July 28, 2007

Alpena Again-Bit 6

There are 3 amazing things about Tony and Pam asking me to stay with them that year.
First, they were "newlyweds".
Second, they were new parents. Who wants a wreck of an adolescent girl hanging around with their 1 year old and infringing on their privacy as newlyweds?
Third, they were newly committed to Jesus and serious about Him. They had their own baggage to work through......I'll never stop being awestruck at the love, sacrifice, and selflessness they showed me that year. I honestly don't know what would've become of me if they hadn't given up so much for me.......
The first thing Tony did as I hung up the phone with my mom was put me on a diet. I was not a happy camper.
The second thing they did was plug me in with one of the older women at Alpena who was willing to get together with me weekly for counseling sessions.
At first life in a "Christian Community" seemed really strange to me. I'd gone from a family of 2 to living with more than 40 people. However, after a couple months the strangeness of living with all those people faded and the whole community started to feel like a large, extended family.
Like I said before, there were 14 cabins at Alpena. The cabin right next door to Tony and Pam's had a family living there with a daughter my age. We became instant friends. It was incredible to me to find someone my age who actually liked me and wanted to be a friend. When we weren't doing chores or homework, Paula and I were inseparable.
The school was similar to a large homeschool. There were 12 kids in the entire school, ranging in age from 5 to 14. The older kids went to town for high school.
One more detour before I continue. My mom. I'm still wading through my relationship with her, so she's hard to write about. However, I do need to say a couple of things about her. She was, in some ways a wonderful mother. Nurturing, comforting, funny....a good friend. But after the divorce she only partially seemed like a mom to me. She gave me no boundaries growing up. No bedtime. No rules about what I did with my time, watched on TV, or what I ate. She never asked me if I'd done my homework or checked my grades. In high school I managed to date a few old fashioned boys who would actually ask her what time she wanted me home. "Whenever you bring her home is fine with me. Just have a good time!" It was very scary to be that "on my own" and even when I was 9 or 10 I can remember feeling like I was my own parent. Then, to add to that pressure, my mom turned to me for comfort. It got so weird that she would send ME Mother's Day cards thanking me for taking such good care of her. I was "asked" to be a mom to my mom just when I needed a mom the most. I know she didn't mean to put that kind of pressure on me, but the pressure was there, under the surface, and once again gave me the feeling that I truly had no one to turn to.
Alright, onward and Upward. (I capitalized that on purpose.)
The counseling sessions I had proved to be literally miraculous to me. I learned so very much!
The most important thing I learned is that Jesus loves me so much He was not content to leave me where I was. Hatred, bitterness, rejection, and self-pity had become defense mechanisms from all the hurts I'd experienced and had almost become friends to me. He wanted me to give those things up so He could give me more.
I think the focus of that year was love. I learned of God's constant love for me. He promises to never leave us or forsake us. He will never leave me like my dad did. He will never leave me like Jimmy did. He will never abandon me like my mom did. Everyone I had trusted or relied upon up to this point had betrayed me in one way or another.
It was terrifying to be asked to be vulnerable to a God I couldn't see and didn't know.
I learned that all of my defense mechanisms were sin, and I had to let go of them and allow God to "wash" my heart and then ask Him to fill it with His love for people. If I love with His love I can accept people and love them just because they are the same planet I am and not because of what they can do for me.
Carol, my counselor, would hear me say something like, "I hate my dad and step-mom."
She showed me in the bible where God says hate is a sin. She'd ask me if I was willing to stop hating them.
"I don't know. They hurt me so much!"
"Well, God loves you and He wants you to love them."
"How? I don't love them!"
"Let's pray about it."
Then she'd lead me in a prayer asking God to make me willing to be willing to love them. I was always willing to be made willing, even if I wasn't willing.
Finally, when I was willing to be vulnerable to God, and to my mom, or my dad and step-mother, and take the chance of being hurt again, Carol would lead me in another prayer. This time a prayer telling Jesus I knew hatred was a sin and asking Him to forgive me. Then I'd ask Him to fill my heart with HIS love for my parents and step-mother. Carol explained that each time those thoughts of hatred came into view, I needed to go to God and give those thoughts to Him. Then ask Him again for His love for them. She explained that all this is called repentance. It's a giving up of sin, and doing an "about face" on it. You wouldn't believe how many times a day I did this, nor for how many years! And I not only did it with the hatred I felt, but for the anger, bitterness, and self-pity I wrestled with as well. Prayer and repentance became my companions and Jesus filled my heart. For the first time ever I had joy in there. And peace. The deep lonliness was totally and absolutely gone.
That is why I previously posted the Fernando Ortega song, Sing to Jesus. I was thinking about my life.
Here it is again, just for Jesus!

Come and see. Look on this mystery. The Lord of the Universe nailed to a tree. Christ our God spilling His Holy blood. Bowing in anguish His sacred head. Sing to Jesus. Lord of our shame. Lord of our sinful hearts. He is our great redeemer. Sing to Jesus. Honor His name! Sing of His faithfulness, pouring His life out onto death. Come you weary and He will give you rest. Come you who mourn-lean on His breast. Christ who died, risen in paradise. Giver of mercy. Giver of Life. Sing to Jesus. His is the throne. Now and forever. He is the King of Heaven. Sing to Jesus. We are His own. Now and forever. Sing for the love our God has shown. Sing to Jesus. Lord of our shame. Lord of our sinful hearts. He is our great redeemer! Sing to Jesus! Honor His name. Sing to Jesus! His is the throne. Now and forever, He is the king of heaven! Sing to Jesus. We are His own. Now and forever. Sing for the love our God has shown!

July 25, 2007

Alpena-Bit 5

I've been afraid to blog this next bit because I know all you cliff hangers are going to be disappointed!
I can't remember exactly how I felt after I said that prayer to Satan. Probably terrified. I do know I imagined him standing next to my bed grinning and saying, "I've got you now!" What I didn't know at the time was that there was no way he did. I'd surrendered my life to Jesus before I gave it to the devil and Jesus doesn't let go of His own.
As I said before, for reasons unknown to me, mom and I now moved back to bouncing around Sunnybrook Lodge. In the meantime, Tony had come to his senses and asked Jesus to live in his heart. He also was smart enough to marry Pam.
I'm not sure when they were started, but back in the 60s or 70's a man named Jack Winter started several Christian communities in the midwest. I think there were around 9 of them. These communities, under the title of "Daystar Ministries", were formed with the intent of bringing counsel, bible training, and emotional healing to people. I think several of the Daystar communities were each located in a single large building, but there were a couple that had a large house for meals and then smaller dorms around that main building for people to sleep in.
People would sell their homes, quit their jobs, give away most of their possessions and move into a Daystar center with the idea that this was probably a very long commitment. Money, meals, household chores, and possessions were shared and shared alike. These centers offered church services to the community as well.
I'm telling you all this because over the next several years I lived in 3 of those communites. The last one I lived in was being labelled a cult by many people by the time I moved out.
OK-on with the story. Tony and Pam somehow found out about Daystar Ministries and decided to move into one. It was located in Alpena Michigan. It was a beautiful place with a very large house for meals and worship services and 14 cabins for the various families that lived there.
After I'd surrended my life to God and the devil only one thing changed. My mom was able to regroup and became a mom again. It was wonderful to be a tiny family once more and have her home in the evenings. However, I still felt empty inside and knew I needed something. Because nothing else had changed in my life I felt more rejected than ever. My dad was busy with his new family and lived across the country. God and the devil had both seemingly rejected me and wanted nothing to do with me. My heart felt even more empty and hopeless than before.
The summer after I'd finished 8th grade Tony called and asked me to come to Alpena for a visit.
After I'd been there for about a week he asked me if I'd like to stay for the school year. This particular community had a school attached to it and I could go to school with some of the kids I'd started to make friends with. After one teary phone call to my mom I became a member of Tony and Pam's little family.

July 23, 2007

Another Detour

Deciding that this blog has been pretty heavy lately, I've decided to take a detour.
All my life I've been surrounded by "maleness". When I was little I had 3 big brothers and a dad who were all larger than life to me. Our neighbors pretty much all had boys my age so boys are who I played with.
Then when my dad remarried he married a woman who had one son and one daughter. There was a little femininity added to my life, but only twice a year.
My dad and step-mother went on to have 3 sons together. Do you realize what that means?
Three big brothers, three little brothers.
Then I found a wonderful man and married him. Guess what we had? 4 boys.
However, it's my step-brother I'm going to focus on tonight.
His name is Mike. Mike is one of the sweetest, most patient people I know. My dad would sometimes treat him abominably but Mike put up with it with quiet endurance. I remember one time we were all swimming at my dad's. We were getting cold and tired and ready to call it a day. Everyone but dad. He started teasing Mike and chasing him around, hoping to throw him back in the lake. Eventually Mike sat down on the dock thinking that would stop dad. Ha. Dad simply grabbed Mike by the ankles and pulled him down the dock and dumped him in the lake.
When Mike crawled out of the water his back and legs were absolutely covered in splinters from the dock. He was a mess of pain filled, red, oozy slivers for a long time.
Another time we were having a bubble blowing contest to see who could blow the biggest bubble. Mike managed to blow one bigger than his head. Guess who popped it, spreading the sticky goo all over Mike's hair and face? (I'll give you a hint. It wasn't me.)
It's not just my dad Mike put up with. He just told me recently about an event that happened on his honeymoon. (Hope you're not reading this Mike because I'm a big picture person. I know I'll get some of the details mixed up.)
Anyway, he and his new bride decided one night to go get a pizza. It was one of those massive, thick, cheesy Chicago Style type thingies. On the way back to their motel a young girl missed a light or something and plowed into their car. Anyway, the poor girl was so distraught Mike and his wife decided to sit down and share their pizza with her while they waited for the cops to arrive on the scene.
Mike and I became friends the minute my dad married his mom. We laughed together, and made up really goofy poems and teased our 3 half-brothers mercilessly. I always felt safe with Mike. We would spend hours together fishing, talking and rowing around the lake. Mike's friendship was like a gentle breeze where the rest of my life was turmoil. At some point I stopped going to visit dad and Mike and I lost track of each other. It wasn't until my dad's funeral that we saw each other again and renewed our friendship. We are now email penpals.
The other day Mike asked me when I was going to blog about my Cool Step-Brother. Never.
You're not cool Mike. You're something WAY better and God used you to comfort a hurting little girl when you didn't even know you were doing it.

July 22, 2007

Bit 4

Ok-The 4 people who read this blog have asked for part 4. Soooooo, here goes.
If you remember from a previous blog, I told you my brother Tony was busy marching down the hippy trail during this time. His girl friend Pam was marching right along with him, and about a month after Jimmy died, they had their first baby. At some point during their baby's first few months Pam went back to Illinois to visit her family. It was while she was there that she realized she was never going to find any hope in the drugs and religions she and Tony had been into. She'd grown up in a Christian home, but had chosen to reject it all and try an alternative lifestyle. She wanted their daughter to have a real, true life and knew the hippy stuff just wasn't it. To make a long story short, Pam asked Jesus into her heart and repented. She came back to Colorado and told Tony what had happened and told him 3 things. He had to become a Christian if he wanted to be with Pam. He also had to marry her if he wanted to be with her. #3. If he didn't do those things she was going back to her parents and their relationship would be over.
Pam then set her sights on me. She told me I needed to ask Jesus into my heart or I was going to hell. That added a 4th thing to the other 3 things I wanted. Who wants to go to hell? So, one Sunday morning I went to church with her and during the alter call I went forward to ask Jesus to live in my heart. I really had NO clue what I was doing. I had no clue who Jesus was. No clue what it meant to be a Christian. No clue that the reason I even had this choice was because of God's incredible love for me. I went forward for 4 reasons. One, it would mean I wasn't going to hell. Two, I thought if I gave my life to God, He'd bring my parents back together. Three, He'd give me some friends. Four, I'd get skinny.
Pam told me it was very important that I go to church and find some other people who were Christians and get together with them on occassion. The only problem was, I was only 13. No driver's license. The church where I'd gone forward was in Denver and we lived about an hour away up in the mountains. My mom did not want to go to church, nor did she want to drive to Denver every Sunday morning. I had a bible, but when I read it it didn't make much sense to me. It wasn't too long after this that Pam moved back in with her parents in Illinois and I was left in Colorado without anyone to help shore up my wobbly faith.
As a result, things quickly slid back into their old pattern. Actually, I think things got worse. I became angry with God. He wasn't living up to my expectations. One night in desperation I did a crazy thing. It was pretty late but I couldn't sleep. I'd been crying and feeling very hopeless. It didn't look like God was going to come through but I thought I had one other option. I layed down flat on my back in bed and gave my life to Satan. "Satan," I said, "God hasn't changed anything in my life and I know He won't now. I give you my life. It's yours. You can do whatever you want with it."

July 18, 2007

Bit 3 of "That's My Life"

I guess before I go on, I'd like to tell you a little bit about what was going on with my relationship with my dad during all this. After my parents' divorce was final my dad had visitation rights-2 weeks at Christmas and 2 weeks every summer. So, every Christmas, and every summer my mom would put me on a plane and I'd fly from Denver to Michigan. At Christmas time there was too much going on for dad and I to have any time alone. It seemed like there was too much going on in the summer as well, but dad did manage to squeeze a little time out for the 2 of us during those summer visits.
At some point during my 2 week stay dad would say, "Come on, Jude, let's go for a boat ride."
We'd climb into his row boat and he'd row around the lake for a little while. Then he'd stop rowing and look at me. "How are you?" he'd ask.
"Is there anything you need or want to talk to me about?"
He'd looked slightly relieved and we'd row home.
I know this sounds horribly sad compared to the relationship we had when I was very little, but really, now I just think it's funny. The poor man had 6 sons and had no clue what to do with me.
I honestly think he was doing his best to be a dad to me. He'd call me occasionally during the school year and we'd talk for a bit, but any long distance relationship is going to be strained, let alone one where there's been a divorce etc.
Even at the time of those boat rides, young as I was, I knew he was trying and that meant a lot to me.
You're probably thinking, this girl is living in deep denial. Wrong. I had years of hating my parents and my step-mother. Years of hurt, rejection, and years of bitterness. However-those boat rides were sweet to me and looking back I can see many fathers in my dad, clueless on what to do with a pre-adolescent daughter.

July 12, 2007

Bit 2

Well, I'm back with part 2 of "That's My Life."
If you remember from my earlier post, I was living with my brother in Evergreen Colorado. I enjoyed that very much....it was so good to get to know him and my sister-in-law and play with my 2 nephews. However, I missed my "old" life and adjusting to all the changes was overwhelming at times.
I'd started 4th grade before mom was able to sell our house and come west. We continued to stay with my brother for awhile while mom tried to find a place for us to live.
One afternoon, in November, my teacher handed me a note from the school office. My mom had called and wanted me to take a different bus home that day. I was to get off the bus at Sunnybrook Lodge and go to Unit 9. I had no idea what that was all about but I followed the note's instructions. When I arrived at Unit 9 I timidly knocked on the door. My mom opened the door and I was home! It was a tiny place-just big enough for a double bed, a table and 2 chairs, and a teeny tiny kitchen. Mom had baked a pumpkin pie and had a chicken roasting in the oven. It smelled just like the holidays we'd had in Illinois. The room was warm, cozy, and small. This is one of my most treasured memories because for the first time in a terribly long time I felt safe, loved, and like we were a family again.
Sunnybrook Lodge was actually a small vacation spot in Evergreen. There was a large main building where the owners lived, and then 9 units designed to be rented out by the day, week or month. Each unit was a different size, but they all came with kitchens, a small livingroom, and at least 1 bedroom. I'm telling you all this because mom and I didn't stay there for a day, a week, or a month. We ended up living at Sunnybrook Lodge for years. We bounced around from unit to unit depending on the needs and special requests of actual vacationers, so after a time I began to look at the whole place as "home".
Mom found a job working evenings a pharmacy so I became a "latch-key" kid before the word was invented. She wouldn't get home from work until 9:30pm-my imagination was vivid and once it got dark I was terrified until I heard her key in the lock.
I was given strange looks at school because of my life. Mom and I had turned to food, especially chocolate, :-) for comfort. Since we needed a lot of comforting, I was quite plump. I was the only kid I knew who's parents were divorced, who's mom worked evenings, who had 3 "whole" brothers, a step-mother, 3 "half" brothers, and 2 step-siblings. Not to mention the fact that I didn't have an actual home.
At this point I should tell you what my dad and 3 brothers were up to:
Dad-remarried with 3 new sons. Living in a beautiful, large home on a small lake in a small town in Michigan.
Frank-a wildlife conservation officer with a wife and 2 sweet boys.
Tony-Hitchhiking back and forth across the west, marching down the hippy trail, experimenting with world religions and drugs.
Jimmy-joined the navy. When he got out he too traveled the country and played with drugs and "hippyness."
Both Tony and Jimmy would pop in and out for visits now and then but after a week or so they'd be off into the wilds again. At this point Jimmy was the brother I felt closest to. He was nearer my age than my other brothers, and was the only person in my life who seemed to understand what I was thinking and feeling. Jimmy would sit and make eye contact with me. He'd listen to me and put up with my little sister pestiness with great patience. Every time he came for a visit he'd bring me a present. A jewelry box. A chess set. Plastic jewely he'd picked up from a Mardi Gras parade.... I knew he was thinking about me and loving me even though he wasn't with us. Jimmy is also the one who opened the world of books for me. He brought me a book one day called The Phantom Toll Booth. I read it and from that moment on I've loved reading.
When I was in 6th grade we moved into an apartment for one year. I think it was too expensive because after that year it was back to Sunnybrook. However, that year turned out to be one of the most painfilled years of my life.
One evening my mom and a friend were visiting in our little diningroom and I was getting ready for bed when the phone rang. I heard my mom answer it then I noticed her voice change. Suddenly she yelled, "NO! No!" She dropped the phone, fell to floor sobbing and finally choked out, "Jimmy's dead." We both sat on the floor and cried for a long time......Jimmy had been riding his Harley down a street somewhere in Florida when a drunk driver ran a red light and hit him. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for mom.
For the next year she wasn't around much at all. I'd get home from school and start dinner or work on homework, expecting mom to walk in the door around 6pm. More often than I care to remember the phone would ring around dinner time and mom would say she was going out to dinner with friends and to expect her when I see her. There were many nights when she wouldn't come home until 2 or 3 in the morning and she wouldn't be sober when she got there. I was only 12 and still had that vivid imagination. I was very lonely, terrified, and the pain of losing first my dad, then Jimmy, then seemingly my mom was more than I could stand. I'd frequently wander around the apartment, pacing, and crying until mom got home. I'd help her get undressed and into bed then I'd finally get to go to bed myself. I wouldn't sleep though. I'd lay there crying and thinking. I wanted 3 things in life. I wanted my parents back together. I wanted to be skinny, and I wanted friends. I was positive that if I were dead my parents would get back together. Mix that thought with just the pain of being alive and it's only natural that my thoughts turned to suicide. Many times on those nights mom came home tipsy I'd lay in bed and try to think of the least painful way to kill myself. A gun? No clue how to get my hands on one. Jump off a building? O. D. on pills? That seemed the way to go. On and on it went for months. It was just horrible.
I think this is getting way too long. I'm going to stop for now so you can go do some laundry or something....

July 5, 2007

My Life in Bits and Pieces-Bit 1

For years I've wanted to write my life's story down "somewhere". Guess where I've decided to write?
I'm not sure where or how to begin, except at the beginning.
I was born in Chicago in 1961. There were 3 brothers waiting to meet me when my parents brought me home from the hospital. Frank was 17, Tony, 15, and Jimmy 12. We were a very typical family at the time. Dad worked and mom stayed home and cared for the family. We lived in a little town very similar to "Mayberry" if you're old enough to remember that show. :-)
My early childhood is full of wonderful memories. "Helping" my mom bake bread. Playing with friends in the woods behind our house. Being teased and tormented by my big brothers. Trying to get my friends to play school in our basement all summer and walking to school with them during the school year.
While I treasure all those memories it's the time spent with my dad I hold dearest in my heart. He was my hero and I was his princess. Corny, but true! I adored being with him and felt so loved and safe when we were together. He had large strong hands that would comfort me when I needed it or when I didn't he would play with me. He's the one who taught me to swim-when I was VERY young he coerced me into climbing the high dive at the local pool. Using threats and promises he finally convinced me to jump into the water. Remember this was the high dive and I was only about 2 or 3!! I'd jump into the water and as I popped back up for air he was there waiting for me. He would grab me and hug me tight, laughing at my terror and joy.
I can remember laying my head against his chest and listening to the loud steady thumps of his heart reverberating in my chest, and of course my ears. Dad and I were together as often as we could be. He'd take me with him to visit friends and family, run errands, and sometimes would take me (& mom) to our cabin in Wisconsin where he went to hunt....
When we were at home he would let me sit under his table saw and play in the saw dust while he worked on a project above me. He'd hand me little pieces of wood, a hammer, and some nails so I could "build" too.
Things went on like this for several years. A safe nest with lots of love for me to grow in. It all changed dramatically one day when I was 7 or 8. By this time I think all 3 of my brothers had moved out of the house. Because I was so much younger than they were I didn't know them very well. Anyway-one day my mom sat down with me and said something like, " Your daddy moved out of the house today. We don't love each other anymore and we can't live together ever again."
Too little to understand everything that meant I just felt confused and devastated. I somehow felt responsible for their split and completely rejected by my daddy. For the first year after their break up I spent every other weekend with dad. He lived in a sparse "bachelor" type apartment not too far away. Our relationship had totally changed. I no longer felt safe or loved when I was with him-instead I felt like I was with a stranger and viewed him suspiciously. Trust was gone and the pain inside was intense.
About a year later, in 1969 their divorce was finalized. Mom of course had custody of me. By this time my oldest brother was living in Evergreen Colorado with his wife and 2 babies. I finished 3rd grade in Illinois and then my mom made another huge announcement. She told me we (she and I) were going to move to Evergreen to be near my brother. I absolutely hated the idea! Even though dad was "gone" I still had the familiarity and safety of our home, my friends, and school.
Mom told me that my dad and his new wife were going on vacation out west. They would take me to my brother's while she stayed in Illinois to to sell our house. Except for feeling really awkward around my dad and step-mother the trip west was uneventful. We arrived in Evergreen late at night. I'd fallen asleep in the car so my daddy carried me into my brother's house. When I woke up the next morning dad was gone and I was alone with a brother I loved but who was a virtual stranger. That morning really stands out in my mind as the end of "Part One" of my life; it also stands out as the end of my being a daughter to my dad. We wouldn't have much of a relationship again until I was about 40 years old.
I'm going to stop here for now. I don't know how long blog posts usually are, but surely you have better things to do right now. Maybe the suspense of wondering what on earth ever happened to me will bring you back again?