice she sang the words. She would call people out of the audience in this sing song kind of voice: "Oh yoUU you in the blue shirt -yes yoUU stand up."
The person would stand up and she would sing this weird made up song to them filled with messages from God. I thought her singing voice was terrible. The least God could have done was give this singing prophecy gift to someone who actually knew how to sing. Maybe God thought it would be funny to require someone to sing his messages but then not give them a good singing voice to do it with. I'm not sure if anyone else got the joke. I knew God MUST have a sense of humor.
Speaking in tongues was also encouraged. I was afraid of speaking in tongues. It looked to me like people had no control over it. I thought if I asked for that gift God might give it to me while I was in the middle of class. I might suddenly burst out in an unknown tongue and embarrass myself. My mom explained to me that the Holy Spirit was a gentleman and he would never force us to do anything we didn't want to do. She also told me to stop trying to figure it out with my "natural" mind. She said it was impossible to try to understand the supernatural with the natural. I couldn't make sense of how easy it was for her to accept this as normal. I was a good girl though so I did what she said and quit trying to understanding it with my mind. I even tried to do it, but I never felt like I was doing it right. They told me it was common for people to feel like they weren't doing it right. This was a lie the devil used to keep people from using their gift. He would do anything to keep people from speaking in tongues because he knew how powerful it was. They said the reason it was so powerful was because it was a language the devil couldn't understand. It was our spirit talking directly with the spirit of God and the devil couldn't translate the language. I heard one pastor say that if he was praying out loud he would only pray in tongues because he didn't want the devil to hear what he was saying and use it against him. We were also told that we had the "full gospel" because we embraced all of these gifts. Catholics, Lutherans, Methodist , etc., only had a partial gospel. They ignored the Holy Spirit. We welcomed him. For a long time I felt important knowing that our church had the secret. We were so much better than those poor Christian Reformed folks. Everyone had been given the power tools, but only our people chose to plug them in and turn them on. Later I would wonder about that. If we had the power tools, the truth, the secret why was everyone in my house so miserable?
The pastor asked, "Is there anyone who wishes they didn't come today?" I raised my hand. My phobias continued to expand and I lived with a sense of impending doom. Now, added to my fear of heroin was a fear of sniffing glue. We had seen a movie in school about the dangers of it. Up until this point I didn't even know you could get high from sniffing glue, but I knew I didn't want to. The movie wasn't that clear on how you did it so I assumed that just smelling any glue could create a high. I began to have what we now call panic attacks if I even SAW glue. I would experience a racing heart a sudden rush of heat to my face, dizziness, and shortness of breath, blurred vision and a feeling of being disconnected from everything around me. I was in the third grade. If we had to use Elmer's glue in class for a project I would get all the pieces ready and ask one of my friends to glue it for me. I wasn't taking any chances. Getting high meant a certified spot in hell with no second tries.
I never recall hearing anything about God's love or grace during these years. We heard about the cross and God's sacrifice for our sins, but this was supposed to motivate us to try harder. After all God has done for us the least we could do is try to give something back. Try I did. I tried and I tried and I tried, but no matter how hard I tried it was never enough. I couldn't get rid of my guilt and fear. I could postpone it for a while when I was out playing with my friends. I could have moments of tremendous fun. These moments when I was away from home were a great relief. I tried to be home as little as possible. Once I raked a big pile of leaves and jumped into it until I was tired. The weather was crisp and cool. I lay on my back to look at the sky and I was overwhelmed. I wanted to suspend time and trap this feeling. I knew this was a small taste of heaven that could never last.
Sometimes the guilt and fear would become so great that I would have to tell my mom about it. I thought that might help get rid of it. My mom would pray for me and I would feel a sense of relief yet, it never lasted. I would feel better for a while because we always feel better when we talk about things, but it also put more pressure on me. I knew God's power should cure me from my guilt and fear. As soon as the relief wore off and something else triggered a negative emotion I felt more shame because the prayer didn't work. This shame compelled me to confess more things to my mom and have her pray with me again. It became an addictive cycle that lasted for many years. Even after the age of thirty I was still calling my mom on the phone for her to pray with me whenever I got upset about something. I resented my dependency on her, but I was afraid to live any other way. Once my mom learned about demons and how to "cast out the devil" she convinced me that these negative emotions were demons. I compulsively came to her any time I felt anything less than peace and joy. She would then go through a series of exorcist type prayers with me. She had a file folder that contained typed pages. This was a method of deliverance someone at church had given her. She called it "going through the prayers." Many times she would tell me she sensed something in me (forces of evil) and it might be a good idea for us to "go through the prayers. Sometimes I would request that we "go through the prayers" because I was so full of panic it was the only way I thought I could be relieved. "The prayers" went something like this. My mom would read from the pages out loud, "How many demons are operating in Angela right now?"
I was supposed to answer with the first number that popped into my head-two, five, ten, and fifteen. The number that popped into my head was usually proportionate to how much guilt, shame or fear I was feeling during that particular session. One time I had one hundred demons.
"What are the names of the spirits?"
I was supposed to answer with certain names of demons like rebellion, witchcraft, anger, leviathan, Jezebel or lust. I usually just said whatever I could think of. Then my mom would read from the pages something like,
"Bind your power in the name of Jesus to the third and fourth generation."
There was more too, but I can't remember the exact wording. It was supposed to be the magic ticket to freedom... until the next time.
I don't know how anyone in their right mind could think that this was an emotionally healthy practice. What kind of twisted reasoning or loving God would tell you that it's all right to convince an innocent little girl that she was full of demons? My heart was so soft and tender at that age. All I wanted was to do the right thing, to please God. I wanted him to be happy with me to smile at me. How could God ever smile at someone who had let one hundred demons in? Part of the pain and confusion for me as a child was that this whole method was presented to me as something that would help me. It was supposed to free me, to heal me, to comfort me. I compare it to a child molester telling an innocent victim that fondling is good. My soul was being fondled and I was told it would make me feel good. A child can do no more than trust the one she's with. Even if that person steals her chance to live...…
More to come...