Friday, September 16, 2011

Mercy in the Middle

It was the summer of 1976...I was getting ready to turn 10 years old that September. My family and I lived in a townhouse/apartment complex in the small town in rural West Virginia where I was born.  I was a "tom boy"-all pigtails and dirt-and loved spending dawn to dusk playing out side everyday and trying to master the skateboard I got the previous Christmas from Santa. There was a nice, friendly,  elderly man who lived in one of the bottom apartments next to our town home who would always wave and say "Hello" as he carried his groceries in from his car. I can still see that car. It was a 4 door olive green sedan. One day after he had been to the grocery store he was sitting on his front porch and called me over and presented a big bag of Brachs Candy which was sold in bulk at our local grocery. He asked me if I would like some, and I of course eagerly said "Yes!"   As I was exploring all the goodies in the white bag with it's trademark pink and purple stripes around the center something so strange happened. This man reached down the front of my tank top and began rubbing my chest.  Now I was brought up to not question my elders and I just remember feeling afraid so I grabbed a few pieces of candy, and said "thank you" over my shoulder as I ran back toward my house.   As time went by he became more and more insistent that I "come visit him" on his porch or in his car and he would always give me candy and rub my private parts and attempted to expose himself to me. At 9 1/2  I didn't know I was being molested.  I didn't even know what that meant, but even at that young age I instinctively knew that something was very, very wrong and found it upsetting on the deepest of levels.   I can't remember if he told me not to tell anyone, but I was too ashamed to. I wish I could tell you why I went back each time he called me over, but I don't really know for sure.  I think I was afraid not to go because he might tell my parents something bad about me and I would get into trouble. He began to pressure me and he was old enough to be my grandfather and I tried to respect his wishes for "a visit" and hope and pray the next time would be different and he wouldn't touch me.  My prayers went unanswered.

Later that summer, he died. I remember seeing the ambulance in the parking lot and watching them wheel his body out covered with a white sheet.  Everyone in the neighborhood was gathered around talking about what a tragedy it was that he died alone.  I had such mixed emotions. Part of me was thankful he was gone and I wouldn't have to endure the shame and anxiety of what I was feeling or any more "visits".  I was happy, angry, confused, relieved, and sad all at the same time. I thought you were always supposed to feel just feel really sad when someone died, weren't you?

Child molestation is rampant in this country.  Current statistics state that 1 out of ever 4 girls will be sexually molested by the time they graduate high school...and 1 out of ever 6 boys.   I was one of the "lucky" ones because it didn't last long...just that summer in '76, but some young girls endure this for years....every day...every night.  Let's face it, ONCE is too many times and can leave life long damage.   In 1991 I heard a song by Amy Grant about childhood sexual abuse called "Ask Me".  I have listened to this song hundreds if not thousands of times and it helped so much to heal what was so broken inside of me for so long.

Thanks for this song Amy. Now I have found a peace that has only come from God. He has made me feel whole again and has healed these wounds over time with His grace and unconditional love.   I still sleep with a night light in the hall but He is working on me.  I have been renewed by the blood of Christ. "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassion's never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).   No matter what has happened, the word promises "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38)

This is a fallen world filled with every imaginable evil but we are told to take heart "for everyone born of God overcomes the world..." (1 John 5:4)

 If you or anyone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, please don't put off seeking help. The 24 hour hot line is 800-656-HOPE.

I see her as a little girl hiding in her room
She takes another bath and she sprays her mommas perfume
To try to wipe away the scent he left behind
But it haunts her mind.

You see she's his little rag, nothing more than just a waif
And he's mopping up his need, she is tired and afraid
Maybe shell find a way through these awful years to disappear.

Ask me if I think there's a God up in the heaven
Where did he go in the middle of her shame? 
Ask me if I think there's a God up in the heavens
I see no mercy and no one down here's naming names
Nobody's naming names.

Now she's looking in the mirror at a lovely woman face
No more frightened little girl, like she's gone without a trace
Still she leaves the light burning in the hall
Its hard to sleep at all.

Still she crawls up in her bed acting quiet as a mouse
Deep inside she's listening for a creaking in the house
But no ones left to harm her, she's finally safe and sound
There's a peace she's found.

Ask her how she knows there's a God up in the heaven
Where did he go in the middle of her shame? 
Ask her how she knows there's a God up in the heavens
She said his mercy is bringing her life again.

She said his mercy is bringing her life again
She's coming to life again.

He's in the middle of her pain
In the middle of her shame
Mercy brings life
He's in the middle
Mercy in the middle.

Check out this neat video for Amy's "Ask Me" here

Friday, September 2, 2011

Washed Away

ATTENTION:  This is NOT a picture of an attempted drowning.  This is me (the one holding her nose) at the split second before I was laid under the cool lake water for my baptism last Sunday.  Many of you that know me, or at least know my story, know that I prayed the sinners prayer when I was 12 years old in a little church in Kingwood, WV.  It was equal parts of being crazy in love with Jesus and being scared to death after our youth group watched "A Thief in the Night".  If you attended a Christian church in the 70's or 80's you know what I'm talking about! ;0)  It was several years after that (at age 18) I was baptized (full immersion, of was, after all, in a Southern Baptist church) in Lubbock, TX.  In years that followed I was "sprinkled" countless times through what I refer to simply as "The Catholic Years" at various services and celebrations, so why the need to be baptized now, just a few weeks shy of my 45th birthday? (by the way, if a woman will tell you her age, she will tell you anything ;)

This was my second "full dip".  I know that "double dipping" chips into condiments and sauces is considered bad form at parties and picnics, but I'm not so sure that applies to baptisms.  There are some who believe getting baptized, whether it was your choice or not (in the case of infant baptism) is one of those things that once done can be checked of the ol' bucket list for good.  I'm not going to get into all of the theology of why I don't believe in infant baptism (I DO however believe in infant dedication where the baby's parents present the child to the congregation and take an oath to bring that child up in the way of the Lord) and I'm not going to try to refute those who say if you got baptized at any time after you accepted Christ, then you're done.  You see, there is so much grey area here, and I think it is fair to say that God deals with each person's heart in a very unique, individualistic way.  I know for me that a) I was saved at 12 years old, b) I was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit at 18, but that was not the end of the story.  Actually, that is precisely when things began to get a little dicey and, shortly after that, they just went screaming downhill at warp speed, completely out of control.  Over the next 20+ years (you're welcome to do the math ;) I was lost in every way a human can be lost.  Oh, I went to different churches, bible studies, TV evangelists, sought out pastoral counseling, being "spiritual" instead of being "religious" and tried to be a "good person" fairly regularly (although there were some serious dry years during that time) and while there were several times over the years when I thought "I'm really gonna do this.  I'm really going to seek Him.  I'm really going to give Him control over it all this time", I never really followed through.  I couldn't pull it together.  I wasn't strong enough.  I thought it was all up to me and I proved to myself on a daily basis that I was not up for the job.  I was a failure.

At least that's what the father of lies wanted me to keep believing.

Thankfully, just about four years ago (on my birthday) my daughter and I were in a potentially fatal car accident.  Yes, I said "thankfully".  Sometimes it takes a Dodge Durango landing in your lap for that "Jesus Take the Wheel" song to make perfect sense.  I've reached a HNL (Hole Nutha' Level) in my walk with Christ.  Don't get me wrong, these four years haven't been pretty, in fact they have been the hardest four years of my life in too many ways to count, but I can honestly say that if I had to do them all over again-cry the river of tears, be ostracized, betrayed, abused, lied to and lied about, as well as loosing everything...and I do mean EVERYTHING (think Job)-I would do it to get to this place...this place of knowing His peace, His unconditional love, grace, and mercy.  To not be afraid of everything and anything.  To know true freedom.  To feel richer now than when I had much, much more possessions, health, friends, fame, family...

Now THAT is a reason to celebrate.

THAT is a reason to declare victory.  THAT is why I walked into that cold water last Sunday and felt sheer joy oozing from every pore.  I'm so glad I didn't get caught up in what people might have thought about me.  It was a me-and-my-God moment and it was glorious.  You see, my second baptism was everything the first was not-it was a symbol of the work God and I have put in...a symbol of the two of us in the yoke.  I finally let his blood wash away my sins just like in that old hymn I sang when I was 12 (see Nothing But The Blood of Jesus video here).  I finally forgave myself for my past.  I stopped thinking there was something I could do to "earn" God's love.  I finally stopped trying to perform for everyone except for my Audience of One.

"We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection." Romans 6:4-5

Here is a wonderful blog post written by my brother in Christ of 20 years, Robert Mauti. We are also both figure skaters and have coached...