Most people don’t really know how to take me, and I cannot blame them one bit. I am often a mystery to myself, but I can offer a bit of context to help in that struggle.
My mother is Southern Baptist minister’s daughter, and my father was sailor – making me one of the most conflicted people you will ever meet. I am equally inclined to pray for you or tell an inappropriate joke, so I often opt to do both.
I was raised in church, often attending a home church and visiting the various churches where the rest of my family attended and served. I knew all the answers to the Bible trivia games, had the most stickers on the memorization charts, and I even signed a “True Love Waits” pledge card on three separate occasions as the preacher’s grandkid was supposed to lead by example.
You can imagine how proud everyone was when I was married by twenty, a mom by twenty one, and divorced by twenty three. (Please, note the sarcasm.) My marriage to the man who taught Sunday school class with me, played piano at the church we attended, and had checked off all the appropriate boxes on the “what I want in a spouse” checklist the youth leader encouraged us to make came to an abrupt and screeching halt the night he tried to strangle me to death in front of our daughters. I should not have been surprised as our marriage had been built on lies and had made the steady progression from verbal abuse to physical. However, as I spent those three years covering for him, I could not fault anyone else for being shocked – scandalized even.
This was the real beginning of my journey to faith. Before this I had known God as very finite being who could be defined as infinite but not experienced as such. A life of faith was a life of rules wherein I obeyed and I got to go to heaven. Sure there were other perks that the church told me about, like him answering prayers, but for so long there was so little I needed. Life was easy, all you had to do was exactly what you were told.
When the day came that I did need something, I followed the recipe handed out by Christians who received it from their grandmothers. I needed my marriage to be healed. I needed my husband not to use porn. I needed him to love me and our daughters. I needed not to live in fear, and I needed to be loved. So I prayed for all these things, and I waited. I sought out counsel and advice from people I trusted and I was told to pray harder, so I did. I went back for more help, and I was told to be more submissive and fulfill my “marital obligation” (that’s sex for those of you who aren’t church folk). I tried. I really did, and I waited still praying for God to do something – anything change my life because I did not want to be “that divorced woman” at church.
For years, I thought he had done nothing during all that time. In retrospect, I can see how busy he actually was. He was teaching me how my pride was killing me. He was teaching me to have a backbone. He was teaching me how pull the truth from among lies, but most importantly, he was teaching me to have a voice, to speak out in matters of truth.
God and I took many side roads as I found my way back to him and began to heal from the bitterness of my experience. I learned to forgive myself for marrying my ex. With even more time, I even learned to be thankful for how it changed me from hypocritical, manipulative little church snot to someone who had a life changing encounter with my God.
After my divorce, I went to school and added bachelors in psychology to my associates in fine arts. Upon completing that degree, I was advised not to go into the counseling as a career because “Dr. Phil looks cuddly next to you.” Unwilling to spend the rest of my life continuing to sell tools, I went back to school for a Master’s degree in Biblical Literature. (That is just a fancy way to say I read Hebrew and Greek, and have studied a bit about the culture in which the Bible was written.) I have since learned that if you have no desire to make any money with your college degree get one in art, psychology, or religious studies. What can I say? I have always been an over achiever.
I was not the ideal seminary student. I had to work hard to curb my more unruly tendencies, not to imply that I was always successful. However, the most dubious act committed turned out to be one of the most profitable.
Short on funds and with two kids to feed, I searched for work. I turned in applications all over town, but no one called back. Desperate, I applied at a local bar and grill. They hired me on the spot. Within two weeks I was managing the dining room despite having no previous experience waiting tables or tending bar which I found was one of the duties that came with the promotion. I worked there for six months praying that no one at the seminary found out because I could have been expelled as the honor code specifically prohibited any dealings with alcohol. However, during that time not a day passed that I was not engaged in a conversations about my faith and three times I shared the plan of salvation with people on the other side of that bar.
It was in that bar that I first met my husband but realizing that would take another five months and an online dating service.
I went on to teach at Bacone College in the Christian Ministries Department. There I would become known as the teacher who would answer any question, a reputation that started when I was the woman searching for answers in my own life. The questions that the students brought to me solidified a suspicion I had long held – too many people were not being told the truth about sex, relationships, and abuse and if they were the language of the church was obscuring it in a culture where these issues were discussed in plain language. This had been true in my life, and now I was seeing that it was true in the lives of so many others.
Despite all my best attempts not to, I eventually wrote Scandalous:Things Good Christian Girls Don't Talk About But Probably Should. Doors flew open and people gave me the gift of their time, energy, and talent to help make my writings available as real, honest to goodness book. I have been blown away by the response. Each day there are messages from men and women who share their stories, ask the hard questions, and encourage me to keep pushing to keep this conversation going.
Looking back, I can see how the pieces of my life fit together, even those that seem to conflict. Without a mother who took me to church, I would have never been steeped in the truths I need to fight my way back to the faith. Without a father who was wise in the ways of the world, I never would have learned not to flinch at the hard facts of this life. My artistic side helps me find the beauty in all things, my training in psychology helps me understand the people in my life, and my study of the Bible has shown me a glimmer of how amazing this God I serve truly is and why my the God of my youth was far too small for the demands of my crazy life. I learned compassion from abuse, and how to share my faith in what most would consider a hostile environment of a bar.
Today, my husband and I live in a state park serving a volunteers. I spend my days writing, teaching, drawing, and in deep conversations with friends and strangers who will become friends. When I need a break, I stroll through our *yard* and watch the birds, deer, woodchucks, and other wildlife while I pick up sticks along the park roads. If that gets too demanding, me and the dog go fishing.