I have been on a journey of disbelief in religion for my entire life. Over the last six or seven years, I finally reached that final destination of atheism and am confident in who I am and what this means in my life. Getting to that point, has been one hell of a fight of control over my life.
Only child, born in the late 70s to a Pentecostal family, I was indoctrinated early on in life. My earliest memories are not without this church. This place of worship was a kind one, filled with a lot of love and enthusiasm. I do not remember a single sermon threatening fire and brimstone, but we only attended until I reached 9 years of age, so I never got anything more than learning right versus wrong and the evils of temptation from Gospel Bill shows.
But I had been involved in the church long enough that the motivation to succeed at being a good follower of Christ was already burning within. I remember the day I asked Jesus into my heart. Pastor Jerry was knelt next to me at the pew and leaned over and asked me,”Amanda, do you want the Lord Jesus in your heart?” My mom was standing near by, tears streaming down her face with pride, and naturally, at age five I did not comprehend what it meant to let this guy name Jesus in my heart, but I liked the attention so naturally I said yes. I was baptized a week later.
Several months after that a select number of us from Sunday School were gathered in one of the quieter classrooms, and we were taught about speaking in tongues. Then we were encouraged to pray, and feel what god was trying to tell us. Then we were encouraged to vocalize what we were being told. Thus began the recruitment competition for a gifted child in the class.
I tried so hard to hear what the Lord was saying. He spoke through my mother all the time. My mother sung in the choir, fervently spoke in tongues when services reached a fevered pitch during the singing and prayer, and was generally an obedient wife. I wanted to be the same naturally. I prayed and prayed. I wanted my chance to be in the light and acknowledged by something positive in my life. I started praying, feeling that desire to know God, or know acceptance in general. I even kick started the process by mumbling under my breath Boom-shaka-laka. It sounded similar to what the adults would say when they prayed so maybe this would put my own tongue on the right track? Needless to say, after about 20 minutes the spotlight landed. But it was on the girl next to me. She actually was crying and speaking in tongues. She had me beat.
And so did my father. Ironically, my father was active with the other "brothers", intensely studied the Bible, and believed that Christ would surely come back in 1988. With my mother, they seemingly modeled the picture perfect family.
Naturally, the model didn't match the reality.
My earliest memories of my father are angry ones. Shouting behind closed doors, hearing various items crash off the sides of the walls, and his general contempt for me and who I was. I ended up being angry and depressed early on. My mother often defended his abusive rages. Needless to say, I continued to wet the bed until a very late age (nearly 12), habitually lied, stole and destroyed items that were special to them out of anger (this started by the age of 5). I was one hot mess, and either received whippings, slaps, punches, threats, and even forced to pack my bags several times over by the age of 8. My parents did not seek true professional help for me though. They would speak with the pastor of the church, or their religious based marriage counselor who tried to explain to me (on only two occasions) that the lying, bed wetting and theft were symptoms of my flesh overruling my spirit. Not very helpful, but pretty much teaching me it was my fault these two adults couldn't maintain their marriage. All this under the pretense of religious duty.
We dropped out of church for a year. I am unsure what the falling out with the church was all about, but when they banned my grandfather from seeing me anymore around that same period in time, I overheard the accusation that dad broke away from the church because they wouldn't help with childcare. Either way, we ended up at a new church called Trinity Fellowship. It was in its beginnings and we held services in an elementary school gymnasium on Sundays. Eventually, a new church was built. Good memories during those days. Life wasn't as angry at church. It was a fresh start. That year I was abused sexually by my father as well. Mom was ill and hospital ridden, and dad panicked. Not excusing it, just what it is. I remember him sitting on my bed one of the mornings afterward and apologizing for what he did, and not to tell mom since she was too ill to handle the news. He assured me he would talk to her about it. Naturally that never happened, but at the same time, in a way I wasn't angry at first because it was the first time I received attention from him that didn't involve being threatened, screamed at or hit. This was 1988.
Mom eventually got well and came home after a month away. God didn't return, and I remember hearing the screaming and yelling behind closed doors again. Mom trying to pacify this monster of a man and items crashing against the walls again. I remember laying on the couch downstairs, pulling my grandmother's handmade afghan over my head and crying out of fear. Church members eventually showed up and counseled my father, but after that night we randomly attended church. The physical and verbal abuse escalated once again and I behaved even worse. Still no help.
By the time I was thirteen and fourteen, I had begun sharing what had been happening to me with friends, but with all the habitual lying I had already been caught at, no one would believe me. You would think they would connect the dots with my behavior right? I had NEVER spoken of being mistreated. I had lied about simple things like attending a concert I hadn't really been too and such. That is when I realized that despite my dad's behavior behind closed doors, the man actually had a sparkling reputation in our town. I couldn't bring him down, or my mother, a first grade teacher of some nearly 20 years at that point.
Needless to say, at 16, I ran away with my very first boyfriend and got married. We ended up having two children together in the 3 years we were together off and on. Sadly, the abuse cycle continued with me. During this time I found myself completely rejecting God in my heart, but would still call on Him to help me during times of stress.
When I look further back on my life and the things that had an influence on my belief and lack there of, I think the two biggest factors that contributed to my waking up would be the family history of abuse I had to confront, and the fact that since I was 5, I was reading newspapers, keeping involved in world debates and in general educating myself in my free time. I just wish I could have applied it sooner and avoided all the heartache in my life.
Needless to say, it all hit a crescendo about 8 years ago. My youngest daughter, at this point 8 years old, and much like myself, experienced abuse by her own father and uncle, add to that my frustration with her misbehavior (bed wetting, lying, theft, violent rages towards her siblings). I couldn't get help from her doctor, the schools wouldn't step up, and I was so poor I couldn't get her help. Add to that my own personal life drama. I was so blind and lost in my own problems that I ended up whipping her with a belt one night and turned her bottom black and blue. It is eery when you suddenly have an epiphany and look back at that moment.
It only took 15 minutes after whipping her for my blind eyes to open to the reality of what I had done.
I'd become my father.
Needless to say, I immediately called my ex-sister inlaw (remarried and divorced again by this time) to come over, along with my newly ex-husband. We went to the hospital to document everything, had the kids go home with her for the night and contact the appropriate authorities. I called my mother, ashamed for what I had done and neglected to do for my daughter. I needed someone to talk to, and since my parents had alienated extended family, they were the only people I had to call. And I was dumbfounded at her reply when I told her what happened. She literally asked me why I would have bothered to get children services involved?
That was it. I was finished with God. I realized what a delusion I had really been living under. I was dismayed at how I had neglected to step up and pay attention to what was happening in my home because I was so wrapped up in my own blind search for answers.
The last 8 years has been a process of rebuilding my life. Confronting my demons and getting help, not trying to pray them away. I will not show the arrogance of my parents and take the attitude that if God forgives me, then that is enough. I want to make sure that this stops, and stops NOW. I was ordered to only 6 weeks anger management by the court, but I opted to extend that and attended intensive therapy for 3 years. I served time in jail, worked on a reunification program, but realized my life was so unstable I needed to protect my daughters, so they were lovingly adopted by a wonderful family near by. I still have contact with them whenever possible, and overall, their life is stable, safe, and they are getting the right structure they need to be sure that they know what normal is.
I never would have accomplished any of this recovery if I had remained with a church. My own father is attending yet another church, but I highly doubt he has confronted what he has done with other church members. I know he has still never admitted the full truth to my mother about what he has done to me sexually, and she was there when he verbally and physically hurt me and did nothing. I hold no hope for her whatsoever.
I still get reprimands about how I live in sin and need to find god in my life. And I look at the examples I have personally seen, I look at the transgressions against my own children that I had previously justified under biblical thought, and I refuse to submit to such blind behavior any longer. Sadly, I have been to several different therapy groups and have met many more in my shoes, and I realize I might receive some heavy handed criticism here for my transgressions against my family, but I want others out there who have been victims, and have created victims, to know that you have to take responsibility and step forward out of the haze you are living in.