Saturday, June 16, 2012

Religion, or the Grace of God?

In 2008,  I was visiting women in prison.   It is one of the most precious time in my life.  These women were so broken, so lost, so hurt, so guilty!   Most of them were there for selling drugs or prostitution. Most of them had children at home, or in foster care, and were dead inside thinking about their children.  Their crimes did not make them less of a mother.  Most of them are there for drug charges, and 30% of all women in prison are there because they took the blame of a man upon themselves.  That is what I was told before my visit, anyway.  Most of them feel abandoned by God, just the way I did for a long time. They certainly don’t need to hear how bad they did. They know it. They don’t need to be told to repent, they know it.  They need Love.  They need love, just like I did.
I was asked to share my story on one of my visit.    

My personal spiritual journey changed a lot throughout the years, but on that day, this is what I told them:


Hello Ladies!  My name is Lisa.
I grew up in a Conservative Baptist home. Throughout my childhood,  I was taught to pray, ask God for forgiveness, and I did. I was always “the” good girl.  I never was in trouble at school. I was an obedient child and never caused trouble.  I was taking care of my brother and sister by the age of 11, cooking for the whole family by the age of 12, our mother always being ill.  I loved doing so! I never saw it as a burden.  I was working by 14, paying for all my school supplies, clothes and what not. My family was very, very poor, which brought us a lot of judgement from the small town, because they associated that with our "religion". I was very sincere in my Faith, praying and reading my Bible everyday from the time i was 8 years old.

But for some reasons i didn’t know and found out later … something didn’t feel right. I was not totally at peace.  I was very lonely, felt like an outcast most of my childhood and teenage years.  I was made fun of for not partying, not going out with boys, not doing drugs, not having sex. I was even beat up a few times, thrown eggs at and humiliated, called “virgin Mary” for a long time. It didn’t help that my family was one of 3 protestants family  in  a very Catholic town. The priest would go on the community TV show and tell the community to stay away from us because we were evil.  I just thought that God was only present in one religion, my own. Yet, I didn’t understand why IF i had the right one, why was I so unhappy and miserable?

I thought maybe if i did more for God, he’d reward me.   By 15 I was a Sunday school teacher every Sunday, worked as a teacher at summer bible camp and had a high school christian music radio program, and was humiliated even more.  I even offered my school to let me talk about abstinence in front of everyone. And I did.  I had prank calls constantly at home; some that i really can laugh at today.

What most people couldn’t tell… is that I felt that everything I was doing was only superficial. I saw God as a mean judge, waving a baseball bat at me from above saying “you better not mess up!”  My legalistic background had taught me to obey God thru fear, not thru thankfulness.  I would cry out to God every night, asking Him why me. Why couldn’t I have a boyfriend, why couldn’t I dress “hot” like all the other girls. As a teenager, everything became a “what i was not allowed to do”.   On the other hand, I enjoyed doing what I thought was right.  I was determined to remain a virgin until marriage and never kissed a man until I knew he was going to be that man I would marry.   Why should I make out with boys knowing it meant nothing?

I met my ex husband  at Christian Bible Camp when i was 16 years old. He was 16 years older than me, a Baptist Fundamentalist pastor.  Everything seemed to be working out for me, I thought. Nothing better than marrying a minister right?   I  was not convinced i should marry that man; he was cold, barely ever smiled, just was not the nicest, but he convinced me that he was just depressed and having me as a wife would solve all his problems.

By then, I was trying to deal with my anger towards God by doing more “good” things for what i thought was sacrifices for God.  I was offered 3 full medical scholarship at 18 and refused them as I wanted to become a Stay at home mom and have a career later on instead. After all, i was taught that this was the only way for women.   I did a lot of things I thought were pleasing to God. I pretty much put God in a box; everything was black or white.  I had lived in a box for years, and that is what my life was going to be like.

After I married my ex husband, 3 weeks after i graduated from High school, he became obsessive and controlling right away.  Actually told me on our wedding night on the way to our honeymoon that I was now his, and he was the leader, and my submission to him was not an option.   What a great way to celebrate! haha   He became more and more controlling.  I had to ask his permission for everything. I couldn’t leave the house, or talk to my family, or have a shower without his permission, nor have friends over. I couldn’t learn how to drive, let alone work, even if we didn’t have children.  Not only did i obey all his rules, i typed his own sermons.

He would leave me “post it”  notes all around the house.  On the notes, he would tell me to do something, tell me to do this, or not do that, or to rebuke me about something.  It could be from “you left a dirty fork in the sink” to “there are some dirty pants in the dirty clothes basket for you to wash.     I had no financial freedom at all.   I had to ask in order to use money, even as little as 5$ for milk.    A lot of the rules contradicted each other, and he enjoyed letting me know it was my responsibility to figure out how to make them “work”.   I was given a 9 o’clock “meeting” with a list of “new rules, whenever there were new ones.      I was young, naive, and innocent. I wanted to be a good wife. I was brainwashed into thinking “that” is what a good wife was.  I thought that is what “GOD” wanted, therefore, even if i was completely miserable, I was carrying my cross… like the Bible says…

A few months after we got married, he was actually asked to leave the church he was ministering at.   He found a new church to minister, often preaching about women’s submission.   I felt there were no way i could find support in the church.  We had also moved 2000 miles away from family, and I didn’t know English, so i felt totally abandoned and trapped.     His abuse became more and more severe, especially after we had our first son;  I was giving a list of about 100 rules, one of them being “the children were going to be my responsibility, not him”   Needless to say, he was not being a father to his children either.  I felt as if he was destroying my soul on purpose, to the point that no matter what i did or didn’t do, I was wrong and he had to punish me. It didn’t help that he had a Bible verse to quote me on every single little thing i didn’t do his way.  I felt dead, literally.   He than started to not hit me directly, but push me in a corner, intimidate me, push the chair i sat on, scaring me.
I was totally feeling dead, in my heart, in my head. I didn’t know who i was anymore.  

Here i was.. married to a minister, one that everyone else adored  in the church, finding him such a great man of God, such a religious man! being convinced there were no way out for me.   I kept praying, and hoping; by now my prayers were about not giving up on God himself.  I didn’t know if God was real anymore. I saw God as a unfair, unloving father. I actually saw him exactly like I saw my ex. I stopped reading my Bible. I just couldn’t do it… whenever I would, I would hear my ex speak.  I could hear his voice literally “preaching” at me.  I didn’t  hear God anymore… i was hearing a mortal man. A mortal man that had so much power over me even I didn’t understand how I let it happen.

In 1999, We lived in Alberta, Canada.  I got pregnant with twins.  Having children was THE one thing that brought me true happiness.   I couldn’t count on my husband to help, but at least I did enjoy being a mother.  My children made me happy.   We were visiting a couple in a far away town in the mountain, far from a good hospital,  I went into premature labor.  I was only 27 weeks pregnant.  In the ambulance taking me to the next big town, which was 90 mins drive, i kept asking God to save my babies, that i don’t think i could forgive him if they died. I also felt guilty.  I blamed myself, and God.  My children being my reason for living.  When we got to the hospital, the doctor  told me one of the babies had no heart beat and the other one was in distress.   My first daughter was born stillborn. She was beautiful. She looked like an angel.  I named her Joanie Hope.  As I was hopeful that my second daughter would be ok.  My second daughter was born...I heard a faint cry.  I was begging them to help her. I knew that she was very little, but I also knew that babies can make it that young with good care. I was crying and asking what was going on. They told me she had passed away as well. I named her Jaelle Faith… to help me keep my faith.   But inside, I died too.

All I wanted was to hold my babies while they were still warm, but I never did... They gave me sedative to make me stop sobbing. I was not hysterical at all, and i don’t think it was needed…. any mother would need to cry the death of 2 of her babies and ask to hold them!  When i woke up 4 hours later, I saw the 2 babies laying on a table next to me.  A nurse came, than exclaimed “Oh my God!!!”  she called for help.. and a doctor came. I could not make up what they were saying, but they were  agitated and confused. The doctor said "Give her to her mother..." and she did... "Your baby still has a heartbeat, we dont know how that is possible, She is still alive...but she will not live".  It totally broke me...  Them believing my baby had no chance to survived because she was only 25 weeks gestation.... Thoughts were rushing in my mind... Hear her faint not understanding why they didnt rush her out of the room to help her.... them sedating me... They had let my baby on a cold table, dying on her own… did she really die when they told me she did?  or did she star breathing on her own right after they thought she was dead… and left her for dead.    I don’t actually remember breathing. I felt my heart literally break; i cant explain it…  The thought of my beautiful baby, left naked on a cold table, fighting for her life for 4 hours...  while her mother nearby was in an induced sleep, will haunt me for the rest of my life.  To this day, this is so incredibly painful to grasp, that it is a memory that I purposly avoid.   My daughter died a few minutes after I finally got to hold her…. as if she was waiting for me… I told her “its ok honey… go see your sister… its ok… stop fighting.. im here now, just go!!” I knew she was going to die the second they gave her to me... she felt cold.  Up to this day, I can still hear her cry.

(picture of my twins ultrasound)

Needless to say… i became a zombie. I was already broken from a abusive marriage, and this had totally destroyed me.   Back home, my husband was telling me i shouldn’t cry, that this was God’s will, that i had to let the dead rest with the dead.   We had a funeral for them a week later.  Shortly after that, we moved again to another church were my ex husband was asked to become the pastor.  It was another fundamentalist church.

I became pregnant right away after this, and named my second son “Zachary” which mean “The Lord remembers”  I felt betrayed by God. I felt I had done everything that was right and should of been rewarded with a great life.    What I didn’t know yet… is that I had never truly ever known God, yet alone been close to him. I had been religious, nothing more, nothing less… but i didn’t know that yet.  I had yet to learn that the box I was living in was not what God wanted for all of us.

After my twins’ death and the birth of my second son, Something in me changed.  I realized that religion had made me very judgmental of others. I started to be disgusted by myself, and feeling extremely guilty.  I got a new found strength to nicely talk back to my ex about his unrealistic requests on everything.    Of course he got worse, calling me rebellious and un-submissive, treating me worse every day. I always thought that God would punish me to no end if i ever divorced, as if this was the unforgivable sin. I knew that one day, i would leave, for the sake of my children, but the way i saw it, was that i didn’t care if God punished me; it would save my boys.

This picture of my boys
was taken only one month
before I left my ex.  
One day, as i was going to get milk for the boys, as I was about to pay, i realized my ex had taking out my bank card away again, as i was suppose to ask his permission to use it… and i forgot!   I never shopped; I only used the card for diapers and milk. This very powerful  will came upon me that i SHOULDN’T go back home. It didn’t matter that i didn’t have anything with me but the clothes on our back. It didn’t matter that i had absolutely no where to go… i just strongly felt that i should NOT go home. And I didn’t.   I walked 4 hours in a -30C weather, a 2yo in a stroller, and a 9mo on my back… and never looked back.  I had no cell phone, and no money. It was freezing ,but my boys were well dressed, so nothing else mathered.  I walked 2 hours to a friend house, but they were not home. I walked 2 hours hours to our church elder’s house, and she helped me get to a women’s shelter.  I was surprised of the support I received. I was exhausted, frozen, and just said "I can't go home", and it is as if she knew why.    That was it, just like that…..    I was in the street with 2 babies, but i was away from him. I felt alive and free immediately.

As I had left with nothing and was literally in the street with 2 young boys, I was waiting for God’s rod upon me, as i was convinced he was going to severely punish me for getting a divorce. ME, getting a divorce!!!  I still saw Him as a harsh father instead of a loving one.  I was not worried about my sons and I. Somehow, I knew we would be ok.  I didnt care where we would have to live, or that I had no idea what the future would be like. I felt tremendous peace.  I  couldn’t put the peace I was feeling and God together yet. I thought my “peace” was sin, and that sin was good.  I was so very mixed up…

And i was amazed how alive i felt… all over sudden… I felt like a person again. After living shelter to shelter, one of my uncle paid of my airfare for me to go back to my parents.  I moved back into my hometown, after not talking or seeing my family for over 3 years.  I found a job for 2 hours a day, washing dishes at the school cafeteria, for 60$ a week, after turning down some "stripper" job.  I had to collect welfare, and live on a special welfare housing. It was humiliating, but I had to do my best to take care of my babies. The little money I made paid for diapers and milk.  I had 800$ a month to pay for everything else. After rent, electricity etc was paid, I had about 75$ left for food, for the month.  My kids never skipped a meal as I became a pro at budgeting every penny.  

Not believing in religion anymore, i slowly felt thirsty again to experience a relationship with God, but i couldn’t let go of all I went thru.  I did not know how to have a relationship other than a religious one.  I slowly felt that religion and God were 2 totally different things.  I innocently asked him to prove to me he was there for me and not against me.

The next morning, as me and my babies slept on an old mattress on the floor and ate on the bare floor, i opened my front door to see about 20 black garbage bags, a crib, a table set and a mountain of toys…. I looked around to see no one… the only thing in front of me was the big Catholic church I had moved next to. The same church I grew up not understanding.  I thanked God sobbing.  The clothes were all the perfect sizes for my children, and for me also.  I knew it all came from the organization led by the church, to donate clothes and items for people in need.  I was amazed that they knew exactly what I needed. I was thankful for the evolution of their religious heart, as long with mine.  Love was replacing man made religion.

Shortly after, i filed for a divorce that would take 3 years.   I was 24 years old.   I didn’t want to read my Bible anymore either, because all I knew was the teaching i had received and even tho i tried to read it with a new state of Mind, I even bought different versions, in different languages. I  couldn’t…  I didn’t know God anymore. I still wanted God, but didn’t know how. 

Slowly but surely, I truly saw that the God i once knew, was not who I thought he was. When I saw that he didn’t “punish” me, but actually blessed me…because he knew my heart.    I would look back at the way everything fell into place,  and the only reasons i saw was how gracious he was… all over sudden, i didn’t feel judged by him, i felt he understood… and i wanted to spend the rest of my life thanking him for this.  His Grace was slowly  healing my broken heart and my empty soul.

God knows when YOU are broken. God knows   what you are feeling. God knows what you are thinking, why not tell HIM anyway!!!  As soon as i started telling him how mad I was at Him, he started showing me He loves me despite how i feel about him.  Instead of being punished by him, i was lifted. Instead of getting enemies, i got friends. Instead of feeling dead, i felt alive.  The more I became sincere and honest with Him, he showed himself to me.

I might of never spent time in prison , but I felt like  a prisoner for such a long time.

There is no differences between you and me. God sees YOU the same he sees me, and anyone out there.  He sees you as a woman, as a mother, as a sister, as someone’s best friend, someone’s daughter.   God knows why you are here. God sees your heart and your intentions before the world sees your actions.    That is why we hurt… that is why you hurt… but you know your own heart, you know why you did what you did, and most of all, God knows!! God saw your struggles and the choices you had to make even before you made it.   Of course, we all have to live consequences for our actions, but God sees our heart first.

We can all look back and think about our most vulnerable time and realize we could of made a choice to bring us right here in prison with you.   I could of done things when i felt lost. I could of done things when i didn’t care, or when i felt the most anger, or when i felt the most rebellious. Why i didn’t? I don’t know! but i know i was capable of them!  SO is there a difference between  the ones that get caught, and the ones that doesn’t?  we have said this before here…   If all hearts were exposed.. we’d all deserve to be here one way or the other!

(painting called “my deliverer”)

Maybe some of you are where i was years ago..  so angry at God and thinking WHY me??  and you have the right to feel so. Tell him. Be honest.  Tell him to show you He didn’t forget you, and believe me He will not let you down.  Of course if you ask him “I want to be outta jail tomorrow”, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen, but he wants your heart!!! If you give him your heart, he will give you more than you could of ever imagine, and you will feel FREE whenever you are.  Try to take this period of your life as a opportunity to get closer to him, So you will never have to fight so hard between making the right, or wrong choice.  We all make bad choices. We all make bad choices without wanting to. And we all make bad choices totally knowing what we are doing.   The key is to learn from them!

God is not a religion. God does not live in a box.  People often say “I am not religious, I don’t believe in God”. Well I am not religious either, but i believe in the amazing healing and saving power of  My Father in Heaven.   I have associated with 4 different religious group, in fact, i didn’t go to church for over 4 years, because  after i felt close to God again, i didn’t want anyone to tell me God was this, or that, and I was just satisfied with my new way of seeing my Father up there!  
You have the privilege here to know that you are all in the same boat. I am sure most of you already got some of the best friends you ever had here.  And just think that maybe that is one way God speak to you!  

I now know that God loves me, and its not a baseball bat he is holding above my head waiting for me to mess up,  but a cradle to rock me in when I feel I don’t deserve his grace. 

 God does change someone heart.  I still have a long road ahead of me. 

Let Go, and let God!

Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Amy says:
    July 3, 2012 at 7:52 am
    You are a beautiful writer. I know your story having heard it before and being there for some of it and it still brings me to tears, gives me goosebumps to know that you have overcome and will continue to. Love you dear friend, you are amazing!