I grew up...rough. I was abused in pretty much every way you can imagine. We lived in severe poverty. We were never homeless, thanks to welfare and scraping by with any job my parents could get, but there were periods of time where we wouldn't have had any food at all were it not for food stamps and the food bank. Oh, the shame of paying for food with food stamps as a child, pretending it's real money and hoping that somehow the clerk won't notice. My clothes were primarily from donations to the food bank--I have a significant memory of getting a new outfit at the mall with my grandma in the third grade. It was so amazing to me because I had never been able to go to a store and pick out clothes and just...buy them. Not even at thrift stores, let alone brand new.
|Fourth grade me. My school pictures outfits were always a gift |
from my grandma, often hand sewn by her.
In the midst of it all I desperately wanted someone, anyone, to just love me. To look at me, see all of the good and bad, and just say, "I see you and I want to know you. I care about what you think. I care about how you feel. I care that you care about me. I won't use you. I won't abuse you. I love you." When you're that desperate for love, you don't tend to attract people. They feel your desperation. When you're deeply impoverished, always wanting; when you remind the adults in your life who are supposed to love and protect you of their sexual and physical and emotional and mental sins against you that they just keep committing, you ooze a certain urgency to your peers. So people push you away. They may keep you around when they want or need something from you--someone to kick to the ground and stomp on so they can feel big--but otherwise they just reject you. They rejected me. Sometimes I would be at arm's length, then pulled close for, in what was a glorious glimpse of love for desperate me, a moment, and then shoved away. Be it outright from the start or after varying lengths of time signifying hope that I might finally be loved, they all rejected me.
Except Adam. I have vague, fleeting memories of Adam. But I remember that I was 10 years old, in the fourth grade--maybe fifth?--and the entire town of 7,000 that I lived in knew I had been sexually abused for years by my biological father, Chuck. Chuck had a genius idea to flee arrest when I spoke up about the abuse; even more, he thought it was a good idea to pretend he had a bomb only 6 blocks from an elementary school. It made the news on TV, plus the lovely local newspaper printed it and mentioned that he was being sought for arrest on allegations of child molestation and rape of his 9 year old daughter. Unfortunately for me, everyone knew exactly who that little girl was.
Kids tortured me on the playground. My desperation became all the more palpable. Friends distanced themselves, even the ones I knew outside of school, friends I had known my entire life because our BFF moms had been pregnant with us at the same time. But Adam was different. He talked to me. He was by my side as we would hang out and...just do whatever two kids do during recess. Basketball. Tetherball. Chat. Be not alone.
I remember begging him to let me come over after school--his house was across the street from the playground our elementary school. We would sometimes wave to his mom when she would leave to get groceries. Yet he wouldn't ever take me home, wouldn't introduce me to his mother, despite my insistency. But then I started to understand why. He would have unexplained bruises that he would blame on wrestling with friends. He told me a story about his mother's boyfriend getting drunk, making Adam spread his fingers out on the table, and stabbing a knife down as quickly as he could between them. If Adam flinched, the boyfriend would slice him, just a knick, but enough to leave cuts on his arms so he had to wear long sleeves to school even during hot days. So I understood why, even though I never wanted to go straight home after school, he was protecting me from going to his home, which was worse.
When I was in the fifth grade, one day my parents (mom and stepdad) came into my classroom and said I needed to say good-bye to my friends because we were moving to a town no one had ever heard of 5 hours away. I cleared out my desk and then that was it. Good-bye. Only Adam wasn't in my particular class so I never said good-bye to him. I never forgot him, though, and always hoped things ended up ok for him.
They didn't. When I was a freshman in high school, during the spring, about a year before meeting Jesus, I heard that 3 boys in my old town, aged 15-16, broke into the home of a couple who had recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. They wanted to steal the couple's guns and go shoot up a cop. One boy shot the couple to death. The person who pulled the trigger was eventually sentenced to 50 years in prison.
That person? The cold-blooded, first-degree murderer of a sleeping elderly man and then gunning down his terrified wife as she cried on the phone with her adult son about her terror? Adam B.
Yes, that Adam. My Adam.
The year that it happened a song came out. It was called The Freshmen by The Verve Pipe. I would listen to it on repeat as the lyrics shredded my soul:
For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise
And we'd never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe
We'd ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen
Gospel Wakefulness? Saturday, the day after my 15 year baptism anniversary, we were driving and that song came on the radio. It all came rushing back--Adam. The ugliness of my childhood. The fact that I never, ever should have become a Christian with my background. And that, if ever I did, it should have been shallow, fleeting faith that disappeared the second I found more acceptance in drugs or yet another man who wanted to use me and I got to feel that shadow of love. But to have a faith that endures for nearly half my lifetime? To be one of the statistical few from my high school youth group who actually loves and has a thriving relationship with Jesus? To not merely be caught up in the comforts of Christian culture? Church potlucks called fellowship. Small group Bible studies not just called social clubs like they are. Lots of service and features about that service in the church newsletter. Giving all sorts of money and wanting people to see as you drop the check face up and pass the basket. Actually thinking the Christian station plays music that doesn't suck and--gasp--actually listening to it. Frequenting the special Christian stores and wearing the T-shirts and bracelets. Being on prayer chains for things like Sally's cousin's mom's friend who found out her dog has cancer. How am I not part of the pervasive American church culture, one which is devoid of the Gospel but always ends prayers before meals "in Jesus' name"? Why do I actually live dependent on Christ and crave his glory, less of me and more of him? Even after being burned badly, in deeply scarring ways, by every church or youth group or college group leader I had until my husband and I visited Mars Hill Church two months after getting married six years ago? To not merely call myself a Christian but to experience
No. Not possible.
And yet, Jesus said it himself: with God, all things are possible.*
The desperate little girl I was shouldn't have grown into the woman I am today. But this is the beauty of the Gospel, which by grace I have begun to grasp in glorious revealed glimpses shone into my heart straight from a throne in heaven. My fate should have been written. I should be a wreck. Maybe, had we never moved, I would have been Melanie H., the girl who kept watch while three teenage boys carried out their murderous plan. Or at least I should be like the scores of friends who "found Jesus" in high school but then found education and lovers and feminism and (so-called Christian) legalism and atheism and "God is still speaking" and new age spirituality and "everyone just do good" Oprah and Ellen faith. If what I wanted was love one of the least likely places to find enduring love, in this world, is in the arms of Christ. My Christian friends may gasp, but when you really think about it, how common is it for people to meet Jesus in high school and endure with authentic, flourishing faith? It's the only real place to find authentic love and yet it's rare.
I know you know what I mean. This isn't even the Christian friends of 2, 5, 10 years ago who, in Christian speak, "have fallen away." The difference between those friends who say they love Jesus and you're supposed to be on the same team but they are simply taxing. Maybe it's because they constantly judge you. Maybe they're pharisees and at every turn you try to point them to Jesus but they cling to their works, their dead religion. They Jesus juke you with 87 misapplied scriptures about how they're obeying commandments because they refuse to acknowledge the heart that is worshiping self, not God. They say they believe all the "right" things but their life just doesn't add up and you know that their hearts are distant and cool to Christ. You are exhausted by them.
Heck, maybe you are them.
But then there are the friends who are like a cool drink of water to your parched soul. You talk, and the conversation meanders from life events to the pain Jesus is walking you through to the TV show you're really into lately to those deep things in your soul, rarely touched and reserved for special conversations, to a funny story about your two year old taking his diaper off and pooping all over the carpet. There is talk of sin and grace. There is exhortation and conviction. You walk away and you feel brimming, just filled right on up. It's easy. You speak freely. You listen freely. You love freely. You receive love freely. Because in Christ, united by the spirit, you and they are free.
This is all done by Jesus. I not only am graced to have friends like that but know that Jason and I are those friends to multiple people. Us? What? The fornicating Christians with the bride in white taking communion at our wedding six years ago, stuffing down the sexual sin that pervaded our entire courtship while we smiled at church every Sunday? The angry husband with a heart cold toward God as he toiled in works? The wife who hates pain and so stuffed it down with food until she weighed nearly 400 pounds and couldn't have kids? That us?
|This is grace.|
Fifteen years. This takes bold faith, but I say without hesitation that by God's grace I will endure in unwavering faith in Jesus until the day I die. I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, he has awakened me to the Gospel, and fifteen years will grow until I am in Jesus' presence for eternity. I cannot do this, but Jesus can. I am certain he will. With God, all things are possible.
*Said specifically in reference to a rich person entering heaven, but it's not a stretch to suggest that it's impossible for any person, even those aware of their emptiness and poverty (beyond mere financial means) like me, to endure with Christ and enter heaven and yet with God this kind of enduring, real, eternal faith is possible with God.