I was raised in an African-American church which is just as much part of our culture as it is our faith. So it has been hard finding my own way spiritually. In fact its been an extremely rough road for me my whole life. My mother was 16 years old when she had me so she definately wasn't ready to be a mother. We stayed with her parents until I was 5 years old and my mother got her own apartment. She had a boyfriend who physically abused her and me. He would thump me on the hands and other torturous acts just to see me cry. He got off on my pain, I guess. The bad part was he was the son of one of the members of our church.
Even though my mother left him(not because of what he did to me) she moved in with a man who was a drug addict and physically and emotionally abusive. I hated every day of the 11 years I lived in that household and I wondered where God was in as this. After he and she married, they had two kids. I had longed for a father whereas my own biological father was never really in my life so it would've been natural to assume that my stepfather would take on that role. But he felt I wasn't his responsibility and basically ignored me emotionally.
My mother was depressed and felt trapped. I believe that she subconciously blamed me for her problems and took it out on me by being emotionally abusive. She would tell me how stupid I was and anything I did was wrong. She never hugged me or told me she loved me, even though she did so with my siblings. I was sent every single weekend and anytime there was a school holiday to my great-grandmother's. She said she sent me there because my brother and sister mis-behaved more when I was home so they wanted me away so she could get some peace and quiet. I think this caused me to voraciously seek out religion in my teens to fill the need I had to be loved and accepted. I prayed constantly for God to change my circumstances and strangely I was more concerned for my mother's welfare than mine. But nothing changed. After a while I couldn't take the situation at home anymore and asked my pastor for help.
Now, I must say that I had been looking to my pastor as a father figure. He had taken some of the other young people in church under his wing and I thought he would do the same with me. Boy was I wrong. He kept promising that he would talk to my parents about how their actions were hurting me. But week after week went by and though I constantly reminded him, he didn't do anything. He finally said that I was just wallowing in self pity and my stepfather didn't have any obligation toward me whatsoever. Boy talk about the love of Christ flowing through him. Now that should have turned me off from him the church right then but I didn't trust myself to determine what was best for me.
I ran away from home twice, the second time, leaving a suicide note. I was going to jump off a railroad trestle but in the end, I was too chicken. After I came back, my mother took me to a psychiatrist who recommended that I be put in a mental hospital because of my suicidal tendancies. I couldn't understand why my whole family was messed up but I was the only one being shipped off to a mental ward. I was diagnosed as having severe depression and kept in the hospital for about seven weeks. Me and my parents had "family sessions" with my therapist. After I got home things seemed okay for a while but got back to what they were before.
My mother blamed me for the problems I was having with her and my stepfather. She pretty much sacrificed me for him. I knew then that I didn't have much of a family so I turned again to my church, particularly my pastor for love and support. In fact, I think the last few years I lived at that house, I spent more time in church than I did at home. I would try to be around my pastor as much as possible. One minute he would act very loving. He was one of the only people who ever told me he loved me and would give me hugs and kisses. The next minute, however, would be passive aggressivly cruel, breaking promises saying that he "forgot", or blantantly ignoring me. I thought it was all my fault and maybe if I was smarter or "holier", he would love me as much as he did Willie, who was a strait-A student at the church. I paid more attention to him than I did to God because at least my pastor was tangible. I couldn't hear, touch, see, or spend time with God so I subconciously felt "What was He good for?".
Around the time I was 19, things got worse at home. It got so bad that I felt I had no way out. So I plotted my suicide by getting some over-the-counter sleeping pills. The day that I was going to take them, my mother and step-father got into a huge fight and my step-father told my mother that she could get the hell out of his house. My mother thought it best, since me and her husband didn't get along, to stay with my father for a while.
Now let me make it clear that I had begged and pleaded to my father and step-mother to let me stay with them but they were Jehovah's Witnesses and I went to a main-line Christian church. JWs believe anyone who is not one of them is evil and not to accociate with them, especially people of other faiths. That meant even family members. My father didn't want me contaminating his good little family. He had two other daughters and he said he had to think of their welfare. But he didn't consider my welfare for one second.
He let me come and stay with him as requested by my mother. Although it was only supposed to be temporary, He finally let me live with him. I believe, after looking back, that he only did that because he thought he could convert me to JW and what better ego booster could he have than to turn me into a JW? He initially said that I could go to church but would change his mind over and over. He even said one time that if I could give him some notes on what the sermon was on each Sunday and prove that it was doctrinally sound I could live with him that week. But the Sunday I couldn't prove something, that would be when I would either quit church or be kicked out of the house. His wife sort of convinced him to keep me at his home but it wasn't to last.
My father and the family had a car wreck around the end of the year. My father's head got injured and he had to take painkillers. The painkillers caused him to have a drug relapse( he had been clean for 3 years) And of course I got the blame. It was all my fault because here I am living in his household, making God withhold his blessings because he was letting a non-Jehovah's witness live with him.
I went to the mall one day not knowing he wanted me to go the the "book study" with him that night. Of course I came home at the same time they did. He asked me where I'd been and I told him. He asked me how I could be at the mall all day and come home with just a couple of bags. I told him I just wanted to have some fun that day. I didn't know he wanted me to go with him and his family. I then said, "I'ts not my kindom hall. Why should I have to go?" Baaaad mistake. He asked, "How many rooms does your mother have, because you're going to be needing one of them!"
He gave me an ultimatum saying either I give up my church, no longer associate with church people and only see my mother and her family when he allowed me to. Or I go to church that Sunday, and not come back to his house. He said though I was his daughter biologically, I wasn't his daughter spiritualy. Well let me say this. I never let anyone tell me what to do and I sure wasn't going to start with a crack head who didnt even pay my mother child support much less be a father to me. So I packed my stuff and moved in with my mother who was by then separated. When I was heading out the door, he said, "Will you please give me the house key back? You won't be needing it anymore" His wife just said "Have a nice life."
I must confess that one of the reason leaving my father was so easy was because I thought my Pastor would take over from there. He just had to, seeing what I gave up to be able to go to church. But ohh nooo. That even wasn't going to happen. I felt even more betrayed by my Pastor than I ever did my father. At least my father had the excuse of being a crack addict out of his mind. My Pastor was just plain cruel and was only concerned with himself. I moved out on my own during my junior year in college and moved on to another church. That was absolutely heart renching for me. It was like losing my father all over again. But it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Now that I was away from him, I was able to focus more on my spirituality and learn about God's love. However, I found out the love they was saying was unconditional was anything but that. Instead of being afraid of losing my pastor's or father's love, now I was scared that one wrong move and God would abandon me too. I felt a little closer to God but at the same time, I felt He was yet another unreachable person.
Last year, I had a major depressive episode and attempted suicide. After swallowing 30 Zoloft pills, though, they wouldn't stay down no matter how much I tried to not vomit. After vomiting them up, I just gave up and called 911. One of the parametics enroute to the hospital asked me why I tried to kill myself and I told him. He asked me if I went to church and I told him I haven't been in about 2 years. He said "You know if you kill yourself, you'll go to hell, do you?" Here I am, with an IV in my arm, at the lowest point of my life being threatened with hell. That was the proverbial last straw, boy that did it! After I was hospitalized in a psychiatric facility for two weeks and prescribed anti-depressants, I went home and began healing a bunch of wounds collected over my life. I knew I also had a decision to make regarding God and who I believed He was. I knew I could never go back to believing the same things again nor would I ever attend church.
I came to the conclusion that everything is God and God is everything by reading different accounts of near-death experiences and reading books on spirituality. I've also had personal experiences that let me know there really was something bigger. I don't believe anymore that Jesus is God or the only son of God. He only realized that we all are children of God and we all in a since are god. That was Jesus's true message. But it got screwed over when it got into the hands of the emperor, Constantine and the institutional church. I'm carefull not to get caught up with religious labels. I consider myself sort of a pantheistic mystic. I believe that all religions have good as well as bad in them. God is too vast, loving and forgiving to care about what religion we are. He just wants us to love one another and leave this world better than we found it.
However, I do believe that reason is every bit as important as spirituality and I use what I call the "Dr. Phil" test to determine whether something is beneficial or useless. You know, the "How's it working for you?" test. My family knows that I haven't been to church in 3 years but they don't know that I may never go back. As for telling them what I truly believe, it would be better for me to come out of the gay closet than to come out of the "I don't believe in the bible and Jesus as my lord and personal savior" one. But I know I must live my own personal truth, not the one I was taught.